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Buying a computer seems like a daunting task to many. There are many factors to consider when making a purchase. Brand name, functionality, speed and customer support are just some of the factors that one must consider when researching the options. In order to wisely purchase a computer, one must attain a considerable amount of product knowledge, to get the most value for their dollar.
Consumers have different levels of product knowledge, which they can use to interpret information and make product choices. (Peter 64) When researching computers, product knowledge could range in consumers minds from abstract to less abstract thoughts about the options. Within this scope of abstract to less abstract options could be 4 sub-categories of product knowledge. These include product class, product form, brand name and the model or features.
The most abstract and first of the four categories is product class. This is the most basic of the four categories. Simply for this demonstration, the product class being discussed is a desktop computer or generally the product type. Now this class differs slightly from some other similar computing product classes such as laptop computers, mainframes and personal digital assistants (PDA’s).
The second of the four sub-categories is product form. The basic product form differentiation that one must make is what do you need a computer for and if you need a home-based PC or business-based PC. This would be considered identifying the product class, a home-based system versus a business based-one. The fact is that the average home user who needs a general-purpose PC to go on the Internet and run productivity applications differs little from the average worker in an office. “Indeed, the actual features in a vendor's business line does not differ much from what's in the home, except at the extreme end of the spectrum, such as a non-upgradeable closed-box corporate PC versus a loaded gamer's system with all the entertainment trappings that a business user would find superfluous.” (MSN) If the computer is strictly for business or word processing purposes and will rarely be relied upon for gaming and multi-media applications than sound and graphics components are less important because there's little need to keep up with the newest games that require the best graphics and sound components.
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The third sub-category of product knowledge is brand name. There are tons of brand names to sort through when choosing a computer. Some are more commonly prevalent than others. For instance IBM, Hewlett Packard, Dell, Gateway and Compaq are some of the largest and most commonly recognized brand names in the computer industry. But over the past five years newer players have entered the market. Now you can find computers made by Toshiba, E-Machines, Packard Bell and Sony. Also a raging trend over the last few years are bare bones systems used by do it yourself computer builders. With the advent of plug and play hardware technology, putting together your own system with exactly the hardware and software you would like is possible and relatively easy. You customize the options, buy all the components separately and then build it yourself. This option can also be less expensive than buying a “big-box” unit from one of the larger players in the industry. The brand name sub-category can be taken a step further than just the name on the outside of the case. The brand name of the processor, the main cog in the operation of the computer is heavily competed within the industry. You can buy computers with Pentium based processors made by Intel or Athlon/Duron processors made by AMD. Certain companies use specific branded processors which can even further dilute the decision making process. “Marketers are very aware of a consumers interest in a brand name and they attempt to educate them about a brand, and influence them to buy that brand.” (Peter, 65)
The least abstract but most important sub-category of consumer product knowledge are model or features of the product. “Some consumers have more knowledge about models, a more concrete level of product knowledge than brands.” (Peter, 65) With computers many are not as familiar with brand names compared to other product classes and some don’t even care about the brand name, but focus more on the features and benefits of a system and focus on the price of it. Since the scope of a computers brand and its components reaches far beyond the scope of this project, we will focus on pricing and performance of the processing and memory components of a computer this time.
Pricing: If you need cutting-edge power for demanding multimedia programs or games, and want to delay obsolescence for as long as possible, opt for a 600MHz or faster Pentium III or the 600MHz or faster Athlon from AMD—an attractive alternative at a lower price. For example, identically configured Athlon and Pentium III power-user systems start around $1,500 and $1,700 respectively. Of course, you can pay significantly more or less depending on your configuration choices.
Best Values: “Those on a particularly tight budget (under $1,000) should opt for systems based on AMD's K6-2, available at speeds as high as 450MHz. Like the newer K6-III, the K6-2 fits in the traditional Super 7 motherboard design. Most K6-2 systems include 100MHz motherboards for fast access to cache—512K of off-chip cache is the norm—as well as AGP sockets.” (MSN) For everyday applications running Windows 98, the K6-2 should approach Pentium II/Pentium III/Celeron performance for a given clock speed. Unlike the Celeron, the K6-2 also uses AMD's 3DNow instruction set for improved 3-D and multimedia performance with compatible software. At the extreme low end of the market are Cyrix's 300MHz and 333MHz M II CPUs. These chips, which do not include any 3-D-oriented instructions, are designed to rival the K6-2, Pentium II, and Celeron on everyday applications. Cyrix's strategy is to focus on the entry-level market, so M II systems tend to be bare bones, under-$600 systems; sometimes the price even includes a monitor.
How Much RAM?: The more applications you run simultaneously, the larger the files you load, and the more complex your operating system, the more RAM you'll need. Too little memory can undermine a fast processor, forcing it to retrieve data from the much slower hard drive. “For Windows 95 or 98 plus productivity applications, or a base-level Windows NT system, 96MB is adequate and 64MB will suffice; you can get away with 32MB in an entry-level Windows 95 or 98 system, but don't let anyone ever try to sell you a 16MB system these days. Because RAM's have become relatively inexpensive over the past year, many vendors include 128MB and 256MB into many configurations as standard features.
Future Upgrades: Be sure there are enough free sockets in your system to upgrade RAM easily. “For example, if all the sockets are filled with 16MB dual inline memory modules (DIMMs), you could easily end up throwing them away when you attempt to increase RAM. In contrast, a system with one 64MB or 128MB DIMM makes it easier to add memory later.” (MSN)
As you can see there is a lot of product knowledge needed to wisely purchase a computer. Make sure to do your diligence when researching the options so that you get the most bang for you buck.
MSN E-Shop. "How to Buy a Desktop." Frequently Asked Questions.
URL: http://eshop.msn.com/link.asp?illd=298 (5 Sept 2001).
Peter, J. Paul and Olson, Jerry C. Consumer Behavior and Marketing Strategy.
Boston: McGraw Hill, 1999, 5th ed.