O.K. I have been looking at computer control for about a year now and have read so much about it I have confused the hell out of myself.
Anyway I want to get started so that next year I can put on a real show. So I need some advice on where to start (actually I need to be spoon feed as I confuse easily).

The main conditions/constraints I have need to work with are..
1/ It has to work in Australia - that means mostly low voltage mini lights with a few 240 volt rope lights

2/ I need it to be fairly self explanatory, or at least it needs to work even if I don't understand the electronics (I did do 2 years of university electronics in the early 90's but since my accident I can't seem to recall any of it, although maybe that's just old age and atrophy )

and finally
3/ it needs to be cheap (not cheap as in 'discount store junk') as I am living on an invalid pension and at the end of the day I don't have millions to spare.

As near as I can work out I need a setup like this....

------------
| Computer | (Running software/Vixen)
------------
||||
||||
------------
| Controller |
------------
|

On/Off Signal via CAT5
|
|
--------- --------
| SSR | =>=> Power to Lights=>=>= | Lights |
--------- --------
^
|
--------------
| Power Supply |
| 240v, 36v, |
| 24v, 12v or |
| Whatever |
--------------

What I need to know is....

Computer - what are the realistic minimum specs to run, say, 64 channels? Can I get away with using my old 486 running win3.1 or do I need to pick up a 2nd hand pentium 3/4 to do the job properly?

Controller - I am looking at the 'Grinch' as most people say it is the easiest to put together but can I piggy back a grinch to another grinch to give me more channels later on? Can I piggy back it to something that is able to do dimming like a renard If I decide that's where I want to go in future? Also is anyone running a co-op on the grinch board atm?

SSR - is there a 'simple' how-to that will explain how to work out the resistor values for the different voltages I need?

That should pretty much get me started I guess. Any help would be appreciated.

Richard