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Lots of Features Stirring, Even Vibrating Mice

November 30, 2000|LAWRENCE J. MAGID |

If money were no object, the ultimate gift for the PC lover in your life would, of course, be a newer, faster and better PC with as many bells and whistles as you can get. For "only" $5,643, you can order a Dell Dimension 8100 equipped with the world's fastest PC processor--a brand new 1.5-gigahertz Pentium 4.

For that price, you also get an 80-gigabyte hard drive, 384 MB of memory, a 17-inch flat panel monitor, a high-end Nvidia GeoForce2 graphics card, a DVD player, an external CD-ROM writer, a Zip drive, an upgraded sound card and Dolby Digital Surround Sound speakers. Add $5,550 for a color laser printer or, if you really want to go top shelf, consider spending $15,999 for Sony's stunning PFM-510A2WU 42-inch flat-panel Plasma display.

OK, I'll get real.

You don't have to have Bill Gates' bank account to buy someone a very nice PC. You do, however, need a clue as to what the recipient is likely to do with it. If it's for business, homework, Web surfing or e-mail, there's no reason to go nuts. A basic machine with an Intel Celeron or Pentium III processor such as the $699 (monitor not included) Compaq Presario 5BW220 will do the trick.

If the person loves to play games, then you'll need to spend a bit more for a machine with a decent video card, good speakers and a reasonably fast processor such as a Pentium III or AMD Athlon. Make sure it has about 128 MB of RAM, at least 15 GB of hard drive space and a good 3D graphics card with at least 16 MB of video RAM.

For $1,209, for example, you can buy a well-equipped Gateway Select 950 with 128 MB of RAM, 20 GB of disk storage and an Nvidia TNT2 Graphics Card with 16 MB video memory. $1,169 gets you a similarly equipped Dell Dimension 4100.

Color inkjet printers keep getting better, faster and cheaper. In fact, you can now find them for less than $50, but the cheaper ones are typically a bit slow. Still, such printers as the $50 six-page-per minute Lexmark Z12 Color Jetprinter are adequate for students and others with limited printing needs. But beware. Although you're getting by with an inexpensive gift, the person receiving the gift will be on the hook for expensive supplies.

At about $360, it's not cheap, but if you know someone who's into digital photography, consider Hewlett-Packard's PhotoSmart P1100. I have one, and in addition to being a high-speed text printer, it also does a great job with color photos. The gift of sound is often appreciated, especially if the recipient enjoys playing games or uses the PC to listen to MP3 music or watch DVD movies. Cambridge Soundworks ( offers numerous PC speaker kits with two desktop speakers and a subwoofer, starting at less than $50. The company's $229 Desktop Theater 5.1, which comes with a subwoofer, five small speakers and a digital decoder, is quite impressive for anyone willing to spend a lot more for dynamite sound. More budget-minded buyers of gifts for audiophiles should consider Altec Lansing's $80 ACS54 Five-Piece Speaker System (

Microsoft last year built a better mouse, which not only looks cool but also works better than your run-of-the-mill PC rodent. Instead of the usual ball on the bottom, the IntelliEye mouse has an optical sensor that doesn't even require a mouse pad. The list price is $54, but I've seen it online for as little as $23. Logitech has taken the optical mouse one step further with iFeel mouse (about $50), which lets you "feel your way around" Web pages and pull-down menus. It vibrates as you move it across the screen, giving you tactile feedback. What's next, a mouse that roars?

A wrist rest might not seem like the most exciting gift, but if you know someone who spends a great deal of time at the keyboard, it can be an excellent investment in health and comfort. There are several on the market that are less than $20.


Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour.

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