Dream buy that fell into my lap

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 1997, 12:00am

With a momentous year in prospect for Hong Kong as the calendar flipped to 1997, I started to toy with the idea that it was time to throw out my old playthings and ring in new technology.

On January 1, I had a Sharp PC3010 laptop - bought in the United States last year for US$1,300 - with a 486 75 MHz processor, a 510 MB hard disk and 8 MB RAM on which I still used Windows 3.11.

I also had an IBM clone desktop, upgraded last year to a Pentium 100 MHz with an extra hard disk, 40 MB RAM and a faster CD-ROM - all for about $12,000.

My Sharp laptop was sufficient for word-processing. But I was really beginning to like the Windows 95 program on my desktop and hated the fact that my portable machine did not have a CD-ROM, which made it hell to load some newer programs.

So when a friend said he was looking for a simple second-hand laptop, money quickly changed hands.

The problem with getting a laptop in Hong Kong is that one is always afraid of being ripped off. That was what happened with my desktop. At the time, I could hardly keep track of megabytes and Windows and the only RAMs I had heard of were sheep.

I bought a 486 clone that turned out to be a lousy machine with an outdated motherboard.

This time, however, I was smarter. Having had the computer for a couple of years - and after numerous crashes - I had learned there was more to a CPU than its metal casing. I wanted a desktop and a laptop that could perform well and wouldn't break the bank.

After checking magazine ads to get a rough idea of prices elsewhere, I wandered down to Windsor House.

For three evenings after work, I trudged through the shops and finally found two machines in my price range (less than $20,000) that made the shortlist: the Toshiba Satellite 400CDS (about $15,000) and the NEC Versa 2430CD ($17,280).

As I walked into the shop I thought was offering the best deal, one potential customer was asking about the virtues of the Toshiba and the NEC. I eavesdropped shamelessly and was beating a hasty retreat after hearing the drawbacks when my eyes fell on another 'special offer'.

It was an Olivetti Echos 120E. For $19,900, it came with 24MB RAM, a 1 GB hard disk, a TFT (thin-film transistor) screen, interchangeable CD-ROM and 1.44-inch floppy drive, a 28.8 kbps Aiwa card modem - and Windows 95 preloaded.

It seemed like a dream come true. Nothing else with the same memory or screen features went for anything less than $24,000. I hesitated because Olivetti wasn't a brand that I associated with laptops but the deal was too good to be true.

One month later, I am so happy with my machine that I carry it around more often than I really need to. I recommended the machine to two colleagues.

With my laptop running at 120 MHz, it was only a matter of time before my desktop started to lose its appeal. My Topcon monitor was particularly fraying my nerves since it wouldn't give me better resolution even though it was supposed to support it.

So two weeks ago, with the $20,000 purchase fresh in my mind, I ventured back into Windsor House to look for a new monitor. My techno-pals recommended a Sony or a Mitsubishi, both close to $4,000. It was then I decided that if I kept upgrading my computer bit by bit, I'd end up with a machine costing as much as a high-end Compaq, but looking nothing like one.

Encouraged by my last acquisition, I started shopping around, determined to purchase a state-of-the-art brand.

The new Compaq was $35,000, nowhere near what I could afford. I saw a Packard Bell set that looked nice but Web pages devoted to the company made me wary. A colleague told me the new Hewlett-Packard Pavilion was a kill for about $24,000 but I couldn't find any in stock.

Then I saw an ad for Dell, which builds machines to specific configurations. This suited me since I had some extra RAM, an extra hard disk and a 33.6kps modem.

A basic model Optiplex GL 200MHz, with MMX technology, was going for $15,038, which seemed a good deal. I checked out the Web page, which was fun since I could check prices without talking to pushy sales staff.

I decided to test the waters of a computer purchase by mail-order and called the toll-free number in the ad. A woman by the name of Maggie answered in Dell's office in Penang, Malaysia. Being Malaysian myself, it was not long before we were chatting like old friends.

In the end I decided on an 8x CD-ROM (NEC), 15-inch Triniton monitor, 64 MB RAM, 2 MB VRAM and an AWE2 32-bit soundcard, all for less than $19,000.

There was some panic when I finally placed my order, when Maggie learned I wanted a mini-tower casing and the set was a slim desktop. After making sure a bigger desktop could be placed vertically on my computer table - and some protests over another $580 for two extra bays and a stand - I placed my order.

And so, I await my new $19,560 Dell Optiplex GsL super-machine. I will have to set it up myself but that's fine. I think I know enough to handle it by now.