POSTSCRIPT / March 4, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Let me assemble you a computer!

IF you’re smart enough to play Lego and adept enough to wield a screwdriver, you can assemble your own personal computer at home and save thousands of pesos.

Once you get the hang of it, you can assemble a 300 MHz Pentium II and have it running your favorite software in just 30 minutes! A year later, you can do your own upgrading.

You better believe it, because I have just assembled a PC – and yet I have not taken a formal computer course except for web-authoring at STI Crossing. Okay, I’ll admit that that Lego part is a little hyperbolic but it illustrates just how easy it is.

How did I learn computer assembly? I happened to drop by at the PC Builders Club on North Avenue, Quezon City, over the weekend where a dozen enthusiasts were assembling PCs.

I kibitzed and tried my hand and, presto, I had a Pentium assembled and running in one hour.

* * *

IT was not just assembly. That visit turned into a crash course on theories and architecture of computers, comparison of various motherboards, processors, and devices. There was also the matter of ensuring that the components are compatible.

Anybody who is computer literate can follow the clear, logical explanation of Reggie Villasin, who supervised the group and who answered all the questions thrown at him.

The exciting hands-on part included installing the memory (RAM) chips, the hard and the floppy drives, as well as the CD-ROM, inserting audio-video cards, and setting the jumpers (which I found tricky since the pins were rather small).

After the hardware is assembled, the question is if it will work. The answer is not yet. The hard disk has to be formatted, the CD-ROM set up and the CMOS configured. (The specifics about drives, memory, video type, etc., are set in the Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor or CMOS.)

When finally you switch on the unit and it starts, you feel you’ve just performed a miracle.

* * *

ONE obvious advantage of assembling your own PC is that you save some money, which is in short supply these days for many people I know.

Another plus point is that you’re sure the parts under the hood are new and genuine, and that they are properly installed.

Since you selected the components to suit your requirements and installed them yourself, you have a clearer understanding of how that wonder machine inside works. Trouble-shooting and upgrading are thus easier.

* * *

YOU might be surprised to learn that some PCs being sold as 300 MHz may actually be only 266 MHz—without the buyer being aware that he is being shortchanged.

It’s so easy to make this daya. If you want to use a base clock of 66.6 MHz (because the devices with your PC are running on this speed) and your Intel processor is 266 MHz, you select the multiplier 4 (or 66.6 x 4) to get the 266 MHz desired. But you can cheat by using the higher multiplier 4.5 (or 66.6 x 4.5) and make your computer appear to be a 300 MHz unit even if it is not.

The forced 300 MHz rating comes on screen when prompted. The buyer pays for a 300 MHz Pentium without knowing that he is actually getting only a 266 MHz processor. He won’t notice it, but his processor will be overworked and its life span shortened.

* * *

IF a government supplier is selling 300 MHz PCs, he could cheat by using cheaper 266 MHz processors and manipulating the jumpers on the motherboard to register 300 MHz.

The end-user or the auditor won’t notice anything irregular. If the contract is for at least 100 units, the supplier makes quite a bundle.

Sometimes, the cheating is in the remarking of the processor, the brain of the computer. Unscrupulous importers bring in processors in bulk and relabel them to reflect the next higher rating (e.g., 266 MHz marked as 300 MHz) so they can be sold at a higher price.

* * *

THE face of business and much of everything else in society has been radically changed by the Internet, that worldwide communication web that has placed people in far-flung areas as near to one another as the nearest computer keyboard.

Much local and foreign business is carried out via the Internet and the use of modems, those small but smart devices that enable computers to talk to one another. Filipinos bridge the distance between continents to talk to kith and kin through email and computer chat.

Researchers and students find essential data by using search engines to delve into libraries and other sources linked to the Internet. Others find romance, and even illicit sex, through this electronic wonder of the 20th century. You can also indulge in casino gambling, with real money (whip out your credit card) in the comfort of your den. The possibilities are endless.

But this communication revolution may just slow down to a Pony Express gallop if the planned metering of telephone use is applied to Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Internet users may suddenly find their email, chatting and other electronic transmission of data too expensive when the ISPs pass on (naturally) the added cost to subscribers.

* * *

POSTSCRIPT reader Selwyn Clyde M. Alojipan of <selwyn@mozcom.com> comments:

“Some form of phone metering is inevitable somewhere down the road, but I don’t think now is the right time to apply it. This is because Internet usage is just starting to grow in the country and we haven’t yet reached critical mass for the cost of Internet access to drop for every user.

“Compare our Internet user population to that of other ASEAN countries, and you’ll see that we are already starting to lag behind their nonstop growth. It is imperative for the Internet industry to continue growing and for other parties to not do anything that will keep it small, stagnant, and expensive for everybody.

“New technologies like integrated messaging and voice-over-IP (which requires more phone access) – neighboring countries are already beginning to deploy these – will be held back from the Filipino people because of expensive phone metering.

“If this happens, we Filipinos will have once more missed the boat to a high-tech future, while a virtual telecommunications monopoly continues to milk us for their own profits.”

* * *

OUR reader continues: “One reason that US-based ISPs can afford to offer very cheap rates to individuals ($20 per month, unlimited access), is that they can get their reliable leased lines and phone connections at a reasonable price and exactly when and where they want it.

“The local telephone companies cannot provide the same technical capability here. When an ISP orders a large leased-line, the local telco promises its delivery in three months and usually delivers it three to nine months delayed after the promised date. Their rental prices are also higher than equivalent prices abroad.

“This makes it very hard for a local ISP to project costs and infrastructure upgrades, especially when subscriber growth outpaces bandwidth and infrastructure growth (leading to congestion).

“Everybody knows that the Internet is the next massive business frontier and that it is where most of the next century’s sales and business opportunities will be generated. Many Filipino schools, businesses, and professionals are just starting to learn their way around this new business environment. Phone metering will halt or slow that process.

* * *

“IF Filipinos are prevented now from becoming part of the Internet community by excessive prices (caused by phone metering), it will be too late for them to catch up with the rest of the world later on.

“Filipino students who would have gotten a headstart on the Internet will have been held back because the rates have become too expensive. Those who would have gotten smart and rich on the Internet will be prevented from using it to improve their lives.

“How many schools will be prevented from getting on the Internet because of phone metering? Even if they manage to acquire the computer hardware, will they be able to afford an Internet connection, and to offer cheap Internet access to their students?

“Now is not the time to impose new rates on top of the still expensive Internet access! Last year, local businesses and individuals turned to the Internet to cut expensive telecommunications (fax/phone) costs when the economic crisis hit us.

“Imposing local phone metering now would be like kicking them while they’re down—you’d see more small firms go belly up more quickly! Individual users will probably stop their phone subscriptions.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 4, 1999)

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