Best deals | Happy computing holidays

Best deals | Happy computing holidays

When it comes to festivals, computers invariably outrank everything else as the most desired gifts of choice. Understandably, PC vendors are only too happy to oblige. They have come out with desktops and laptops to cover a gamut of needs, budgets and styles.

There are souped-up machines for gamers, attractive space-saving all-in-ones for home offices or kitchens, simple low-cost laptops for youths and pricey ultra-lightweight notebooks for those seeking flair and function.

More than ever, alternatives to computers running Microsoft Corp.’s long-dominant Windows operating system are also hitting the market.

A sampling of the offerings this holiday season:

Asus Eee PC

The biggest feature about this little laptop is its price. It is a good budget laptop for basic computing needs and Web surfing. The 2 pound (907g), book-sized computer with a 7-inch screen is targeted for youths, and its shrunken keyboard is best suited for small hands.

The navigation immediately feels simple. The menus have big icons, six basic tabs of “learn", “work", “play", “Internet", “favorites" and “settings," and shortcuts to Web destinations like Gmail or Wikipedia. Its components and mere 4GB of storage aren’t meant for big jobs, though, and since it’s Linux-based, programs made only for Windows or Mac platforms won’t work on it. But adults will get some fun mileage out of it, too, whether it’s to watch YouTube or play simple games. It even accepts voice commands, though only for a limited number of functions.

(Range starts at Rs20,000)

HP Touch Smart IQ775 Desktop PC

For many households, the good ol’ refrigerator remains the cluttered centre for messages, to-do lists and favourite photos. If you’re looking for a 21st century alternative, consider the HP. The all-in-one Windows-based computer is designed to be used in a kitchen nook or family room. It’s not as sleek or fast as the iMac but its 19" widescreen touch-screen display lets you do a bunch of tasks without having to resort to a keyboard. A photo slide show could be your screen saver, and a built-in digital video recorder lets you play, pause or rewind TV shows.

(The HP TouchSmart IQ7700 Desktop PC, available in India, retails at Rs59,500)

Everex TC2502 gPC

The gPC stands out from the crowd like a man wearing sandals at cocktail party—it’s cheap and it’s different. It’s a simple desktop computer that eschews Windows in favour of Linux, the alternative operating system that’s widely used by IT professionals but has struggled for years to gain acceptance in desktops. It’s designed to be easy to use and focuses on Google’s Web services like Gmail and YouTube. But like some earlier Linux computers, it uncomfortably straddles two worlds: it’s a low-end box for novices, yet considerable expertise is needed to get the most out of the software.

($199 without monitor)

Toshiba Portege R500

The Toshiba Portege R500 can hang with the supermodels. It’s sexy, super thin and ultralight. But like most laptops in its class, you pay for the weight that’s missing. At 2.4 pounds and 0.7-inches tall, the R500 still amazingly squeezes in a DVD drive and a full-size keyboard. Its ultra thin 12.1" widescreen display uses a backlit LED screen instead of the typical LCD, though some might contend it almost feels too fragile since it could flex a little. But LED display technology is one of the key ways Toshiba and its rivals are achieving ever thinner laptops.

A model with a flash-based 64-gigabyte hard drive but no DVD drive is even lighter at 1.74 pounds, but it also costs about $500 (€340) more.

(The Toshiba Protege R500D, available in India, retails at Rs1.27 lakh)

Alienware Area-51 m9750

Laptops are generally pokey gaming platforms, since they lack the high-powered chips needed to calculate realistic 3-D environments.

Alienware’s m9750 laptop busts that limitation, at least if you have the cash. It has a 17" screen and can be fitted with dual graphics cards and dual hard drives. All this power means it only lasts 1 hour on battery, so don’t picture yourself gaming on a cross- country flight. And if you’re the kind of gamer who likes to trick out your rig, there may be reason to wait. The m9750 looks surprisingly sedate, while Alienware (now a Dell Inc. subsidiary) has some cooler designs coming out next year that use LEDs in the decor to light up the laptop in unexpected ways.

($3449 in recommended gaming configuration)

Apple iMac

The reasons for not buying a Mac are running out. The iMac is fast, well- equipped and very easy to use. It even runs Windows if you need it to. One look at the latest iMac shows you how much the line has grown up: The cutesy look of the earlier iMacs has been replaced with a chilly and professional aluminium chassis. The iMac is perfect as a shared computer in a household, since it starts up quickly from a power-saving standby mode and switches between user accounts much faster than a Windows computer. The latest iMovie software is great for simple home movie editing. Compared with a Windows box, the iMac is still somewhat expensive, but you get a lot for your money, including built-in wireless networking and a webcam.

(The desktop model retails at Rs64,000 and above)

©2007/The New York Times