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The Computer Scrapper's Hardware

Lots of people ask what computer equipment they need, or, would find helpful, for computer scrapbooking. So, here it is!

We've tried to avoid mentioning specific brands as there are lots of good manufacturers for all of these items. We've started with the basics but we've also included a few items that, although not absolutely necessary, are great accessories!

An important thing to keep in mind when buying computer equipment is the size of your scrapbook pages. If you're doing standard sized 8.5" x 11" pages, you will be able to use regular printers and scanners. But for 12" x 12" pages, you will have to decide if you want an oversized printer or scanner. Yes, they're available, but they're more expensive too!

OK, so you probably already have one of these or you wouldn't be reading this! But, you may be looking to upgrade or get a new computer in the near future. If you are, here's a few things to consider for your computer:

-Lots of Memory: Digital photographs can be quite large files and manipulating them can be demanding on your software programs and your computer's memory. A computer equipped in the 96 MB to 128 MB range should do a pretty good job of handling fairly good sized photographs.

-Big Hard Disk: We've yet to have a hard disk we didn't eventually outgrow, regardless of how big we thought it was when we got it. In this area, size does matter, and, bigger is definitely better. Larger hard disks will let you install your software programs on them instead of having to run them from their CD disc. This is more convenient and the programs will run faster from a hard disk than they will from a CD. Again, digital photographs can have very large files and a bigger hard disk will let you store more of them. Hard disks get bigger all the time and ones in the 10 gigabyte range are fairly inexpensive these days, so, try to get at least a 10 gigabyte hard disk.

-USB Port: The USB (Universal Serial Bus) technology found on most newer computers and computer equipment is a delight. This technology is a replacement for the older parallel, serial, and printer ports and lets you plug all kinds of printers, scanners, modems, and other devices into your computer without all the compatibility and configuration problems we've had to fight with when using parallel and serial ports. Plus, you can plug and unplug USB devices without having to shut down the computer. USB is the way to go!

Color Inkjet Printer
There are lots of good manufactures and models of color inkjet printers available. Just keep in mind that your pages are only as good as your printer! That doesn't mean you have to buy the most expensive inkjet printer you can find, but you should probably avoid the very bottom of the price range. The cheapest printers might be fine for business needs but not for scrapbooking. The things you should look for in a printer are:

-Photo Quality Printing: Even if you're not planning on printing digital photos right now, get a printer that can. Trust us!

-Paper Weights: Check the printer's specifications and make sure it will handle heavier paper weights so that you can print on card stock papers and photo papers as well as regular weight papers.

-USB Port: If you're computer has USB, get a USB printer!

Scanners are great tools for scrapbooking! You can scan old photographs, new photographs, memorabilia, and other items to use on your pages. The things you should look for in a scanner are:

-Flatbed: Although scanners come in different configurations, flatbed scanners are generally the best. With a flatbed scanner, your photograph remains stationary while it's scanned. This almost always will produce sharper and better scans than with a scanner where your photograph is fed through the scanner.

-Scanning Area: Some scanners will scan a full 8.5" x 11" area and some will only scan a slightly smaller area. If you want to scan to archive your scrapbook pages, try to get a scanner that will do the full 8.5" x 11" area.

-USB Port: If you're computer has USB, get a USB scanner!

CD Recorder
A CD Recorder offers one of the most reliable options for long term archival of your photographs and scrapbook pages. Life expectancy for CD discs is estimated to be a minimum of 75 years if they're stored properly, and, they're so compact too!

CD Recorders have dropped dramatically in price over the last year with a number of models under $200. CD-R discs can hold up to 650 MB of data on a single CD disc which means you can store a fair amount of photographs or scrapbook pages on a single disc. And, with a cost of only about $1.50 per CD-R disc, they're the least expensive computer media around!

There are two types of CD recorders on the market: CD-R and CD-RW. CD-R units record information onto blank CD-R discs that is permanent. The more recent technology is CD-RW drives. These units can record to CD-R discs but they can also record to a newer kind of CD disc called CD-RW. These discs operate more like floppy disks in that you can rewrite data to them. CD-RW drives and CD-RW discs both cost more than their CD-R cousins.

So which should you choose? For archiving, the regular CD-R discs should do fine. One of the nice things about them is that they cannot be accidentally erased. It would be a shame to accidentally rewrite over those cherished scrapbook pages of Aunt Molly. CD-R discs average around $1.50 per disc as opposed to CD-RW discs which run closer to $5.00 each. So, we recommend archiving to regular CD-R discs.

As for which type of drive to choose, CD-RW drives are not that much more expensive than CD-R drives. If you can afford the little extra, get the CD-RW drive. It could come in handy for non-archive purposes, and it will give you the flexibility to use both kinds of CD discs.

The things you should look for in a CD-R or CD-RW drive are:

-Drive Speed: Somebody came up with a system for identifying the speed of these drives. For CD-R drives there are two numbers; the writing speed of the drive, and, the playback (reading) speed of the drive. They're generally shown in a format like "4x8" which means the drive writes to CD-R discs at a 4x speed and plays back CDs at an 8x speed. For CD-RW drives, there are 3 numbers: one for writing to regular CD-R discs, one for writing to CD-RW discs, and, one for reading CDs.

You can gauge the speed of the drive by comparing the numbers. A 4x speed is twice as fast as a 2x speed. Recording a full 650 MB of data at a 2x speed takes about 35 to 40 minutes. If that's fast enough for your needs, then a faster drive may not be worth the extra money. Just remember, you can't do anything else with your computer while it's "burning" a CD.

-Internal or External Drive:
Internal drives come with either an IDE or a SCSI (pronounced like "skuzy") connection. They're not hard to install if you know someone who's handy with installing computer devices. If you're buying a new computer, you might want to look for a unit with a CD recorder already installed or buy the unit and have the dealer install it when you buy the computer. An internal drive saves space on your desk too and doesn't require yet another extension cord.

Most current external drives come with either a parallel or a SCSI connection. One thing to be aware of is if you're connecting several parallel devices together, on the same parallel port, equipment conflicts are not at all uncommon. If you're going to use a parallel drive, you might want to consider adding a second parallel port to your computer. They're not expensive and can eliminate compatibility headaches. Drives with SCSI connections require that you have a SCSI card in your computer. A SCSI card can run from $100 on up but they do provide a much faster connection between the computer and the drive. You can also "daisy chain" other SCSI devices (like a scanner) using the same SCSI card.

-USB Port: Sony has a USB based CD-RW drive on the market and other manufacturers will probably follow soon. As with all the other USB based devices, they're much simpler to install and use than either SCSI, parallel, or, serial port based equipment.

One final note for CD recorders. We really recommend not using them for playing CD discs if at all possible. Yes they can, but they're more sensitive and expensive than plain CD drives. So, if possible, don't replace your regular CD drive with a CD recorder. Keep both and use the regular CD drive for playing CDs and save the CD recorder for archiving. Plus, regular CD drives generally have a much faster playback speed than CD recorders.

Film Scanner
If you're fanatical about the quality of your photographs, you should consider adding a film scanner to your scrapbooking system. Be forewarned though, they're not cheap!

When you shoot a photograph on film, the image captured on the film is the first generation of the image. A photograph made from the negative is a second generation image which will have some small amount of loss of image clarity from the first generation negative. When you scan the photograph, there will again be some loss in image quality.

With a film scanner, you're capturing the image directly from the first generation image. Although even with this, there is some loss in image quality, you have eliminated one generation of image degradation by scanning directly from the negative. And, believe it or not, there is a very noticeable difference.

Many film scanners will scan at a resolution of 2700 dots per inch, or higher. At that resolution, you can scan 35 mm film and have an image suitable for producing a photo quality 8 x 10 photograph.

With the proper settings, a film scanner can also capture a broader range of the colors of the original image than a flatbed scanner can from a photo. This is especially important in the highlight and shadow areas of photographs.

If you decide to take the plunge for a film scanner, some things to consider are:

-Color Range: A film scanner with a 36 bit color range will capture more of the subtle colors in an image than one with a 30 bit color range.

-Scanning Resolution: The higher the true scanning DPI, the better. If you would like to print true photo quality 8x10 pictures, get a scanner with at least a 2700 dpi scanning resolution.

Digital Camera
The quality of pictures that can be produced from digital cameras is getting better all the time while at the same time, they're becoming more and more affordable. Except for some super expensive models, they're picture quality is still not up to par with a decent 35 mm camera, but they are so convenient!

Although initially more expensive than most 35 mm cameras, if you shoot lots of pictures, you will save a ton of money on film processing. Plus, you get the instant gratification of having your photographs back just as fast as you can download them to your computer.

One of the nice things about working with digital photographs is that you can make copies of copies as many times as you like, and there is never any loss of image quality. This may be a good reason to consider a digital camera and the reason is this:

Like we mentioned earlier, when you scan a photograph or even a negative, there is some loss in image quality. Depending upon the scanning equipment that you use and your skill with it, by the time you've made a digital version of a regular photograph, the quality may not be better than what you could have captured initially with a decent digital camera. That plus the cost of processing and the time for scanning may make a digital camera an attractive option.

Digital cameras are not going to replace traditional cameras for some time to come, but they are lots of fun and certainly an easy way to get photographs into your computer.

Some of the things you should look for in a digital camera are:

-Image size: The larger the number of pixels a camera can capture, the bigger the photo quality prints you can make from it. As a general guideline, figure that it takes about 200 pixels per inch to produce a photo quality image from an inkjet printer. Based on that, a digital camera that captures a 1280 x 1024 pixel image can produce a 6 x 5 photo quality print.

-Temporary Image Storage: Different cameras use different types of memory for storing photos. Most come with some built in memory than can be expanded with some type of memory cards. Don't just look at the cost of the camera, take the cost of additional memory into consideration also. Also, unlike regular film based cameras, when your digital camera's memory is full, you will have to either download it to a computer, or, switch memory cards. Another totally different option is Sony's Mavica cameras that use computer floppy disks. It may be easier to carry a box of floppy disks on vacation than your computer!

-Computer Connection: Except for the floppy disk digital cameras, the camera, or its memory cards, have to connect to the computer in some way for downloading the images. Cameras are starting to appear with USB connections which are faster than serial connections. So, if you have a computer with USB, this could be a big plus.

So, that's it! Hopefully this list will get you on your way to setting up your own ultimate computer scrapbooking system!

Have fun and happy scrapping!

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