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The types and characteristics of the hardware you choose to run Books In Store affect performance, capacity, and capability—although not nearly as dramatically as in other inventory systems. In the main, the features you choose for your computer are governed by what applications other than Books In Store might demand (desktop publishing, accounting, games, etc.). For example, a desktop publishing package precludes anything but a top quality laser printer. While Books In Store can make use of the laser printer, New Standard was not the application that required it.
The minimum computer necessary to run New Standard is any modern computer equipped with Windows and a CD-ROM drive. Of course, the faster the computer, the quicker operations will be.
Being a slave to the machine has never been so true as now. With today's premium processors running at 3Ghz+, there exists no reason why you should be stuck in front of the computer any more than necessary. While any processor will work with New Standard, you should keep in mind the rule of thumb that half of your processor will be devoted to Windows™, the other half devoted to any applications which you may be running. Therefore, if you are running a 1.5Ghz processor, you can consistently depend on only 750Mhz being available to your processing tasks.
New Standard generally uses less that twenty megabytes (20MB) of memory. This number can go up during operational intensive tasks but will rarely, if ever, exceed fifty megabytes (50MB).
New Standard can use an significant amount of disk space, although, again, New Standard is not ususally the determining application. For a one-hundred thousand title database, you should allocate approximately five-hundred megabytes (500MB) of disk space for your database and store related files. This number can increase substantially if you choose to keep your backups on your local hard drive on a consistent basis. Using popular compression methodology, New Standard is able to compress a critical file backup of the example database listed above to approximately twenty megabytes (20MB).
New Standard works on any standard VGA monitor available at any local computer store. While any monitor will do, if you are going to be staring at any computer screen for an extended period of time, consider giving your eyes a break and purchasing a larger monitor.
CD-ROMs (Compact Disk - Read Only Memory) drives are available in several permutations. The most common rating is the so-called "X" factor (24X, 48X, etc.). This is a complex measure of the drive’s average access speed (how long it takes to get to the requested data) and transfer rate (once at a starting point, how fast it moves data into the computer). For commercial applications, access time is more important than transfer rate. For games, both are important. For any but the most demanding consumer, a twenty-four speed—24 times the speed of the original (1988) CD-ROMs, not twenty-four forward gears—is ample.
Networking is a non-trivial undertaking. It is a rule of the universe that a data processing application is allowed one and only one copy of a master file. This one-file rule is true for Books In Store, any other inventory system, the New York Stock Exchange, American Airlines reservations, and all the rest.
A "network" comprises three distinct entities: networking system software, some additional hardware and cables, and network versions of application software (like Books In Store).
Getting all the pieces to work together is an advanced endeavor. Once running, however, a network should be almost invisible to the user. We say "almost" because a network environment does impose a slight additional discipline and loss of flexibility. For example, you must avoid powering off (some) pieces of the system because other pieces may be depending on the box you want to power down. Some activities are prohibited while the network is ‘live’ (such as backups or file repair).
For a step up in getting your network running, see our TechNotes: Networking your business, and Windows Network Setup.
Bar Code Readers
A bar code reader is a device that scans the bars on merchandise to obtain the item’s identification. Hand-held bar code readers come in three basic models: the kind that look like an aluminum cigar, the windshield ice-scraper shape, and the one that looks like an alien’s ray gun. All connect between the keyboard and the computer.
The aluminum cigar model is the cheapest, but has two shortcomings. First, the tip must be in physical contact with the bar code (difficult for a frozen turkey). Second, in the event of a misread, you must drag the wand over the bar code again (and again, and again,…).
The ice-scraper model - CCD, Charge-Coupled Device - is medium priced. Misreads are not a problem with this device, for it automatically scans the bar code sixty times a second until properly read. The only deficiency is that the device must be placed very close to the bar code (less than a quarter of an inch).
The ray-gun type scanner is expensive. It can, however, read bar codes on surfaces at greater distances. These readers are rare in a bookstore.
So, what for you? The ice-scraper (CCD) is the best compromise.
This is the gismo through which you feed a credit card. It reads the magnetic stripe on the back of the credit card directly into the computer. Unless you are doing credit card authorization through the point of sale computer, you have no need for these devices.
Printers are of two kinds: dot matrix and laser (ink jet printers should not be considered for a business practice). Dot matrix printers come in letter quality, near letter quality, draft, and literally hundreds of other combinations. If you decide on a laser printer, get one with as few extra features as possible. Additional capability (fonts, etc.) can be handled by software.
Sidenote: Why should ink jets not be considered in common business practice? Unless you are going to be printing color fliers on a consistent basis, perhaps a newsletter with color artwork, or some other such endeavor we highly recommend staying far away from ink jet printers. Though their low initial cost may seem appealing, their eventual maintenance cost will far outweigh the cost of a laser printer in only a years time! The business model for ink jet printers seems to mimic the Gillette model at the turn of the last century: Give away the razor and sell the blades.
A modem is a device allowing your computer to communicate with other computers over telephone lines. You need a modem to place orders electronically and, optionally, to talk to the rest of the world. Modems come in two varieties—internal and external (external is best)—with several speeds, and, optionally, with fax capability. A speed of 14,400 bits per second is ample for all but net surfing. Fax capability is a nice feature, but not essential.
Point of Sale Receipt Printer
A receipt printer differs from a regular printer in two major respects: it prints very short lines (usually forty characters), and uses roll-fed paper. Receipt printers range in price from about $200 to over $1000. Yes, they cost more than they should, but there is not nearly the market for receipt printers as for ordinary printers. Unless you can avoid giving receipts, you probably need a receipt printer. Receipt printers differ from each other primarily in speed. Books In Store was designed to use the slowest (and cheapest) printers available.
Electronic cash drawer
Under control of the computer, usually by way of the receipt printer, this metal tray with container goes ‘ding’ and pops open at the end of the sale. If you make change out of a cigar box, or use a cash drawer built into your checkout counter, you don’t need an electronic cash drawer.
While hardware changes on a day to day basis in the ever-changing world of computers, there are some general rules of thumb which can make buying new hardware easier on you.
There really exist two "models" of computers. They can be broken down into the "value" class, and the "performance" class. You may think of the value class processor as a heavy-duty workman's class truck, and the performance class processor as a sports car. While the speed of the sports car may appeal to you, really digging under the hood of these two processors reveals very little difference in certain types of applications.
If you will be primarily concerned with graphics type of applications, we recommend a performance quality processor. Current processors include the P4 (socket 478) and AMD-XP class chips. These chips will help in overall performance, but really shine when dealing with graphics applications, such as desktop publishing, image editing and manipulations (such applications are often used in the creation of newsletters). However, if you will be mostly concerned with business applications, such as inventory control, spreadsheet manipulations, and financial programs you will probably notice very little, if any "real" difference between the two classes of processors. Frequently, many of our customers opt to get a more powerful performance class computer for their backroom station(s), allowing them flexibility and the value class processors for their point of sale and lookup stations which exist in the storefront itself.
Why take so much time to explain to you the difference in processors? There is a considerable difference in price between the two class of chips. You might reasonably expect to spend one-hundred dollars for a value-class processor, while you could easily drop well over three-hundred dollars for the performance based counterpart. Make no mistake, you will probably notice little difference between the two chips unless you really put a demand on your machine time and again. You will more likely see an improvement if you increase the amount of memory available to your machine.
Memory is paramount in computing circles. So many catch-phrases apply to memory, perhaps the most adequate is: "bigger, faster, more, more, more." While you should stay within reason (and budget), you will notice a substantial performance increase on your machine with more memory. The absolute minimum amount of memory that we recommend you put into your computer is one-hundred twenty-eight megabytes (128MB). You will notice a huge increase in performance if you bump up to two-hundred and fifty-six megabytes (256MB) of memory, and yet another bump when you go to five-hundred and twelve megabytes (512MB) of memory. There exists few combinations of working class machines which will actually take advantage of more than 512MB of memory at the time this was written (summer 2004). Unless you are running multiple image editing software packages on top of a data intensive application such as New Standard, 512MB of memory should be more than sufficient to complete all tasks which you have. Consider carefully when purchasing your computer between memory and CPU speed. If you have a choice between bumping up two-hundred megahertz (200Mhz, or .2Ghz), or bumping up your memory; opt for the memory every time.
Knowing that you need a lot of memory is a life saver. There exists, however, a wrench to be thrown into your plans. Speed. Memory itself is beneficial to you, but not if you are going to be waiting on the memory! This is a hugely technical discussion worthy of a full-blown essay and cannot be discussed in depth in this mini-guide to hardware. However, when looking at memory, keep in mind that the bigger the number the better. PC2700 is better than PC2100, for example. To translate technical jargon into plain English, consider that your processor and motherboard have a super-highway by which they communicate with each other. If your computer then has to take the one-lane exit ramp to access your memory, then merge back via the one-lane entrance ramp, your will have a consistent "bottleneck," leading to a veritable traffic jamb where your computer is always waiting on your memory. The tech-person helping you purchase your hardware, or assemble your machine should be able to help you in this regard.
Putting the right configuration of hardware parts together is a task involving several trade-offs, but, in general, New Standard is not the software that determines your choice. Buy your hardware with your other application's needs in mind, and our software will happily use whatever you've provided. Please do not hesitate to call on our experts for advice. We have over thirty years of experience in the computer industry and are constantly updated on the latest and greatest technologies looming on the horizon.
Let us help. We can give you a leg up on the competition with our expertise in the field.
Peering bleary eyed at receipt tape with faded print is no fun. Need ribbons? How about paper for your receipt printer? We've got these and more things that help keep your store together on a day-to-day basis.