PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


There are a few secondary hardware considerations, the most important of which is how much memory (short- and long-term) you're going to need.

Many older games run just fine within the one megabyte that DOS, a sixteen-bit operating system, can address directly, but hot tickets like Origin's Strike Commander can make good use of up to two or four megabytes of RAM. If you don't have the extra memory, you may not get some of the programs' extra features, such as theme music during game play.

RAM prices have hovered around a measly $50 per megabyte for a couple of years now, so it seems penny-pinching not to opt for an extra meg or two of RAM. You install extra memory simply by plugging SIMMs into sockets on the motherboard.

Long-term memory needs (that is, storage) are served by hard disks. Like the eponymous "floppy" disks, hard disks (aka "fixed" disks, because they're usually inside the computer and not removable like a floppy) store data by magnetically recording it on a spinning platter coated with iron oxide—sort of a combination of phonograph record and recording tape technologies.

But whereas floppies hold only enough for a small program (360 kilobytes to 3 megabytes), hard disks hold much more: from 20 megabytes to 600 megabytes and up. Also, the time it takes for the computer to find something on a hard disk is vastly shorter—on the order of one ten-thousandth of a second (versus a third of a second for a floppy)—so you can access your data quickly.

The only real question is how much hard disk is enough.

With simulations getting bigger and more ambitious (some take up as much as several dozen megabytes of space on your hard disk) and hard disk prices falling, it's tempting to recommend the biggest hard disk you can afford, but there are better things to spend your money on (like CPU speed).

Consider: if you focus on one game at a time, you might be able to make do with a 60- or 80-megabyte hard disk. On the other hand, if you like to play the field, flying one game one day and another the next, you may want to keep several "mounted" on your hard disk at the same time. With the dozen or so games reviewed in this book on my hard disk, I'm running out of space, and I've got over 600 megabytes.

The cheapest time to upgrade is when you first buy your computer (like ordering mag wheels with your car instead of adding them later). If the basic hard disk that comes with your computer is 60 or 80 megabytes, the store might offer you a 120-megabyte hard disk—normally a $200 item—for only an extra $100.

If you already have a hard disk and find it isn't big enough, you don't necessarily have to sell it or trade it in or toss it out to add more capacity. Most computers have room inside the case for a second hard disk, and the controller (the interface between the motherboard and your mass-storage media) can usually handle two fixed disks.

That about does it for the necessities.

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