computercol/18"/mike1st/mark2nd

By BRIT HUME and T.R. REID

This column was written on a brand-new, 200-megahertz Gateway Pentium MMX PC with 32 megabytes of RAM, a 2.5-gigabyte hard disk and an assortment of other bells and whistles a computer junkie dreams about: big monitor, 16-speed CD-ROM drive, foot-high speakers, fancy new Microsoft Mouse with a little roller between the buttons that you can use to scroll through text, or Web pages.

I ought to be excited about it, but I feel more like Charlie Brown at Christmas: a little melancholy and disappointed. Oh, it's fast all right, but not as fast as I'd imagined. The CD-ROM drive makes a huge noise, like a vacuum cleaner every time it reads a disk. I guess that's the price you pay for a fast CD-ROM drive.

And the system is ugly. It has what the manufacturer calls a "mini tower" upright case. If this is a mini tower, I'd hate to see what a full-sized tower looks like. And this mini tower has a curved, not a flat, top, so you can't put anything on it. You'd probably need a ladder to reach anything you put there, but it's a dumb design, anyway.

I got a high-capacity tape drive, an Iomega Ditto internal unit that's supposed to hold 3.2 gigabytes of data. It comes with its own software, but like most such software, it runs only under Windows 95, which means if you have a disk crash, you'll have to reinstall Windows 95 before you can retrieve your data from the tape drive.

Cheyenne Backup, which is supposed to support this drive, gets around that problem by allowing the creation of an emergency disk which can access the tape drive without reinstalling Windows. I've used it successfully on a number of other tape drives, but it kept crashing with this one.

And there are some real annoyances with the way Windows 95 runs on this computer. For example, it keeps asking me for a password every time I boot up. When I first started the machine, it told me that if I didn't enter one, it would not keep asking for one. So I didn't, but it keeps asking anyway. If I hit the escape key, or click cancel, it goes away without complaint, but it comes back every time I start up. And it does the same thing every time I log on to my Internet service provider, too.

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