Horsepower needed for 'serious' desktop publishing


"Serious" desktop publishing is my term for those people who want to use their computer to best advantage in text and graphic design. "Serious" desktop publishing requires a certain amount of computer horsepower -- gadgets and hardware requirements above and beyond simple word processing.

Let's start with the computer itself. A year ago, computer stores ballyhooed "640K RAM" as being "all the memory you need." Now many stores advertise a full megabyte of memory as a standard feature. If you want to desktop-publish as a professional, you will need more RAM -- at least 2MB, preferably 4MB. Desktop publishing programs hunger for memory, as do graphics.

You should get either a fast 286 computer (12 megahertz or more) or, better yet, a 386sx or 386. This is because speed does make a difference when your pages get loaded with graphics.

The computer should have at least a 40MB hard disk -- larger if you expect to use many fonts or graphics. Fonts and graphics take up a lot of disk space, as do desktop publishing programs. Ultra-serious publishers might get one of the new read/write optical drives (about $5,000) for storing projects and graphics.

You should get a VGA color monitor if you expect to be dealing in colors at all. Otherwise a monochrome monitor is fine.

The basic elements of desktop publishing consist of text and graphics. To create your text, you need a word processing program. (More on this in a future column when I discuss software.) Such software does not typically need any extra hardware. Even so, you might consider getting a modem so you can get text from information services -- online encyclopedias or newspaper data bases, for example -- or from writers with a computer and modem.

You can acquire graphics in several ways. With a combination of draw and paint programs, you can create your own. Clip art -- prescanned images on disk that is copyright free -- is another good way. With a scanner, you can import graphics from a printed page. Scanners read a page in much the same way photocopying machines do, but instead of shooting out a copy on paper, you get a copy on screen and in a file on your hard disk.

Two types of scanners are offered: full-page and hand scanners. Hand scanners are smaller and less expensive than the full-page ones. They also offer convenience in that you can grab small images off pages easily without having to take apart books or magazines.

Full-page scanners are more convenient for big images and necessary for optical character scanning ("OCS," which is yet another way of importing text) and for FAX boards. The Hewlett-Packard Scanjet Plus may be the best full-page scanner. For a hand scanner, try Logitech.

You'll need a laser printer. I favor lasers with a Canon engine, such as Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Apple and more. You'll need at least 1.5MB of memory in your printer to get a full page with graphics at 300 dots per inch. Buy up to 3MB of memory if you plan on using a number of graphics per page. (The more memory, the faster the printer prints graphics.) You may also want to buy a Postscript board for the printer if you need Postscript compatibility.

Last, you will also need a mouse, a roll-around device seen on Macintosh computers and now more and more on PCs. Most desktop publishing programs require a mouse.

So that's hardware: computer, special monitor, modem, scanner, laser printer, mouse. Next, software.

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