I’m the IT manager for the Pueblo county emergency services department in Pueblo, CO. This is an exciting year for us because I plan to purchase as many as 20 new desktop computers for the department. Five years have passed since the last purchase, and the PCs we are retiring use Pentium Pro technology.

Just as in the private sector, the county office I work for is concerned about controlling costs. So I will need to consider the cost of the hardware as well as the cost of technical support. And because we probably won’t get another computer upgrade until at least 2006, I want to make sure that I get the most bang for our buck.

Although I work in an emergency services department, our desktop needs are similar to any office environment. This article outlines my preferences for the network card, modem, sound card, and USB ports. Included are links to valuable resources to help other IT managers who are planning purchases. What I would really like, however, is to solicit recommendations from TechRepublic members. If you have suggestions or would like to recommend specific products, please post a comment to this article.
Mark Gonzales will be writing several articles this week to describe his research into purchasing new PCs for his department. Tomorrow, look for his article about RAM and CPUs.
Researching products
My first step is to create the specifications for my Request for Proposal (RFP). I will be specific in my hardware requirements so that all vendors have a fair shot at bidding on the same hardware.

I would like to have a Seagate or Western Digital hard disk because I have had a good experience with their hardware, but I am wondering how important it is to be that specific when companies such as Dell Computers and Gateway offer three-year warranties on their hardware. I am not sure if a three-year warranty will meet our needs, and I would be interested to know what other TechRepublic members think about warranties.

I mention Dell and Gateway because they have wonderful Web sites that allow you to customize the equipment you want included in your computer while giving you an immediate price quote for any changes you make.

I would like to submit a bid, but I don’t know whether either company has the specific hardware that I will require. From my experience, Dell and Gateway don’t specify brand names of the hardware they put into their machines. I want to know the brand names of the equipment I am purchasing. I’ll describe which brand names I prefer below.

The network card
I am going to require a 10/100Mbps card that is not integrated into the motherboard so that I can replace the card if I have problems with it down the road. I will make sure to purchase a brand name. I particularly like the 3Com 10/100 network card because I have never had any problems with its performance.

The modem
I just need the standard 56k v.90 modem, but again, I’d like to use a brand name. I have had really good experience with the U.S. Robotics brand, so I might specify this brand by name in the RFP.

The sound card
I am not going to spend a lot of time with the sound card because, other than online training, we don’t have a big need for anything fancy. I am probably going to spec out a Sound Blaster 16 Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI). I’ve chosen to use PCI because a lot of computer manufacturers seem to be doing away with the old Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) slots.

There are a lot of differences between the old ISA and PCI technology. A significant difference is that the ISA Bus runs at between 8 and 10MHz, whereas the PCI bus runs at 33MHz. (Visit TechEncyclopedia for an excellent description of the difference between PCI and ISA. This site also describes other bus technologies, such as EISA, AGP, Micro Channel, and VL-bus.)

USB ports
Currently, most of our computers don’t have USB ports—that’s another indication of how old our hardware is. I’m looking forward to bringing in new PCs because I want the department to take advantage of the USB ports on the new machines. Several staff members would like to use USB for external zip drives so that they can move data from their laptop to a desktop and vice versa without having to connect the laptop to the network. Using the external zip drives would have also been a great way for us to do some local data backup on both their laptop and desktop.

There’s just one hitch in this exciting plan—I run Windows NT.

According to information from Microsoft’s Product Support services, Windows NT 4.0 does not support USB. If I were to migrate to Win2000, I could take advantage of USB.

I am still trying to learn more about Windows 2000, but based on what I know at this time, I’m concerned that it’s just too different from NT. Right now, I don’t have the staff to implement and support a new OS, so I’m hesitant to go with 2000. The benefits of this new OS will really need to persuade me to make the upgrade. I will hold off on this decision while I continue to research information for my RFP.
Help Mark make decisions about his PC purchases. What brand names do you recommend? Should he make the jump to Windows 2000 (Win2K)? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.