Santa Claus now recruits his elves from Silicon Valley, recognizing that the year-end holiday season is more about megahertz than mistletoe.
If you’re thinking of celebrating the holidays with a personal computer-related purchase, here’s some reasonably current advice.
PC: Continuing competition has produced excellent values at both the high and low end of the spectrum. At the low end, the $1,000 PC is well established. Check out Packard Bell, Compaq and now, IBM. That money generally gets you a Pentium somewhere between 120 and 166 megahertz, CD-ROM drive, and sometimes a monitor.
At the other end of the spectrum, NEC just announced the Direction SPL300, which offers a 300 megahertz Pentium II processor, 4.6 gigabyte hard drive, 24-speed CD-ROM, 32 megabytes of RAM, 15-inch color monitor and all kinds of multimedia goodies for $2,199, several hundred less than the competition.
I’ve tested the Packard-Bell under-$1,000 offering and it’s fine. The top-end NEC unit has yet to arrive, but if performance is good, the price will be super.
Consumer-level photography is going digital at a rapid clip. I’ve used and liked digital cameras from Canon and Yashica. From Yashica, the KC 600 runs at around $599 and is as easy to use as a point-and-shoot film camera. The Canon Powershot 350 runs about $100 more. Both are pocket-sized.
Although viewing family photos on the screen and sending them as e-mail attachments are nifty, eventually you will want a print. I’ve used color printers from both Canon and Lexmark on photo reproduction paper and the result is extremely hard to tell from a film photograph.
The Canon BJC 4300 goes for about $239 and does a fine job on photos at 720 x 360 dots-per-inch resolution. Get a special scanning cartridge and it will do double duty as a color scanner. Lexmark’s new 7200 Color JetPrinter does a stunning 1,200 x 1,200 dpi resolution for around $400.
When comparing resolutions, remember to compare the product of the two numbers. In this case, the Lexmark machine offers more than five times the resolution.
If you’re looking for education software, you’ll be happy with anything you get from Edmark or Living Books, both of which do first-rate jobs at reasonable prices. Another one to consider is Discovery Channel Multimedia, which has been doing some good stuff of interest to those around Middle School age.
A friendly warning that some multimedia software has content that would rival an R-rated movie. If you don’t want to be embarrassed, check the boxes for software ratings. They work pretty much like movie ratings, so if it says ages 17 and up, believe them.
Also check system requirements. If the requirements say it will run on one level of system but is “recommended” at another, that’s a marketer’s way of saying that both a rowboat and the Concorde will get you across the Atlantic. If your system can’t afford the Concorde, postpone the journey.