Internet Tutorials | John Faughnan | Robert Elson

Buying a Windows Desktop Personal Computer


In 10 years of buying and building computers, I've developed a personal set of biases. They differ somewhat from what you will hear reading trade magazines, such as PC Magazine or Computer Shopper, but I believe you will get very similar opinions from "power users" and corporate buyers.

This document provides very specific details on buying a particular machine, from Micron, that meets most (but not all) of my personal criteria. I also provide comparisons to a comprable machine from Dell Computing. In some places I refer to the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) Micron outlet. Micron is not a perfect company; this recommendation involved many trade-offs.

Even if you purchase a different machine, this can serve as a basis for comparison. This document becomes partly obsolete fairly quickly, but even with falling prices the features described below are likely to remain current through 1998.

Target Group

These recommendations are targeted at an audience who wants value for their dollar, but is very time constrained and has a low tolerance for defective products and wasted time. This audience are not "computer experts" and have no need or desire to develop such expertise. In some cases, such as tape backup, simplicity dictated the choice.


These prices are taken from two companies who produce machines for the target group described above. To do your own pricing visit Micron PC or Dell Computing. I configured the Dell to be comparable to the higher end Micron with an identical sound card and similar monitor.

Computer: (Feb. 98 data)

Millenia MME 166
Millenia MME 200
Dell Dimension XPS
Processor Pentium MMX 166 MHz Pentium MMX 200 MHz Pentium MMX 233
Main Memory 64MB 64MB 64MB
Modem US Robotics Sportster x2
US Robotics Sportster x2
US Robotics Sportster x2
CD-ROM standard standard standard
Hard Drive 4.0 GB (extra $30) 4.0 GB 4.3 GB
Zip Drive standard (100MB) standard (100MB) add-on (100MB)
Monitor Micron 15" Hitachi 17" (extra $100) 1000TX Trinitron 17"
Software Microsoft Word, Excel, Publisher
and Quicken Financial/other package
Microsoft Word, Excel, Publisher
and Quicken Financial/other package
Microsoft Word, Excel, Publisher
and Quicken Financial
McAfee VirusScan
Warrantee 1 Year 1 Year 3 Year
SUBTOTAL $1728 $2099 (see total below)
Zip Cartridges
(3, approx price)
$100 $100 $100
Backup can use the Zip drive to backup data only Seagate TR4 $239
Travan tapes [1] $39 * 3
Travan tapes [1] $39 * 3
Surge Suppressor APC Pro 7T $37 APC Pro 7T $37 APC Pro 7T $35
Printer [2] The HP DeskJet 692C Printer $269 HP DeskJet 890C Printer $429 HP LaserJet 6Lse + cable $439
Antivirus Norton Antivirus $50 Norton Antivirus $50  
TOTAL $2184 $3034 $3167


All of these computers come with a Microsoft Mouse, a decent keyboard, a good video board (4MB VRAM), cheap speakers, and a good sound card. A network card is extra. The main difference between the "high end" and the "low end" is a slightly faster processor and a nicer monitor. The above estimates are approximate, I had to do some juggling to make the Dell offering comparable to the Micron. The Dell costs slightly more than the Micron, but it comes with a better warrantee and better service.

Each machine has 64MB of memory. You can save @$100 by going with 32MB. Don't. These days, 64MB is barely enough.

[1] Travan TR4 tape cartridges at PC Connection (800-800-5555) are $38.95 each. You need at least 2 cartridges.
[2] I don't know much about printers; I like my Apple LaserWriter Select, but it's a higher end solution. Ink Jet printers are very popular and produce color output, but they are slow and expensive to operate (costly paper, ink).

Micron Vendor Info

Micron Problems

Ordering a Micron

  1. Choose your configuration.
  2. Contact the salesperson at the Micron Outlet store (MSP area) by phone or call Micron direct (elsewhere).
  3. Place your order. It may be useful to fax in your specifications.
  4. When your machine is in, collect it.
  5. If you want something added after your machine is on-site, there is a $15.00 charge.
  6. Pay with a credit card.

Micron Repairs and Warrantee

Desired Features and Justification

General Characteristics Specific Hardware Desired
  • very reliable
  • 4 year useful lifespan*
  • minimal upgrades needed
  • excellent ergonomics
  • backup
  • NEC, SONY, or Hitachi monitor
  • reliable power supply
  • tape backup
  • 64 MB of main memory (RAM)
  • 4MB of video memory
  • Universal Serial Bus is "nice", but they don't work!
  • see also: PC Hardware (snippet)
* The computer will last longer than 4 years, but the processor will be too slow for new software after about 3-4 years.

The list of national vendors with reasonably reliable products and decent support is not long (see HomePC Support Survey). IBM, Dell, Micron, and NEC probably qualify. Compaq, Gateway and Hewlett-Packard have had serious problems within the past 1-2 years. Packard-Bell makes junk. SONY and Toshiba have not shown a clear sense of this market and appear to be leaving it.

Micron has a local outlet, with the ability to exchange defective monitors; that gave them an edge. IBM still doesn't seem to "get" the quality home user market. NEC's future is uncertain in this market. Dell might have been my top choice if they'd had a local outlet. Overall Dell may have the best machines. They also have superb mail order support, including paid shipping postage and immediate replacement of defective monitors! Dell advertises widely in PC Magazine and other computer trade magazines.

Sub-$1000 computers are being advertised, but these prices can be deceptive. These machines may be incomplete, or of poor quality, or they may lack sufficient processor and/or video memory.

I chose not to recommend a specific notebook computer because notebook quality is much harder to assess and changes rapidly, and a notebook comparable to the MME 166 package is still very expensive (Dell Inspiron: $3200).

What about the sub-$1000 PC?

As of Feb. 98 there's been a lot of publicity about PC's selling for < $1000.00. The one's I've looked at seem pretty stripped down, often with inadequate video and processor memory. Vendors are cutting corners hard to make those price points, and I don't know how much quality is preserved. For the moment this seems to me to be more marketing than substance, however lots of computer magazines disagree with me!

A Word on the Macintosh

I have used Macintosh computers for many years, and I still own and regularly use a Macintosh PowerBook 165. The current Macintosh environment is, in many ways, superior to the Windows environment. Unfortunately, in the world of computers, excellence is not enough. The future of Apple and its machines is uncertain. Many Macintosh software companies and retail outlets have closed their doors, and shifted their attention to the Windows platform. It may be difficult to find a nearby Macintosh expert. Macintosh software is available by mail order, but is poorly represented at most retail sites.

Nonetheless, if you decide to take the road less traveled, you may be very pleased. 75 Macintosh Advantages from Apple omits a few of the Mac's weaknesses, but overall it gives an accurate picture. The Power Macintosh G3 desktop is analogous to the base Micron Millenia MME 200, similarly configured it costs $3348.00 from The Apple Store (U.S.). The G3 is $1100 more than the MME 2100, but it significantly faster and includes built-in ethernet (for networking), built-in SCSI (for easily connecting external tape drives, scanners, etc.), and superior video. The Power Macintosh 5500 ($1999) compares to the Millenia MME 166 ($1629), but it has a built-in monitor, is faster, has built-in networking and SCSI, but lacks a modem. Neither Macintosh includes software. Macintosh prices were last revised in fall 1997.

Author: John G. Faughnan.  The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. Pages are updated on an irregular schedule; suggestions/fixes are welcome but they may take weeks to months to be incorporated. I reserve copyright except where noted, if you want to repost or quote a page just ask. Anyone may freely link to anything on this site and print any page; no permission is needed for linking,  printing, or distributing printed copies.