- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2000

OK, it's Christmas Day, and you didn't get everything you wanted. (Mr. Gore, please call me to discuss.) What are some neat things to scarf up after you return that puce sweater from Aunt Martha?

• Get some RAM: Even if you got a new PC for the holiday, you may not have enough RAM. On many models, 64 Mbytes is standard, and it's my firm, unalterable belief that 128 MBytes is a minimum; 256 Mbytes is better.

Why? The more RAM, the more room you have for programs to be open at a given time. Windows, though improving, is still a bit problematic when it comes to juggling a whole bunch of programs or open windows. I'm not sure why, but I still get "out of system resources" messages every so often. And the system "resource" that I'm out of is … RAM.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised not only to find a Web-based supplier of memory in Crucial Technologies, Inc., of Meridian, Idaho (just outside Boise), on line at www.crucial.com. The firm claims its upgrades can support "more than 10,000 desktops, notebooks, servers, motherboards, and printers," which seems like a fair amount.

Also more than fair were the options the firm's Web site served up for my Compaq Presario 5900Z, along with a detailed discussion of the system's memory configuration and how much RAM it could handle. Prices were the best I've seen, and the firm offers a 30-day return policy.

You can also find memory, of course, at area computer stores, and those who are truly skittish about popping open a PC and poking around could have it installed for a small fee. But, in all seriousness, adding or changing memory is about as easy as changing a light bulb. The results can be as dramatic as going from regular lights to halogen bulbs.

• Get some digital headphones: Plantronics Corp. of Santa Cruz, Calif., was discussed in this space on Oct. 1; their digital headphones are just terrific. My favorite is the DSP-500, around $110 in stores. It uses a digital signal processor (DSP) to handle the audio input and output to a computer and connects via a Universal System Bus (USB) port.

The resulting sound is clearer, sharper and more impressive than anything I'd heard before. The headphones are great for Internet radio, voice-over-IP telephone calls and other sound-intensive tasks such as speech recognition.

You can learn more about the products at www.plantronics.com, and the headphones are, really, a well-deserved gift for yourself, if no one else had thought to give them to you.

• A better mouse: This item might well be found in the Expert Mouse Pro USB from Kensington Technology Group (www.kensington.com). It's a trackball-style device with a huge and I mean huge trackball, ball bearings for navigational speed and accuracy, four mouse-click buttons, which can be programmed, and six programmable radio-style buttons at the top.

Those six buttons? They are called DirectLaunch buttons and provide one-touch access to Web sites or applications. To set a DirectLaunch button to a Web site simply press and hold, much like a car radio. It also features a scroll wheel to move through documents quickly.

I use this device every day and I enjoy it. The list price is $99.99 and you will find it money well spent.

• Cut a disc or 100 of 'em: If your new PC didn't come with a CD-RW drive (that stands for Compact Disc Re-Writable), then you should consider adding one. Assuming your PC has internal SCSI (small computer system interface) connections, then an internal drive such as the $299 (list) Hewlett Packard CD-Writer Plus 9600i is a good choice.

Want to do your CD-making externally? Get the HP CD-Writer Plus 9600e, which lists for $335. While I've not yet tested either model, HP is unsurpassed when it comes to quality in its CD-RW drive products. Both models offer excellent speeds: 12Xwrite, 8X rewrite, 32X read, the "X" standing for one normal operation. Thus, the drives write 12 times faster, rewrite 8 times faster and read 32 times faster than the standard.

The drives are also supplied with a variety of software for using the product: HP fast format software to make blank CDs usable, HP's version of the popular MusicMatch Jukebox music play/record software, as well as document-design software, CD labeling software and HP's "simple backup" software with disaster recovery. Find out more at www.hpcdwriter.com.

Here's hoping, then, that your holidays require no "disaster recovery," and that the year 2001 is everything you want it to be.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com.



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