Connected Home EXPRESS
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April 2, 2003--In this issue:
1. GETTING CONNECTED
- Making the Case for Desktop Computers
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
- Here Comes the Wired Kitchen
- You've Got Broadband
- Share XM, Save Money
- UK to Outlaw Spam?
- SONICblue Files for Bankruptcy Protection
- Windows & .NET Magazine Connections: Early Bird Discount Expires April 7
- Get the eBook That Will Help You Get Certified!
4. QUICK POLL
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Notebook Computers
- New Poll: Purchasing a New PC
- Tip: Keep Your iPod Batteries Working Properly
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Share Wireless Internet Access Throughout the House
7. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]
* MAKING THE CASE FOR DESKTOP COMPUTERS
In the March 19 issue of Connected Home EXPRESS (see the URL below), I discussed the possibility of using a notebook computer as your primary (or sole) PC and suggested that today's portable computers are powerful enough, versatile enough, and even inexpensive enough to replace desktop PCs. Connected Home EXPRESS readers agreed by a wide margin--virtually all the responses I received described recent decisions to go mobile. However, notebook computers aren't the perfect choice for many people. In a perfect world, we would all have at least one desktop and one notebook computer, connected through a wireless network, but that possibility isn't viable for most people. So when you consider your options for purchasing that new PC, considering a desktop PC is also wise. Here are some of the advantages that desktop PCs have over notebook PCs.
Notebook computer prices have come down, but desktop PCs are so inexpensive that manufacturers are almost giving them away with a full tank of gas. OK, they're not that inexpensive, but I'm amazed at how much PC you can get for relatively little money. In the past year, I've purchased two 1.8GHz Dell Dimension desktop PCs for about $450 each. These devices didn't have monitors and needed more RAM, but RAM is inexpensive, and I just wanted a place to house hard disks. Major PC makers such as Dell and Gateway are constantly changing the special deals you get when you purchase a new PC, but a quick look at Dell's Web site today reveals the following (note that the deals change regularly, so this information could be different by the time you check): Shopping for Dell's midline Dell Dimension 4550 system online (see the URL at the end of this article), I note that the company is offering a $150 mail-in rebate, a free second-bay CD burner, a free upgrade to 256MB of RAM, and a free 60GB hard disk. Folks, those special offers are Crazy Eddie tactics; you can configure a complete, modern PC for less than $1000. Saying no to that kind of deal is difficult.
You'll find deals in retail stores such as Best Buy, as well, although you'll generally see machines from second-tier PC makers such as Alienware, eMachines, and vpr Matrix; lower-end systems from companies such as Compaq, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Sony; and fewer configuration options than you'll find online. Still, retail has two advantages: First, you can find a physical location nearby at which you can return your item if you aren't satisfied (although you should beware of restocking fees) and get support. Second, actually getting your hands on a machine before buying is nice. In any event, retail stores such as Best Buy offer interesting deals, too. In this week's circular, the company offered a variety of incitements, including numerous mail-in rebates (often three or more per system) and bundled printers.
The reason I still use a desktop PC as my primary workhorse is expandability. I have a Dell tower system that's stocked with four hard disks, offering me a total of almost 450GB of storage inside one box. To add an internal DVD burner, I simply purchased a secondary ATAPI controller card for less than $50. The system also contains 1GB of RAM, a 128MB GeForce Ti video card, a combination USB 2.0/FireWire card, a surround-sound sound card, and a variety of externally connected peripherals (e.g., printer, scanner, Sony PDA, audio/video--A/V-- equipment); the system is completely maxed out. This 1.8GHz Dell is also connected to a huge flat-panel monitor, and I miss the screen size and real estate when I'm using a notebook PC.
My system is probably an exaggerated example of what you can do with a desktop PC, but that's the point: Basically, your expansion possibilities are unlimited with a desktop system. When you purchase a notebook PC, you need to be careful that you've considered all your needs in advance, because adding components later can be difficult or impossible.
One item in my PC example above is worth noting: My system includes only a 1.8GHz Pentium 4 CPU, a far cry from the 3.06GHz screamers (complete with Hyper-Threading and faster bus speeds) that are available today. The reason I'm OK with what is apparently a mid-level CPU these days is that desktop systems have a longer usable lifespan than notebooks. Unlike the situation a decade ago, when people basically threw out old systems when they purchased new PCs, today's PCs are usable for a much longer time because the leading-edge PCs of 2 or 3 years ago are still obscenely fast for most people and for most average computing tasks. I use my supposedly over-the-hill desktop system for just about everything--including the latest games--and I'm never disappointed. Part of the reason, of course, is the expandability factor I mentioned: I've bought newer video cards, more RAM, and bigger hard disks since I purchased my desktop system, something that is difficult, expensive, or even impossible on a notebook system.
When I look at the notebooks I used 2 or 3 years ago, I shudder at the thought of using them now. Back in early 2001, notebooks featured 500MHz processors, small amounts of RAM, and no integrated wireless capabilities. Such a system would indeed be fine for today's basic computing tasks--email, Web browsing, and light word processing--but I wouldn't want to take it on the road with me. Will today's 1.6GHz Pentium M and 2.4GHz Pentium 4 Processor - M notebooks fare better in 2 years? We'll have to wait and see. But the history of these devices suggests otherwise.
When it comes to selecting a new computer, a variety of factors--your needs, your financial situation, and even where you live--will determine your decision to buy notebook or desktop PC. Some people have the benefit of numerous local establishments and can take the time to compare prices and features locally, whereas other people might choose (or be forced) to do so online. Whatever you end up buying, today's desktop PCs and notebook computers are much more powerful than what was available several months ago. However, the reverse is also true. Today's top-of-the-line PC has always been tomorrow's also-ran, so you need to go into your purchase understanding that something bigger, better, and less expensive is always coming down the pike. Ultimately, you should buy the PC you need today, balanced against the features you think you'll need tomorrow.
(An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman)
* HERE COMES THE WIRED KITCHEN
Are you ready for a Web-connected kitchen? The long-promised dream is about to take an important step toward fruition, as the Internet Home Alliance, an industry group composed of companies such as Best Buy, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Sears, and Whirlpool, is about to unveil a prototype. The prototype kitchen will include Whirlpool's Internet-enabled Polara refrigerated range, the iCEBOX flip-screen entertainment center, IBM integration services, an HP printer, customer services from Sears, and Peapod Internet grocery services. Don't expect the kitchen to be inexpensive, though. The Polara range retails for $1800, and the iCEBOX device, which we saw at the Computer Electronics Show (CES), retails for a whopping $2300. The Alliance will unveil the kitchen next month at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show and Conference (KBIS). The group is in the process of selecting 20 families in the Boston area to pilot the prototype. (Paul has already volunteered his family.) The Alliance will report the pilot program results in December.
* YOU'VE GOT BROADBAND
Realizing the days of dial-up access are numbered, AOL has started to heavily promote AOL Broadband, the company's offering for broadband customers. AOL will market AOL Broadband with ads featuring celebrities and a new tagline, "Welcome to the World Wide Wow." The service features video clips and other features tailored to people with high-speed connections. AOL hopes the new offering will encourage users who haven't already upgraded their dial-up connections to do so, whereas the new features will keep existing broadband users onboard. In related news, a new report claims that Microsoft's MSN network is preparing to get out of the dial-up access market. According to the report, Microsoft will migrate MSN from a dial-up ISP to a content provider for broadband networks.
* SHARE XM, SAVE MONEY
Satellite radio provider XM Radio has announced a new discount plan for listeners who have multiple satellite radios. The "family plan" offers discounts for users who purchase more than one subscription. The first XM Radio subscription will continue to cost $10 a month, but each additional subscription will now cost $6.99. XM Radio also announced that its subscription rate has hit almost 350,000, and the company insists it still remains on target to hit 1.2 million subscribers by the end of the year. XM Radio is available as a standalone product, as well as an option in most General Motors (GM) cars and some Honda and Acura vehicles.
* UK TO OUTLAW SPAM?
Tired of spam? Perhaps moving to the UK will solve that problem. A new UK government proposal will require consumers to give their consent before receiving unsolicited email, aka spam. Any company that breaks the law will face unlimited fines. If the plan takes effect, the government will investigate claims against spam makers, and consumers will be able to sue those companies for damages. The government believes that a new European Union (EU) directive that goes into effect at the end of October will give the government the necessary permissions to create the law. Sounds like an impossible law to enforce, but we still hope it passes because it will send a resounding message. We're already scouting for new homes in England, just in case the law takes effect.
* SONICblue FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY PROTECTION
Consumer-electronics maker SONICblue, best known for its Rio, ReplayTV, and GoVideo brands, has announced plans to file for bankruptcy protection, and the company will sell its assets to other companies. D&M Holdings, the parent company of Denon and Marantz, will purchase SONICblue's ReplayTV and Rio assets; Opta Systems will purchase GoVideo's assets. The ending is a sad one for a company that showed a lot of potential. We had a chance to talk to company representatives at CES earlier this year, at which time the company was starting to integrate its excellent products into advanced and innovative offerings.
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* RESULTS OF LAST WEEK'S POLL: NOTEBOOK COMPUTERS
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Do you own a notebook computer?" Here are the results from the 252 votes:
- 68% Yes
- 13% No, but I'm planning to buy one
- 18% No, and I'm not planning to buy one
(Deviations from 100 percent are due to rounding error.)
* NEW POLL: PURCHASING A NEW PC
The next Quick Poll question is, "Are you planning to buy a new PC in the next 3 months?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes, and I plan to buy a desktop PC, b) Yes, and I plan to buy a notebook PC, or c) No.
* TIP: KEEP YOUR iPOD BATTERIES WORKING PROPERLY
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
Like many Apple iPod users, I noticed recently that the battery life on my favorite portal music player had dwindled significantly; I was stuck without music on two recent occasions, even though I'd just charged the device. The iPod apparently had a problem, and Apple Computer has released a software upgrade that reportedly fixes it. To download the fix, visit the Apple Web site (see the URL below) and download the iPod Software 1.2.6 Updater, available for Mac OS X, Mac OS 9.x, and Windows users. I haven't fully tested the fix yet, but online reports are favorable, and the battery life certainly can't be worse than it was before I got the fix.
iPod Software 1.2.6 Updater
Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.
(contributed by Jason Bovberg, [email protected])
* SHARE WIRELESS INTERNET ACCESS THROUGHOUT THE HOUSE
Actiontec Electronics announced the Wireless-Ready Mulitmedia Home Gateway, which lets multiple users share one cable or DSL line, computer files, peripherals, and Internet appliances from anywhere in the house. You can use a PC equipped with a wireless NIC to share one Internet hookup from any inside location as far away as 330' or any outside location as far away as 990'. You can configure multiple gateways for access by more than four users. The Wireless-Ready Mulitmedia Home Gateway costs $149.95 and includes the gateway, an AC power adapter, a 6' Ethernet cable, and a user guide. For more information, contact Actiontec Electronics at 408-752-7700 or on the Web.
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Copyright 2003, Penton Media, Inc.