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Perfect PC?


Perfect PC?

Searching for a Perfect PC? An Answer for Everybody;ei=5088&38;partner=rssnyt


TEN years ago, the personal computer was a sturdy yet expensive appliance with a few megabytes of memory that could be useful for activities like making spreadsheets and browsing that newfangled thing called the World Wide Web.

Now the home computer has morphed into an all-purpose entertainment hub: part jukebox, part movie editing console, part digital slide projector. Yet it can still crunch your spreadsheets and shop the Web.

When buying a computer this holiday season, there are some important factors to consider. As with cars and home electronics, desktop and laptop computers fall into several tiers, including humble value-priced machines, midrange models capable of many tasks and power-laden blue-chip boxes that command premium prices.

Even the least expensive computers have a lot of features these days. The lowest-priced desktop system from eMachines, for example, the T2862, has an Intel Celeron D 330 processor, Windows XP Home Edition, 256 megabytes of memory, a 60-gigabyte hard drive and a combo drive that can record CD's as well as play CD's and DVD movies.

The total price for the T2862, including a 17-inch monitor, at is $520 after mail-in rebates. While the slower Celeron processor is not cut out for heavy-duty gaming like other chips, this system would probably suit someone who wants a computer for e-mail, Web browsing, word-processing and basic digital photography.

For those who want more, like the ability to juggle music and photo chores, play most mainstream video games and record DVD discs, middle-of-the-road computers of today are fully loaded. Take, for example, the HP Pavilion a730n at www This desktop PC, a ready-to-ship machine found under the A750Y link, runs Windows XP Home, comes with 512 megabytes of memory, has a 200-gigabyte hard drive plus two disc drives (a double-layer DVD/CD recorder and a standard CD-ROM player) and a FireWire port for connecting a digital video camera. It sells for $900, plus $400 for a 17-inch flat-panel monitor.

The main processor specification of the Pavilion a730n is listed as a "3GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor 530 with HT Technology and 800MHz front-side bus." This sort of processor description is now common on Intel-based computers, but it has caused some confusion.

Many people became accustomed to checking the clock speed of the computer's processor (its "brain" chip) as an indicator of the machine's overall capability. But the clock comparison was not a wholly reliable indicator when considering machines with non-Intel chips inside.

Earlier this year, in an attempt to more fully describe a computer's overall power, Intel changed the way it describes its processors. The three-gigahertz Pentium 4 specification is still there to indicate the processor type and speed. The "530" refers to the tier in which Intel has placed this processor. (Computers with processors numbered with 300, like the eMachines T2862, are considered value-priced machines for general computing. The 500 series has a more robust set of processors that can better handle multimedia and multitasking. The processors in Intel's 700 series are generally used for the Centrino line of mobile computers. (An explanation of the new naming system is at /products/processor_number/info .htm.)

"HT Technology" refers to hyperthreading, which is a way to keep the computer cruising along as it juggles various chores, like downloading a video clip in the background while the user listens to audio files and does some word-processing.

"With a hyperthreading Pentium 4 chip, Windows XP thinks that it has two of these brain chips at its disposal instead of one, which boosts multitasking," said Ralph Bond, the consumer education manager at Intel.

"FSB" in the specification stands for front-side bus. Measured in megahertz, it is another indicator of computer speed. "Think of front-side bus as a data freeway between the computer's brain and the memory," Mr. Bond explained. "The wider the lanes, the more data it can process."

Front-side bus is not limited to Windows-based machines. Apple's new iMac computers also include it for faster data-flinging. The iMacs, which boast the company's high-end G5 processor, all have at least 256 megabytes of memory and an 80-gigabyte hard drive. Specifications on the iMacs vary, but prices start at $1,299 at for an iMac G5 with a CD recorder that also plays DVD's and has a 17-inch flat-panel monitor built in. The svelte, two-inch thick computer runs the Mac OS X operating system and includes Apple's iLife '04 software suite of iTunes, iPhoto, iDVD, iMovie and GarageBand.

Macs have always had a reputation as multimedia machines, but Microsoft has a whole version of Windows made just to play music and video on the computer. PC's running Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 include software for managing a digital audio and video collection, as well as recording television shows. Several companies make computers that run the Media Center system, including Dell. The Dell Dimension XPS Gen 3 at runs a beefy Pentium 4 Processor 550 with HT Technology (3.4GHz, 800 FSB) and comes stocked with a full gigabyte of memory and a 250-gigabyte hard drive for storing all that video. The high-end machine comes with a high-end price list price, close to $2,000, which includes a 17-inch monitor.

For the gamer on your gift list, Dell makes a version of the system called Dimension XPS, designed just for the intense demands of video games. One of the hallmarks of a good gaming machine is a memory-laden video card capable of fluidly rendering the complex images on screen without jerkiness or stuttering.

There are also PC makers like Alienware ( and VoodooPC ( that specialize in crafting desktop and laptop gaming systems that come with the fastest processors from both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, the most advanced sound and graphics cards. Prices without monitor start at around $579 and go up to about $6,100 for desktop systems, while laptops start at around $1,568.

Laptops across all categories tend to cost a bit more than desktops, but there is no monitor to buy. A couple of things to keep in mind when considering a laptop: weight and wireless connectivity. Some heftier models like the Toshiba Satellite P35, (which lumbers onto the scales at 9.5 pounds, includes wireless connectivity and starts at $1,700; www are classified as desktop replacements because they pack just as much power under the hood as a desktop machine and even have their own 17-inch screens.

Thanks to the proliferation of wireless networking, laptops from Apple iBooks to I.B.M. ThinkPads have the option for including a wireless card for less than $100 when buying the computer. It is a good option to consider, especially when buying a gift for a student, because many campuses are offering wireless Internet access these days.

Speaking of the Internet, there is one more option to consider when buying a gift computer: antivirus and other security software. A trial subscription usually lasts 90 days to a year, but it is worth the investment to buy the full product. A good computer can be a gift that keeps on giving, but you do not want it to start giving grief.

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