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How Many Computers Do You Need?

Everyone can't have her own computer in your home. How to make peace in your family.

Your teenager is clamoring for his own gaming PC, your daughter's school uses iMacs, and your spouse wants to do more work from home. You can't buy a different PC for every person in your home, so what is the answer?

Sharing a PC is perfectly acceptable in many family situations. For example, very young children won't be occupying a computer with schoolwork or intensive gaming, so their parents can use the same PC for Internet access, word processing, and budget crunching, as long as they keep an eye on their kids' activities and back up important data. In fact, sharing a PC with young children can be a way to enjoy its entertainment and educational value together.

Sharing a PC is less desirable when parents are doing mission-critical work at home, or when kids are dominating a PC with games, Web surfing, or work of their own. Buying two PCs is your best solution in this case, but game consoles, set-top boxes, and appliances that can access the Web and e-mail can be decent stand-ins.

If you do decide to purchase more than one PC for your home, consider special situations. A simple PC may work for you, but the rest of your family might benefit from a system that can handle more demanding multimedia tasks, such as editing digital photos and movies. In that case, at least one of your PCs should have a better video card, a CD-RW drive, and plenty of USB and Firewire ports to connect digital cameras and other peripherals. An Apple G4, equipped with a DVD-R drive is an expensive, but excellent graphics solution.

Space can be a consideration when deciding to buy more than one PC, but there are flat screen monitors and thin PCs available. They cost more and aren't as expandable than their traditional counterparts, but save power and valuable desktop space.

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