So the widget you're thinking of adding to your home computer got rave reviews, the company is well-established and your system meets the requirements.
That means you're safe, right?
With apologies to George Gershwin, "It Ain't Necessarily So."
I had eagerly awaited the arrival of an ATI All-in-Wonder Pro, an 8-megabyte PCI bus video card that incorporates a TV tuner and a graphics accelerator with 3-D capabilities.
The product of a Canadian company, it had gotten good reviews in the trade press. And it came with a setup CD and a manual that at first seemed to be a fine example of the art, with clear diagrams and instruction. Video cables and in-out adapters were included. And the TV tuner part was pretty special, with zoom and the ability to scan through all available stations for, as the box says, "an at-a-glance look at what's on." Not bad for $169.99.
The TV capability was important to me because the set in my home office has gone off to college. So, following instructions, I opened the computer case, removed the existing video card, inserted the new one, fired up the system and started the installation process. It went swimmingly, until it came time to restart Windows 98, which went obediently into restart mode and hung. ... and hung and hung and hung.
Then I noticed an insert to the manual labeled "For Windows 98 Users." It gave this advice: "Windows 98 offers many exciting new features for users with an All-in-Wonder or All-in-Wonder Pro. The fastest way for you to access these features is to set up your All-in-Wonder with Windows 95. ... and then upgrade to Windows 98. Reformatting your hard drive is not necessary."
Say what? Go back to 95, install card, upgrade to 98? No way!
When even a new install of Windows 98 would identify the hardware and then hang on restart, out came the new card and in went the old card -- and my dog got a vocabulary lesson in case he learns to talk and encounters a situation for which "Gosh!" would be inadequate.
Later, a visit to ATI's Web site found this little gem buried within:
"When attempting to install the ATI DISPLAY DRIVERs for Windows 98 the following error occurs. ... After this error occurs the system will hang during the Windows RE-START required by the driver installation. ATI is investigating reports of this issue. This error does not occur for most users."
It then goes on to suggest trying it without installation-monitoring software, and if that fails, asks for more information about your system than even its mother would know.
None of which is stated on the box, which chirps that the card is "designed to make installation easy so you are up and running in minutes." True -- but just how many minutes?
More on this subject in the future, after I've wrestled the card into submission. But that's something the consumer shouldn't have to do. And something he should know about before buying.
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ATI Web site: www.atitech.com.