The first time I ever walked into a store that sold personal computers I was terrified.

To begin with, I knew absolutely nothing about them and the store was jammed with people who acted as if they did. On top of that, all the salesmen were busy and--when an ignorant chap like me was able to catch their attention--they often were condescending.

But the coup de grace was the presence of three kids who hogged all but one of the demonstration terminals so they could play the latest electronic games.

I never hesitated. In one graceful move, I turned around and walked out.

If you think you've been intimidated by the dawn of the new home computer age, wait till you venture into a personal computer store on a Saturday.

Some of them are madhouses.

Accordingly, such stores are not always the best places to decide whether you like the idea of personal computing or to find the right computer for you, considering that most carry three or fewer computer brands.

(This isn't a blanket indictment, there are stores with courteous, helpful sales staffs.)

So where does that leave you? Right back where you started: on your own. You're going to have to do a lot research BEFORE you corner the salesman over your dream computer.

The easiest and most enjoyable resource right now is the growing collection of magazines devoted to the personal computer industry. There are dozens of them, some slick and glossy and others cheap and tacky. More important, however, there are one or two general purpose magazines dedicated to the ordinary people of the world that are quite good, simple, and entertaining. The best of them will fire your imagination.

Popular Computing (P.O. Box 307, Martinsville, N.J., 08836; newstand price $2.50) may be the best of the lot. A typical issue contains a down-to-earth question-and-answer section, plus regular features on small business computing, new products, educational computing, and telecomputing (wherein you link your computer to another via the telephone). est of all, its feature articles are clear, simple, and focused on topics of importance to us computer neophytes. In the May issue, for instance, there was a review of four low-cost computers that ranged in price from $150 to $400.

In second place--once again in my opinion--is Personal Computing (4 Disc Drive, Box 13916, Philadelphia, Pa., 19101; newstand price $2). It, too, is targeted towards the unsophisticated user, but sometimes emerges a little less well organized and focused than "Popular Computing."

Whatever the magazine (some other examples: Desktop Computing, Microcomputing, and Byte, which may be the most technical of all), they offer the same opportunity: a valuable glimpse at the wares of the desktop-computer industry. In particular, the numerous advertisements for computer products can give you a working knowledge of what's for sale, and the discount personal computer store ads (and there are a number of them) will give you a good idea of what you can expect to pay for the computer hardware (equipment), software (the recorded instructions that you buy to make the computer do what you want it to) and other goodies you might decide to buy.

Unfortunately, these magazines haven't yet managed to slip into most supermarket and drug store magazine racks. Their time will come. But in the meantime, you either have to subscribe or visit a computer or electronics store that carries them.