Tech@Work: Computer Hardware Demystified

Dreading a trip to the computer store? This advice will make it easier.

March 1, 2000

Buying computers today is akin to buying hi-fi equipment in the ’70s, when everyone compared specs to ensure that even their dogs would enjoy the opera.

Today, educators, authors, and techies all seem to advocate buying top-of-the-line computer systems. That’s fine for computer aficionados, but it could be counterproductive for you if you’re looking to increase productivity.

Many salespeople aren’t adequately trained to use the state-of-the-art systems they’ve bought. Others have yet to introduce technology to their business, because they’re intimidated by the jargon and the thought of buying expensive machines.

Rather than focusing on the specifications, focus on applications--the software that manages your contacts, helps you create attractive promotional materials, and allows you to surf the Internet. The hardware simply executes software instructions--and virtually any new computer will run today’s business software just fine.

I recommend that you consider the following:

  • A notebook--Sales is a mobile business; get a mobile tool. In the past, these small units couldn’t economically rival the power and features of desktop units. That’s no longer true.
  • Processor speed--Most people place too much emphasis on CPU speed. Unless you plan to play the latest games, any Pentium II or III processor running at 300MHz or higher will be fine.
  • Memory--RAM, or random access memory, enables the CPU to work on programs in a fast atmosphere. You want a system with between 32 and 64 megabytes. If the unit you like comes with less, buy additional memory as needed--it’s easily plugged in. Although more is usually better, most salespeople don’t need more than 64MB to function.
  • Display--If you’ll make computer presentations, invest in an active matrix display, which allows viewers to read the screen at a side angle. If you plan to use your notebook computer exclusively as a productivity tool, opt for a dual-scan screen. It allows for frontal viewing only but costs several hundred dollars less than active matrix.
  • Modem--With more business functions (MLS, e-mail, Web, faxing) conducted via computer modem, splurge on a great one. What’s great? Faster is better and will last longer. Modems aren’t that expensive, usually less than $200. Most machines ship with a 56.6K modem.

There are plenty of Macintosh fans out there, but if you plan to buy a Mac, bear in mind that most real estate software won’t run on it.

You can buy an economy laptop--with Windows 98 and the specs I outlined above--for $1,500; a solid business machine for $2,000;and more than you really need--but will enjoy--for $2,500 (Pentium II 400, 64RAM, 6 to 8GB hard drive, and 14- to 15-inch screen).

If you’re new to computers, plan to spend another $1,000 on software in the next six months.

Finally, consider getting quality software training so that your computer doesn’t end up as just a souped-up typewriter.

In addition to instructing GRI programs, Stephen Canale has spoken at hundreds of seminars in 45 states, covering subjects relating to real estate sales and technology. For more information on his products, newsletter, and seminars, visit

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