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4. Branch Computers Briefing




4. Branch Computers Briefing

When a branch reviews its administrative resources one of the first considerations is the purchase or upgrading of branch computers.

This guidance note is intended to assist branches in purchasing the right equipment.

NOTE: Advice on computer purchase goes out of date very quickly - contact one of the contacts (right) for updated information.


When purchasing a new computer system a minimum specification is set out below.


330 MHz Pentium II (or III) processor


2Mb video memory

512K internal cache

2 ISA slots

2 serial, 1 parallel and separate mouse port

4Gb IDE hard disk drive

3.5" 1.44Mb floppy disk drive

32X CD Rom drive

56.6k modem

16 bit Sound card and speakers

15" Colour SVGA Monitor

Keyboard and mouse

Benchmark price £800 (inc. VAT)(Beware quoted computer prices often exclude VAT)

If your budget runs to a higher specification it is always a good idea to invest in more memory. 128Mb RAM and a larger hard disk drive.


An essential extra is a printer. An inkjet printer such as the HP Deskjet 710C will print in black and white and colour at about 5 pages per minute. Benchmark price £130 inc. VAT.

This should meet the needs of most branches, although a laser printer such as the HP Laserjet 1100A will produce sharper copy for publication and be more economical for heavier use. Benchmark price £335 inc. VAT.

Other non essential but useful peripherals include a scanner and/or digital camera for Pictures. Get best dpi for your money.

A tape or zip drive back up system is useful for for moving large files or when that enthusiastic branch officer accidentally wipes your hard drive!

Branches should of course ensure that the PC is properly sited on appropriate furniture in accordance with current health and safety guidance.

(See UNISON guide 'Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992')


Computer hardware requires software (also called 'programmes' or 'applications') to operate.

There are other integrated packages such as Lotus Smartsuite or Corel Wordperfect.

The absolute essential is an operating system which will almost always come pre-installed. Most machines will come with Windows 98. There are alternatives - but don't bother.

Other necessary software include word processing, spreadsheet, e-mail and database applications. The best solution is to buy an integrated package such as Microsoft Office 2000 (small business edition) at around £380. The Pro version (£495) includes Access (database) and Powerpoint (presentation). The Premium version (£585) adds FrontPage which is useful if the branch is planning to produce its own webpages.

Whilst they are perfectly good applications you have to recognise that Micrsoft has such a dominant market position that you will be forever converting files.

You might be able to pick up the earlier Office 97 version of these applications much cheaper and these will meet the needs of most branches for the next few years.

The word processor in these applications is perfectly adequate for newsletters but the branch publicity officer may require advanced Desktop Publishing functions.

Internet access can be achieved using UNISON's own free internet access. This gives unlimited free e.mail addresses, web space and 24 hour technical support. Phone 0870 9009090 for the easy to install CD.


There are many suppliers who can supply to the recommended specification. The machine must be IBM PC Compatible i.e. not an Apple Mac.

However, remember the maxim "let the buyer beware". If the branch does not have an experienced advisor you may feel more comfortable going to a reputable supplier with outlets in Scotland such as PC WORLD, TIME, TINY etc. As usual shop around for the best price.

Also don't forget to check the warranty and technical support. How long and at what price does the extended warranty cover. Does the technical support visit you or do you need to return the PC.


UNISON is registered under the Data Protection Act. There is no need for branches to register separately provided the information held on their computers is only used for UNISON purposes.

Branches must advise the General Secretary that they are using computer equipment for branch administration purposes and the nature of the information they hold.


All branch office equipment should of course be insured.


This guidance has of course been written in the strange language beloved of the computer world! If you require a translation or any further guidance please contact: Dave Watson or Chris Bartter

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Further Information

Contacts list:

Dave Watson -

Chris Bartter

John Stevenson (webmanager)

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572