A PC for Under the Tree

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That old computer is getting longer in the tooth. Sure, when you got it, Windows Me was the latest and greatest, and it had a whopping 40GB hard drive… maybe even 256MB of RAM. Imagine that. Nowadays, that computer seems like it belongs in Barney Rubble's den, not your home office. If you're faced with the oft-daunting task of choosing a new computer, read on for a few suggestions.

The All-in-OneSony's VAIO JS series

All-in-One computers have been in the mainstream for a good decade now, starting with the introduction of the original iMac in 1998. Rather than relying on a separate tower or desktop CPU unit, all of the "guts" of these computers are built into the screen.

Today's models boast large flat-screen LCD displays, ample power, and plentiful storage under the proverbial hood.

Sony's VAIO JS series is a fine example of this form factor. Computers in this line feature a sizable 20.1" widescreen display, dual-core processors and GMA X4500HD graphics by Intel, a webcam, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and the 64-bit edition of Windows Vista Home Premium.

Users looking for an entry-level system should consider the VGC-JS110J/B. This system features a 2.2GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core E2200 CPU, 4GB of RAM, 320GB hard drive capacity, and a SuperMulti DVD burner.

If you desire more power and functionality, the VGC-JS155J/B is one to look at. Powered by a 2.53GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core E7200 CPU, the system also features 4GB of RAM and a DVD burner. Moving up to this system will get you a more spacious 500GB hard drive.

There are also higher-end systems in the JS line that feature faster processors and support for high-definition Blu-ray discs.

The Desktop

HP / Hewlett-Packard Compaq Presario SR5605F Desktop ComputerThe tried and true, classic desktop is still an option. Ideal for users who already own a monitor, desktop systems tend to offer more power per dollar spent. Unlike All-in-Ones and notebooks, components needn't be miniaturized, which helps to reduce manufacturing costs.

For the extremely budget conscious, consider HP's Compaq Presario SR5605F. This system, housed in a tower form factor, is powered by a single-core 2.7GHz Athlon LE-1640 CPU by AMD. It boasts 1GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive, with GeForce 6150 SE graphics by nVIDIA. Although a little underpowered compared to high-end machines, it does have a LightScribe-capable DVD burner and comes with Windows Vista Home Premium.

This system is ideal for general use at home, just don't expect to play the latest and greatest 3D video games on it. It will serve you well for web browsing, e-mail, and that occasional game of solitaire.

HP / Hewlett-Packard Pavilion Elite m9450f Desktop ComputerHowever, if 3D video games and multimedia are more of your scene, you are already aware that they require more graphical horsepower than budget PC will provide. HP's Pavilion Elite m9450f might just be your ticket. Also offering a tower form factor, the system is powered by a 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad 9300 CPU, boasts a whopping 8GB of RAM, and rounds things out with 750GB of storage. The system also features a TV tuner and HDMI output, allowing you to connect it to an HDTV.


The Notebook

And then there's the notebook. For those of us who need to take our computers on the road, it's really the most sensible option. After all, nobody wants to pack a desktop into their suitcase. Notebooks come in all shapes and sizes, from compact 11" models, to the venerable 15", all the way up to 18" models.

The Middleweights

The ASUS M50Vm-B1The ASUS M50Vm-B1 features a 15.4" widescreen display, and weighs in at a respectable 6.7 pounds. This Vista Home Premium notebook is powered by a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 CPU, and is loaded with 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. It features an impressive speaker system, a DVD burner, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a built-in webcam. It also features an 8-in-1 memory card reader, a fingerprint reader, and an eSATA port, making it a great option for power users.

Toshiba Satellite A355-S6879 Notebook ComputerYou may also want to take a look at the Toshiba Satellite A355-S6879. Also preloaded with Vista Home Premium, this notebook features a slightly larger-than-average 16" screen, and weighs only 6.5 pounds. The system is powered by a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800 CPU, and ships with 3GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive. It also sports a DVD burner and 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi.


The Welterweights

Lenovo IdeaPad U110-7030UbIf a 15" notebook is a bit too heavy for daily use, you might want to look at an ultraportable machine. The Lenovo IdeaPad U110-7030Ub is a good notebook to consider. The 11.1" Vista Home Premium notebook weighs in at a very light 2.4 pounds when using the included 4-cell battery. If longer battery life is desired, the 7-cell battery, which is also included in the box, brings its weight up to 2.9 pounds.

The system is powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 CPU, boasts 3GB of RAM, a 120GB 4200rpm hard drive, and Intel GMA X3100 graphics. It features an integrated webcam, Bluetooth connectivity, and 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi. Although it doesn't have a DVD burner built in, an external USB burner is included in the box. If you are interested in more details on the notebook, please read our review, originally published in a previous newsletter.

ASUS U6V-A1You may also want to take a look at the ASUS U6V-A1. This machine is a little bigger – boasting a 12.1" widescreen display – and a little heavier (3.5 pounds) than Lenovo's ultraportable offering. However, you do get some more power – and an internal DVD burner – for that weight. The system features a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB 5400rpm hard drive, and GeForce 9300M GS graphics by nVIDIA.

The ASUS runs Windows Vista Business, standing alone in this roundup. This makes the system more suitable for professionals who need to use a computer on a corporate network. Of course, the system also features such amenities as Bluetooth, 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi, and an integrated webcam.
 

The Heavyweight

HP / Hewlett-Packard Pavilion HDX X18-1020us Entertainment Notebook ComputerCan't stand a small screen? Don't mind lugging 8.8 pounds around? Good news! HP's Pavilion HDX X18-1020us might just be the machine for you. The system is features a large 18.4" widescreen display, and features the usual fixings: a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a whopping 500GB hard drive, 512MB GeForce 9600M GT graphics, Bluetooth, 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi, and a webcam.

Its Blu-ray ROM drive sets it apart from the crowd. You'll be able to use this drive to watch high-definition movies on the notebook's 1080p screen. The drive can also burn DVDs and CDs. It ships with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium, which can take full advantage of the computer's 4GB of memory.

If you're in need of a new PC this holiday season, we hope that this roundup has given you an idea of your options. There are plenty of options out there, the important part is choosing the computer that suits your needs.