- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

Need some last-minute computer gift ideas? How about these:

DESKTOP SYSTEMS — Hewlett Packard seems to have obliterated the Compaq name from desktop PCs, at least from their Web site. The $550 Compaq multimedia desktop I liked over the summer is nowhere to be found.

Instead, try the HP Pavilion a1650e series (www.shopping.hp.com), which starts at $589 and, well customized, will set you back about $1,100. Add a decent LCD display in your home office, or a large LCD TV in a living room, and you get both a multimedia powerhouse and a useful working-at-home tool.

If the Apple Mac is your preference, the new-and-very-much-improved Mac mini is a great living room addition. They start at $599 (www.apple.com/macmini), but a well-equipped model, with enough random access memory (RAM), hard drive capacity and other features to make computing useful, will push the price to just under $1,000.

NOTEBOOK SYSTEMS — Here, the Compaq name remains, and the Compaq Presario V3000z remains an excellent value. Starting at under $400, it offers a nice widescreen display, plenty of options and, when outfitted with enough RAM and processor power, enough muscle to handle Windows Vista. A well-equipped model will cost you $930 after discounts and a mail-in rebate, and that’s a good buy in anyone’s book. Be warned, though: high demand may delay shipping of your computer until after New Year’s Day. It’s worth the wait, however.

Apple Computer’s enhanced MacBook, which starts at $1,099, is a delightful portable that gives so much for so little: built-in video camera, a widescreen display and multimedia features (including a remote). If I were shopping, I’d go for at least the $1,299 model, which includes more RAM, a larger hard drive and slightly faster processor.

GLOBAL POSITIONING — A needed accessory for the car, but the price can be shocking. A much better option, for your wallet and your sanity, might be the Mio C310X, available at some online sellers for under $200, and at stores such as Circuit City and Best Buy for around $250; the latter two being a good option if you don’t trust the caprice of online delivery. The C310X boasts maps, directions, a choice of voices and languages, and even MP3 playback, though I’ve not tested the latter yet.

You’ll stay for the performance, though: This little wonder is exceptionally user friendly, has a brilliant display, is easy to operate and features a “night lighting scheme” for easy viewing after sunset. COOL SOFTWARE — I like both Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 5 for Windows, which lists for $99 and is available for much less in many retail stores (www.adobe.com), and Corel’s PaintShop Pro XI, which goes for $79 at www.corel.com. These are excellent Windows-based programs that deliver a lot of value for money when it comes to working with photos. On the Mac side, IPhoto 6, part of the $79 ILife package is still the best thing going for the dedicated amateur.

HUGE STORAGE — SanDisk’s $109, 2 gigabyte Cruzer Titanium USB drive (www.sandisk.com) is a marvel for the amount of data it can store, let alone the free programs usable on any Windows PC. The capacity is 200 times that of my first 10 megabyte hard disc drive. What that means is you can pack a lot — a whole lot — of information into this device. Because it stores that data on flash memory chips, there are no moving parts to break or wear out. The benefits should be obvious

Happy shopping, then, and happy holidays!

Read Mark Kellner’s Technology Blog at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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