Advice for Cambridge Computer Shoppers

Besides the inevitable new school year purchases of books and clothing, September represents one of the best times to look into getting a computer or improving the one you have.

The past year has seen vast improvements in computing power, and at the same time, prices are falling. This summer, Intel cut the price of its Pentium II processor by 57 percent. There is no time like the present to get yourself a solid system that can last you a while.

However, before rushing off to buy a computer, you should ask yourself what you plan to do with it. If you know you only want it to write papers, there is no need to get the latest machine with quadprocessors, split subspace differential beams and a dilithium crystal-based high-definition monitor.

At the same time, you do want a system that will perform well on the Harvard network and the Internet and last you more than six months.

Cambridge offers three primary types of computer shopping options for Harvard students: the University's own Technology Product Center (TPC), national retailers and local manufacturers.

TPC is the official Harvard computer dealer and offers educational pricing on certain Macintosh and IBM-compatible systems as well as software and accessories. Its campus location, a block away from Memorial Hall, makes it the closest stop on your computer shopping trip.

If you need to get an Ethernet card to connect to the Harvard network, TPC is your best choice because it carries all the supported cards and is close by.

However, because TPC offers educational pricing, its system selection is limited to only a few models, and its PC Prices tend to be relatively high. The deals on Macintoshes are better.

The price, though, buys you a nice warranty that offers on-site or drop-in service.

TPC is located at 1730 Cambridge St., (617) 495-5450. Its Web site is www.uis.harvard.edu/tpc.

If you know you are a computer geek or just want more selection and power, head down the river to the area's major retailer: MicroCenter.

A five-minute, $5 cab ride away, MicroCenter is a computer superstore with everything you need to get an impressive system. It offers unparalleled choices for both hardware and software, and boasts a large selection of computer books that can help you use all the cool things you'll want to buy.

One tip: you can often drive a better bargain by haggling with the sales clerks, and don't forget to ask for returned or demo models, which can save you 10 or 20 percent off the retail price.

MicroCenter is located at 727 Memorial Dr. at the corner of Magazine St., (617) 234-6400. If you're up to it, you can walk down Memorial Drive toward MIT and get there in about 15 minutes, or you can swing by www.microcenter.com.

If you want a wider selection of notebook computers, drop by Laptop Superstore. It carries a massive selection of machines all by top manufacturers, and all its systems come with a unique five-year worldwide warranty at no extra charge.