Q. A local company in New Jersey is making IBM computers available for $700--this includes a printer, scanner and NT. There are no slots in the PC. What do you think?

A. International Business Machines Corp. has taken a beating over the years for making personal computers that are IBM (inexpensively built in Mexico). This has changed, and IBM has developed a pretty good reputation for hardware and a very good reputation for support via their World Wide Web site (www.ibm.com). This means that any close-out product with the IBM logo on it should be a safe bet.

Our questioner is going to have a special operating system from Microsoft called Windows NT loaded on the unit. You would normally see this in a large corporate networking environment. As a result, you may have a hard time with running some of your software--especially if you are a gamemeister. But that is no real problem, because you can always yank the NT and put on a more consumer-friendly operating system.

The final characteristic, no slots, will have to be pondered awhile. If you sign up for cable-modem service, they may require a specific network card--the fact that you already have one does not mean that it will be compatible with them.

The answer is--for 700 bucks ya can't go wrong!

What kind of a network card should I buy?

When a radio caller asked this question, my on-air colleague suggested that the caller buy the cheapest network interface card (NIC) on the market ($15?). I took the opposite tack and suggested that he purchase a 10/100 NIC from 3Com Corp. ($89).

The "el cheapo" rationale can be argued cogently. It goes something like this: If all network cards comply with what is called "ethernet" standards, what does it matter what brand you buy? Your operating system is designed to comply with these network standards set forth by such august bodies as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (the much-vaunted I-triple-E). Who can argue with groups that have such adjectives as "august" associated with them?

The problem occurs in the real world. Networks are held together with hubs and routers--most of these vendors are familiar with brand name NICs and may have trouble with off-brand components. Today's networks have varying operating systems on them, and standardizing on one NIC can make troubleshooting easy.

I may go to the poorhouse with brand-name network cards, but my network will work until they shut me down.

I have a Mac Performa 7100 and want to upgrade the memory.

Changing memory SIMMs in personal computers can be as easy as putting new batteries in a television remote control and as tough as squeezing an automobile battery into a flashlight.

Don't go to your local computer store and stumble on the first person with a red vest you happen to see. Their knowledge may range from french fries to selling shoes, but may not have reached the level of Mac memory yet.

Apple has made its desktop offerings in a wide variety of designs and (recently) colors. Some open up easily and some need special tools. Because of this, it is best to go to a company that specializes in Apple computer memory to get the best price and service.

One place to start is RAM Watch (1-800-801-4622 or macresource.pair.com/mrp/ramwatch.shtml). Another place to consider is Absolute Mac (www.absolutemac.com). In addition to competitive prices, these sites can give you information on compatibility as well as price trends.

John Gilroy of Item Inc. is heard on WAMU-FM radio's "The Computer Guys" at 1 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month. Send your questions to him in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or via e-mail at jgilroy@iteminc.com