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MacBytes
Nov 17, 2004, 11:48 PM
Category: Reviews
Link: Home computers for the Holidays (registration required) (http://www.macbytes.com/link.php?sid=20041118004805)
Posted on MacBytes.com (http://www.macbytes.com)

Approved by Mudbug

Mudbug
Nov 17, 2004, 11:50 PM
Posted on Wed, Nov. 17, 2004
Home computers for the Holidays

The coming season might be a good time to think about putting a new PC or Mac under your tree.

BY JULIO OJEDA-ZAPATA
Pioneer Press

Home computers seem particularly enticing this holiday season.

Windows PCs have evolved into multimedia powerhouses that deftly handle music, photos and video, including home movies and TV. Stylish Macintosh machines have become more compact and affordable.

Whatever your gift-giving budget, I found Windows and Mac models worthy of your attention.

The good news doesn't end there. With an array of add-on devices, PCs and Macs are able to extend their influence from the home office into the den or family room. I tested several such gizmos and found they're worth the extra cash.

PC MEDIA CENTERS

If you're buying a Windows PC for general home use, you might as well get one with a version of the Windows XP operating system called Media Center Edition 2005.

Such computers are home-media nerve centers controlled with a TV-style remote one usually is included as well as a mouse and keyboard. Lean back with the clicker to peruse your digital tunes, photos and movies using big, easy-to-read on-screen controls.

Earlier Media Center PCs all included TV-tuner cards for recording TV. Now, you can get a model without a TV card, which makes it more affordable. But, if you have a bit of extra cash, opt for a PC with two or three cards for recording and watching multiple TV shows imultaneouMedia Center PCs from an expanded array of vendors now come in many shapes and sizes. Some look like audiovisual components on the assumption they'll be hooked up to TVs in dens. Others are available in laptop form, but most look much like standard desktop PCs.

Models I tried: I took a trio of Media Center PCs for test drives (see box for specs).

One version from Minneapolis-based Reason Computer sported two TV tuner cards. Versions from Sony and Gateway had one card each, but the PCs are easily expandable.

If space is at a premium, the cube-like Reason PC may be your best bet. It looks sharp, too, with black-and-silver detailing and a bluish glow. The other PCs are tower-shaped.

Microsoft says its updated Windows Media Center Edition boasts improved video quality, but I thought recorded TV shows looked sensational only on the Gateway model.

Sony offered the most enticing package overall, though, with a jaw-dropping 23-inch flat-panel display that matches its PC's jet-black look but induces sticker shock at $2,000.

Add-on products: Microsoft's Media Center technology is no longer confined to the computer. Let's say your PC is in your home office, but you want to watch your recorded "Sopranos" episodes on the TV in your den.

If the PC is on a high-speed wireless network and you hook a Linksys device called a Media Center Extender to the TV, you're good to go. Using the Linksys' remote, you can pull up Tony along with your pictures and unencrypted music on the TV screen.

This worked well with all three of my test PCs at my office desk along with a Philips flat-panel TV and a Media Center Extender in another room.

Microsoft's Xbox video-gaming console will double as a Media Center Extender with an add-on kit, which includes a remote, but it doesn't have built-in wireless networking as the Linksys does. When I plugged an Xbox into my wireless network via an Ethernet cable, though, it did the Media Center thing flawlessly.

Want TV to go? Transfer your shows to a handheld Portable Media Center device. I earlier told you about a bulky but versatile Creative Zen model from Creative Technology. Samsung and iRiver also make PMCs, but I hadn't tested them at press time and can't attest to their reliability.

APPLE MACINTOSH

The vast majority of home computers run Windows, and that isn't necessarily a good thing. Such PCs have long been beset by viruses, spyware and other infestations. That's partly because Windows is such a tempting target and partly because Microsoft often borders on the incompetent in plugging up security holes.

Macintosh computers offer relief from all of that. Its Mac OS X operating system isn't impregnable, by any means, but attacks on it are virtually nonexistent.

The Mac is appealing for other reasons. OS X is easy to use. Slick software Apple puts on every Mac gives you mastery over digital music, photos and home video. Macintosh machines are chic and reasonably priced for what they offer.

What Apple doesn't provide is a Media Center Mac with TV features. The Mac maker has so far ceded this market to Microsoft and to Mac-device makers such as El Gato Systems that have tried with limited success to match the Media Center PC experience.

Models I tried: I took a couple of recent-model Macs for test drives (see box for specs).

On the affordable end, I sampled an iBook laptop with a 12-inch screen and sub-$1,000 price tag, a breakthrough for Apple as it competes with Windows laptops costing as little as $600. With integrated Wireless Fidelity networking, a recent power boost and much-smaller dimensions than entry-level Windows laptops, this mini-Mac is worth a look.

A bit more money gets you a slightly faster processor, a 14-inch display and a DVD burner (the 12-incher records CDs but only reads DVDs).

In the desktop category, Apple offers what is arguably the most appealing consumer computer on the planet. Its iMac G5 seems to be nothing more than a flat-panel display until you look closely and realize all its innards are built into a svelte enclosure atop a metal stand. With the G5 processor found in professional Macs, it has power aplenty, too.

Versions with 17- and 20-inch displays are available. Prices start at $1,299, but the sweet spot is $1,499 for a 17-incher with a DVD burner.

Add-on gear: Focus on a few basics first. Neither the iBook nor the iMac comes with enough memory, so spend a little extra to get the machines up to at least 512 megabytes.

You may also want Bluetooth, a wireless technology that lets you sync your Mac with input devices, handheld computers and other hardware. If so, ask for it up front so it's built into your Mac. The iMac doesn't have Wi-Fi networking, so you'll need a card for that.

Apple offers a Media Center Extender of sorts in its AirPort Express device. If hooked up to a stereo in a home with a Wi-Fi network, the white bricklike gizmo can pipe music from a Macintosh or Windows PC over the stereo speakers.

The AirPort Express, which plugs directly into an electrical wall outlet, also serves as a Wi-Fi access point for giving multiple Macs or PCs high-speed wireless access to the Net and each other.

The closest Apple equivalent to a Portable Media Center is its iPod Photo, a version of its music player that also displays photos (see a review in Tuesday's Pioneer Press). It also works with PCs as well as Macs.

Julio Ojeda-Zapata is at jojeda @pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5467. See more personal technology at www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/business/technology/personal_technology.

Nermal
Nov 17, 2004, 11:53 PM
Thanks for posting it here, although it might be helpful to point the MacBytes link directly to the forum (and then you can get rid of the 'registration required' text too) :)

Getting back on topic, I'm in the market for a new computer. Unfortunately, if Apple's international pricing remains as high as it is now, that new computer will be an Athlon 64 running a dual boot between XP and Linux, plus PearPC if it's usable on a 3500.

I'm sorry Apple, but an Athlon 3500 with a gig of memory and a Radeon X800 XT is 2/3 the price of a 1.8 GHz G5 with half a gig of memory and a GeForce 5200. :(

Note: I do not intend to start a Mac vs PC argument. Please try to restrain yourselves :)

macridah
Nov 18, 2004, 02:08 AM
I'm sorry Apple, but an Athlon 3500 with a gig of memory and a Radeon X800 XT is 2/3 the price of a 1.8 GHz G5 with half a gig of memory and a GeForce 5200. :(

Note: I do not intend to start a Mac vs PC argument. Please try to restrain yourselves :)

All i could say is you get what you pay for. Once you go mac, you never go back.

winmacguy
Nov 18, 2004, 02:59 AM
All i could say is you get what you pay for. Once you go mac, you never go back.

I think Ill have to side with Nermal on this one. being a Mac user and PC owner myself and living in NZ, although I am no longer a student. Mac prices in this country are pretty horrendous compared to the US and compared to roughly equivalent PC prices. Especially conisidering Nermal is looking at Linux as a dual boot option.

Nermal
Nov 18, 2004, 03:01 AM
Yeah, I can no longer get a student discount, so I can no longer afford to get a Mac :( (ADC discount is 15%)

wrldwzrd89
Nov 18, 2004, 05:13 AM
Yeah, I can no longer get a student discount, so I can no longer afford to get a Mac :( (ADC discount is 15%)
Even NZ$1591.88 (the price of the cheapest eMac, with GST included @ 12.5%) is too much? If it's the (stock) dual 2.5 GHz PowerMac G5 you're after, it's NZ$6496.88 (again, including GST @ 12.5%). That same Mac with extras (2 GB RAM, 30" display, AppleCare, AirPort Extreme Card) is NZ$15834.13. I couldn't go any higher because the New Zealand store doesn't offer quite as many build-to-order options as the other Apple Stores online.

maya
Nov 18, 2004, 10:11 AM
Even NZ$1591.88 (the price of the cheapest eMac, with GST included @ 12.5%) is too much? If it's the (stock) dual 2.5 GHz PowerMac G5 you're after, it's NZ$6496.88 (again, including GST @ 12.5%). That same Mac with extras (2 GB RAM, 30" display, AppleCare, AirPort Extreme Card) is NZ$15834.13. I couldn't go any higher because the New Zealand store doesn't offer quite as many build-to-order options as the other Apple Stores online.

Same argument, Apple always sells they products (except itms) more expensive than the US. Even with the exchange rate and taxes in place. I mean sheesh what are they smoking, lets be fair and use the EXCHANGE RATE for once in Canada (when are dollar is doing well why are we getting screwed in the process :( ). That is why I believe Apple could do a whole lot better take they US prices (which already have a hugh profit attached to it) and convert it to the currency of the county along with VAT and other various taxes as governed and sell it. I take the US price and add the exchange to canadian dollars and the taxes and I am still getting ripped off up here. :P

I believe when we here people complain about Apples prices they complain that they do not follow exchange rates. Anyhow this is my view from the North. :) Apple has to remember not all people live in the US have the same work standards and pay. :P

Open your eyes Apple be fair by using the exchange rate you markt WebObjects as superior (or that is the drift that I obtain via your site), so why not have previous day exchange rate pricing. :rolleyes:

wrldwzrd89
Nov 18, 2004, 10:24 AM
Same argument, Apple always sells they products (except itms) more expensive than the US. Even with the exchange rate and taxes in place. I mean sheesh what are they smoking, lets be fair and use the EXCHANGE RATE for once in Canada (when are dollar is doing well why are we getting screwed in the process :( ). That is why I believe Apple could do a whole lot better take they US prices (which already have a hugh profit attached to it) and convert it to the currency of the county along with VAT and other various taxes as governed and sell it. I take the US price and add the exchange to canadian dollars and the taxes and I am still getting ripped off up here. :P

I believe when we here people complain about Apples prices they complain that they do not follow exchange rates. Anyhow this is my view from the North. :) Apple has to remember not all people live in the US have the same work standards and pay. :P

Open your eyes Apple be fair by using the exchange rate you markt WebObjects as superior (or that is the drift that I obtain via your site), so why not have previous day exchange rate pricing. :rolleyes:
I'd be all for such a pricing change, if Apple's willing to keep their international prices up-to-date on a daily basis. Apple may only be willing to update their prices once a week, but that's still better than what those of us outside the US get right now. (I speak as a US citizen sympathizing with those of you who live in other countries.)

Nermal
Nov 18, 2004, 12:08 PM
Note: I do not intend to start a Mac vs PC argument. Please try to restrain yourselves :)

So much for saying this, it doesn't seem to have helped :rolleyes: