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/// Taking the PC Plunge!                 To switch, or not to switch...
    ---------------------
    By Robert Glover


Okay, you're depressed.  Depressed about how Commodore is allowing the Amiga
to die.  Or at least that's how it appears.  At any rate, you find yourself
considering more and more the possibility of moving to the PC and selling
your beloved Amiga.  Let's take a look at what you're going to need to be as
happy with your new PC as you are with your present Amiga.

First, I'm going to assume that you have at the very least a semi-powerful
Amiga system.  This means something along the lines of a souped up A500 or
A1200, or perhaps an A2000 with plenty of extra memory, and maybe a graphics
card.  An accelerator isn't necessarily required, but essentially a decent
hard drive and plenty of RAM is what I mean.

Now, in order to have as nice a machine (in essense) as your Amiga, you'll
have to run OS/2 or Windows NT.  Nobody seems to really like NT that much
right now, so I'll stick with OS/2.

OS/2's requirements are (at a minimum) a 386SX with at least 6 meg of RAM,
and about 60 meg of free hard disk space.  However, for best overall results,
plan on a 486DX/33 with at least 12 to 16 meg of RAM, and a 340 to 500 meg
hard drive.  I'm not kidding.  Everyone I've talked to says that even a big
486DX2/66 can be a bit slow with OS/2, but like with Windows, memory is the
key.  With 16 meg of RAM, you'll have enough room to keep OS/2 from having
to rely on virtual memory too often.  Remember, OS/2 is huge.  In fact, it
comes on about twenty high density disks, or an optional CD ROM disc (I
highly recommend this), to simplify things.

So let's settle on a 486DX/33 with 16 meg of RAM and a 340 meg hard drive.
Without a monitor or video card, you're looking at $1800-2000, depending
on the brand.  This is a VESA localbus system, too, BTW.  Now, there are
several good choices for video cards.  My first choice is the Diamond Viper
with 2 meg of video RAM.  This is the fastest 32-bit video card on the PC
to date, and OS/2 drivers were recently released for it.  Drivers?  Yes,
you'll have to be sure whatever video card you choose has drivers available
to run OS/2 in any mode above standard VGA's 640x480.

Basically, the cards it supports are any S3 cards (Viper, Genoa, ATI, etc.),
plus the video systems in IBM's own PS/1 and PS/2 series.  And a good video
card will set you back anywhere from $100-400, depending on what you
ultimately choose.  I have heard through the grapevine that the Genoa is the
best one for the money, being available mail order for about $95.  It ranks
in performance-wise along with the ATI Ultra Graphics Pro, yet is reasonably
priced, and can take another meg of video RAM, for a total of two.

So we'll add another $150 to our $1800 figure, to make $1950 (I added the
extra meg of video RAM, for good measure).  Now you're going to want a good
CD ROM system.  See, part of what is making the PC take off even more so in
sales are the wide array of multimedia software available.  This includes
Microsoft Bookshelf, a nice all-in-one reference library, Grolier's and
Compton's multimedia encyclopedias, fabulous games like Seventh Guest, and
so on.

So you'll need a sound card and a CD ROM.  What to get?  Well, forget about
those cheap $300 packages at Best Buy and Wal Mart.  They are the older MPC
Level 1 kits, that have 16-bit sound cards (like Sound Blaster 16 or Media
Vision), and a 150K/sec 350 ms CD ROM drive.  Too slow and limited for this
fast-paced marketplace.  Also, OS/2 will not run on anything but a pure SCSI
CD ROM.  So plan on a sound card that has a true SCSI port, and Sound Blaster
doesn't.  Two choices are the Pro Audio Spectrum 16 or the Gravis Ultra Sound.
The Gravis is a nice board, but lacks support by many games, as it is not
Sound Blaster compatible.  It is, however, the closest thing you'll find to a
16-bit version of the Amiga's Paula chip as you're going to get.  Sound
Blaster has been knocked by every PC magazine as having poor sound quality.
This is because Sound Blaster (like it's competitors) have pre-sampled sounds
in ROM, which are called by programs and games.  That's why games like X-Wing
sound so "synthesizery."  The Gravis, on the other hand, has onboard RAM and
will accept true digitized samples, much like Paula does.  You give up some
compatibility, but the sound quality makes it worthwhile.  Or, you could get
a Gravis, and then pick up a used Sound Blaster Pro (8-bit card) cheaply, and
run it on a different IRQ, and have the best of both worlds.

IRQ??  What's that, you ask?  Well, the PC doesn't have the auto-configuring
convenience that the Amiga does.  Every time you add a new board, you'll get
to set its interrupt request setting (IRQ), and a host of other things.  I
won't go into detail here, because, well, frankly, it makes me shudder just
thinking about it.

The Pro Audio Spectrum 16 or Gravis boards will run you about $150 on the
street, so our price is up to $2100.  Remember, we still don't have a monitor
selected.  We'll do that a little later.  Next we need a CD ROM drive.  A
good multispin drive (which means it can do 150K/sec or 300K/sec) plus have
a reasonable seek time of 300 ms or better will cost about $400 bare.  Now
our total is up to $2500.

Okay... now we have the computer, the memory, the sound card, video card with
2 meg, and a big hard drive.  Now we need a monitor.  There are some important
things you need to know about monitors.

I've done a lot of looking around at all of the different computer stores and
discount chains (Best Buy, Wal Mart, Sam's, Sears, etc), and found a lot of
things.  First of all, the monitors that are included with 99% of these pre-
packaged systems are garbage.  The monitor is probably the most important
part of your computer.  Without a good monitor, you won't be able to get the
most out of the system.  Either the resolution isn't high enough, or the size
of the screen isn't large enough, or worse still -- the refresh rate isn't
high enough and you're left with lots of flicker.  The "standards" for PC
resolutions are 800x600 at 72 Hz and 1024x768 non-interlaced at 74 or 76 Hz.
The Packard Bell monitors you find around town do 800x600 at 50 Hz and will
do 1024x768 at 72 Hz, but it's interlaced, so there IS flicker.  Furthermore,
these monitors have a lousy 0.39 mm dot pitch (or worse -- I've seen Tandy
monitors -- the VGM 225 -- with a 0.52 mm dot pitch!), which makes the text
fuzzy, even at 640x480.

A GOOD monitor will cost you at the least $450.  The one I have in mind is a 
new Philips 15" flatscreen at Best Buy.  Actually, they want $468 for it.  Or,
you can buy a refurbished NEC 4D directly from NEC for about $450.  Both of
these monitors are excellent -- both have a dot pitch of 0.28 mm, and have
a very crisp, clear picture.

So by the time we get a good monitor and pay tax or shipping, we're looking
at $500.  So our total is now up to $3000.  Again, this is for a 486DX2/66
machine with 16 meg of RAM, a 16-bit sound card with SCSI, a SCSI CD-ROM
drive, a 340 meg IDE hard drive, and a decent monitor.  That is what is
required to have a PC that can equal your Amiga in terms of usability and
overall pleasure.  Dealing with Windows is far too frustrating to count, and
since it can't multitask worth a darn, it doesn't really count anyway.

Now, to maintain a bit of fairness, we are talking about a pretty decked-out
PC versus a fairly baseline Amiga.  Yeah, the PC will have better overall
sound and graphics, but it takes so much money to get the machine to be as
easy to use as your Amiga.

I know what you're saying now... "What if I were to take an Amiga and max it
out, for comparison?"  Okay, let's do that.  We'll start with one of those
blowout Amiga 3000's from Creative Computers.  They're $900 with 5 meg of
RAM, a 120 meg hard drive, and one floppy drive.  Add $400 to bring memory
up to 18 meg (which includes 2 meg of Chip RAM), for $1300.  Let's add $100
for a second floppy drive (what the heck)... $1400.  Now we'll add $450 for
one of those fancy new Picasso II boards that'll do 1600x1280 in 24-bit if
you have enough RAM in the computer... $1850.  And a refurbed NEC 4D for
$500... $2350.  Oh, and in case we need to do NTSC resolutions, let's grab
a used 1084 for $150... $2500.  The only real difference now is that the
A3000 is a 25 MHz 68030 compared to a 66 MHz 486.  There is a bit of
processor power difference, but I'm not going to count it, on the basis that
you pretty much need a 66 MHz 486 to make OS/2 run well.  Oh, and the 120 meg
hard drive versus 340 is due to the size of the operating system on the PC.

Now, an alternate system to consider is an Amiga 1200... for $380 you get
a base machine.  Add an MBX1200z or equivelent RAM board with 8 meg of Fast
RAM and a 25 MHz FPU for about $400 for a total of $780.  Add a 120 meg,
2.5" IDE hard drive for about $220... $1000.  Or instead, instead of the
RAM board, add a 50 MHz 68030 on an MBX1200XA and a 25 MHz FPU for about
$600, to total about $1200.

So the bottom line is that in order to get a PC as capable as an Amiga,
you're looking at a good $3000 minimum, whereas you could have a nice Amiga
system with plenty of bells and whistles for between half and 25% less.