Send in the Clones
Getting More for Your PC Buck

In the old days of personal computers, you had a choice of three types: a Mac, an IBM or a "clone". These days it is not as easy to determine who is a clone maker. Gateway computers got their start as a lower cost mail-order clone maker. Compaq was one of the best known clone makers. Today Gateway and Compact are considered a "brand" of computer just as IBM. Maybe it is time to revisit the days of the clone makers and examine what made them the choice of millions of computer buyers.

Back when it was IBM or a "clone", you purchased a clone to get more for your money and a more open architecture (it was easier to add additional hardware cards inside a clone, IBM took their own cards). If you had no plans to expand your computer and you wanted a big name behind it, you purchased an IBM. So, let us discuss what has changed. The no-name clone makers still give you more bang for the buck, parts are easier to find, they have a more open architecture, and in general you can add any hardware or software you want to them.

The major name brands have a less then open architecture. Adding additional hardware or software can be very difficult, if not impossible. IBM's are notorious for modem incompatibilities. IBM uses a type of modem known as M-wave. Too often after market software will not work properly with the M-wave modem. This includes the software from some internet service providers. Packard Bell computers are notorious for being almost impossible to network., and you must frequently remove the sound card to get the network card to work. Please understand that we are not attacking IBM and Packard Bell, but rather suggesting there are many major brands with a less then open architecture. Generally speaking, the larger, better known makers are "proprietary", which means only certain hardware and software will work on their units. If you have no plans to add on to your system, and are not concerned about ease of upgrading and repair from non-factory sources, this is unimportant. In the case of the open architecture clone, usually the hardware and software is non-specific

So why would anyone buy an IBM or a Packard Bell or other large name brand with less then open architecture computer? That’s easy. If you do not know about computers, do not want to know about computers, and have no plans to ever add anything to it, you cannot go wrong with a big, name brand company. On the other hand, if you want the most for your money, or even think you may at some time wish to add additional hardware, software or upgrade, you should take a hard look at some of the better known clone makers.

In addition to the bigger clone makers, many of the smaller computer stores can help you stretch your dollar. Some of these store have multiple locations and are extremely well established in the local community. There are very large clone makers out there that are not very will known to the general public. One example is U-Max, a well-established billion dollar international company in northern California.

Take the time to determine your needs before you begin your search. Consider how you will use your computer, what capabilities you require and your budgetary restrictions. Can it easily be upgraded and changed. Can you custom order a machine to match your specific requirements. Are there free resouces to add additionail hardware (open ports, slote, and IRQ's). Arming yourself with this information should aid you in selecting the proper system. If you are the most concerned with ease of repair and the ability to upgrade your computer, stay away from systems that put the modem, sound card or video card on the motherboard as part of the system. In most cases, systems with these components built directly on the motherboard are harder to upgrade or repair. In some cases if you find the modem, sound card or video part of the board not to your liking or in need of repair, you must replace the motherboard.

How do you obtain the information you need to determine your needs, other then reading BizNet? Ask around. Talk to people you know about their systems. Solicit the help of local repair shops. If a repair shop only repairs systems and does not sell new systems, you are more likely to receive an unbiased opinion. Ask advice from people who are knowledge and experienced with computers. If you are not convinced, continue asking questions until you are satisfied.

This year BizNet Magazine will look at many small and large clone makers ranging from companies such as U-Max to small chain stores with good local reputations. BizNet will examine how much "bang" for your buck you get and report on the value and usability of these systems.

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Last modified: November 08, 2002