Other than some interesting and peculiar products, this section is about all that’s left of my so-called concentration on personal computing—and I wonder whether this serves anyone’s needs or interests. Feedback particularly welcome, any time in the next five or six months. Note that I dropped Macworld at the end of 2003—but PC Magazine regularly reviews key Macintosh products and developments.
Abbreviations: P=PC Magazine, W=PC World, C=Computer Shopper, M=Macworld.
I dislike censorware in library computers and suspect it’s the wrong way for parents to “protect” their children, but censorware on home (and business) computers is both legal and, for many people, appropriate. This annual roundup [P22:12] admits that the programs overblock but doesn’t seem concerned about that issue. Thus, unsurprisingly, the Editors’ Choice is Cybersitter 2002 ($40) from Solid Oak, a company that sneers at suggestions that it’s overblocking and seems good at locking down a computer so tightly that you may never be free of it.
AMD’s fastest 32-bit CPU is the Athlon XP 3200+, with a faster front-side bus, sometimes but not always competitive with the 3GHz Pentium4. Editors’ Choice [P22:11]: Falcon Northwest Mach V 3200+, $3,595 with 1GB SDRAM, two 36GB 10K drives (RAID 0) and one 250GB 7200RPM disk, DVD-RW, CD-RW, 128MB ATI Radeon 9800 Pro. No monitor or speakers.
AMD’s 64-bit CPU, the Athlon 64 FX-51, shows up in three early systems [P22:19]. Editors’ Choice is the $3,658 Velocity Micro Raptor 64, configured similarly to the Falcon Northwest Mach V above, but with a dual-format DVD+-/RW drive and 256MB on the graphics card.
This three-PC roundup covers “gaming” systems, which typically have the hottest graphics cards, fastest disks, etc.[P22:10]. Editors’ Choice [P22:10] went to the specialist, Voodoo PC, for its $3,995 Fury, which uses mild overclocking and other optimizations to speed up gaming. Gateway’s $3,499 700XL came in second. The game-oriented Dell Dimension XPS ($4,488) trailed the others and is considerably overpriced for the configuration.
This comparison of four loaded early Pentium4-3.2GHz systems [P22:13] awards Editors’ Choice to the $3,623 MPC Millennia 920i Creative Studio—the most expensive, but also fastest on most tests and best-equipped, with 1GB SDRAM, two 160GB 7200RPM hard drives in RAID 0 configuration, multiformat DVD burner and CD-RW burner, 19" LCD display, ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics with 128MB RAM, good 6.1-channel speakers (and Audigy 2 sound card), and Office XP Small Business along with media software.
A mixed review of high-end PCs [C23:9] doesn’t award any Best Buys. The ABS Ultimate X5 ($3,154) gets the best rating. That price buys a fairly loaded system: Pentium4 at 3GHz, 1GB DDR RAM, two 80GB 7200RPM hard disks in RAID 0 configuration, a 4X DVD+RW and DVD-ROM drives, a 21"-viewable CRT, and ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics with 128MB RAM, along with Creative’s Audigy 2 sound card and Logitech’s Z-680 5.1 speaker system. As usual, the “3200+” Athlon systems aren’t as fast as 3GHz Pentium4 systems, let alone 3.2GHz.
A mixed set of “school” PCs [P22:14] includes desktops and notebooks. Editors’ Choice for desktops is the $1,187 HP Compaq Presario S4000T:-Pentium4-2800, 512MB SDRAM, 80GB HD, DVD drive and CD burner, 17" CRT. Among notebooks, the pick is the Gateway 450X: $1,704 for a Pentium M at 1.4GHZ with 512MB SDRAM, 60GB disk, DVD/CD-RW combo, 15" SXGA+ screen; 6.1lb. and remarkable battery life (5:29).
In a review of four Media Center PCs [P22:21], all nicely equipped, most from big names and costing right around $2,000, the Editors’ Choice is the $2,050 HP Pavilion m370n for balanced multimedia strengths, good media port availability, and generally strong test scores.
This roundup of “family” PCs—essentially, midrange desktops priced at $1,500 to $1,650 (or $749 without a monitor) [C23:12] doesn’t include any top award. Highest-rated is the HP Pavilion a310e, $1,499: Athlon XP 3000+, 512MB SDRAM, nVidia GeForce FX 5600 Pro graphics (128MB), 80GB disk, DVD+RW and CD-ROM drives, 17" LCD display, Harmon-Kardon speakers, XP—and WordPerfect 10. It doesn’t perform all that well, and there’s an odd line about “HP’s excess of intrusive bloatware.” What do you get for $749? The eMachines T2625: Athlon XP 2600+, 512MB SDRAM, S3 Prosavage 32MB graphics, 120GB disk, multiformat DVD burner and a second DVD drive, generic speakers, XP and Works Suite. A 15" LCD display adds $400.
PC Magazine notes that digital still cameras are getting more stylish, with powerful ones coming down in price. A fifteen-camera roundup [P 22:15] includes two Editors’ Choices: Pentax Optio 550 ($600) for enthusiasts (5 megapixels, 5x optical zoom, macro focusing down to 1", double exposures, lots more; 8.8oz., 3.9x2.3x1.6") and Kodak EasyShare DX6340 ($329) for point-and-shoot users (3.1 megapixels, 4x optical zoom, 9.4oz., 4.3x2.5x1.5"). A sidebar on user satisfaction rates Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus and Sony tops, HP, Kodak, and Toshiba bottom.
In this roundup of contemporary single-sensor (consumer) cameras [P22:11], Sony’s $1,500 DCR-TRV MiniDV HandyCam earns the top raring: “expensive but you get what you pay for.” Superior video, audio, and still image quality.
Another roundup of consumer digital videocameras with a $1,000 cutoff includes eight models [P22:17]. Editors’ Choice: Canon Optura 20 ($999), offering the best image quality and lots of useful features (including 16x optical zoom).
Yet another roundup of digital camcorders, this time focusing on units that also take fairly high-resolution still pictures [P22:23]. No Editors’ Choice, but the highest rating goes to Canon’s $1,699 Optura Xi, which offers good video quality and many advanced features—but only has a 2MP still option. Some go as high as 4MP.
In a four-program roundup of image-editing software costing $130 or less [P22:15], Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 gets Editors’ Choice for the best overall balance of features, power, and ease. Ulead PhotoImpact 8 rates an honorable mention.
This roundup of image-editing software [W22:1] includes nine products selling for $100 or less, rating them based on a set of complex photo manipulation tasks. Editors’ Choice is Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8, $95; it handled most tasks nicely, and its One Step Photo Fix was very effective.
Image-management software isn’t the same as image-editing software. This roundup [C23:12] covers four managers costing $30 to $50 and awards Editors’ Choices to two of them. Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 (highest rated, $50) grabs all the photos on your hard disk and organizes them by date; you can then add your own organization. JASC Paint Shop Photo Album 4 ($49) offers a clean interface and strong set of image enhancement and effects tools.
Video editing software under $100 now offers “Hollywood-quality special effects and VCD- or DVD-burning capabilities.” Editors’ Choice [P22:11]: Screenblast Movie Studio 2.0, $69 from Sony Pictures Digital. No storyboard and MPEG-2 requires a $30 add-on.
In another video-editing roundup [P22:17], Editors’ Choices go (again) to Sony’s Screenblast Movie Studio ($70) and Pinnacle Studio 8 ($100) among midrange products, Adobe Premiere Pro ($700) for high-end uses.
17" LCD displays are becoming reasonably priced, even if they don’t really offer “the same viewable area as a 19" CRT” (as writers repeat in every review). Five displays, $450 to $700 [C23:7]—and, as you might expect, Editors’ Choice is the $700 Formac Gallery 1740 Platinum.
There continue to be reasons to stick with CRTs, as this article points out [M20:8), along with rating eight 20" and larger displays. Highest-rated, with 4.5 mice each: Apple Cinema Display ($1,299) for Macs with an Apple Display Connector; NEC MultiSync LCD2080UX ($1,699) if you need compatibility with other Macs. The NEC is a 3x4 1600x1200 display, the Apple a widescreen 1680x1050 display; both have 350:1 contrast.
This story combines a set of broadband ISP reviews, based on actual experience in setting up and using an account, and a user satisfaction survey [P22:16]. Readers’ Choices for ISPs are BellSouth, Cox, EarthLink, Insightbb.com, and Road Runner among broadband ISPs, AT&T Worldnet and Earthlink for dialup. The highest grade, A+ overall, goes to Cox and AT&T Worldnet—both of them scoring better than average on every measure. (Lowest scores: DirecWay for broadband, AOL for dialup.)
Pocket storage devices can use either flash RAM or removable flash media. In this five-unit writeup [W21:8], Best Buy honors go to SanDisk’s $85 Cruzer, a 256MB unit that also supports removable media. Note that these units aren’t as fast as you might expect.
External hard disks are down to less than $2 per megabyte, as in this five-unit quickie for devices that connect via FireWire or USB 2.0 [W21:8]. Best Buy: Maxtor Personal Storage 5000DV, $300 for 160GB; it provides a one-button backup capability.
A multisegment cover story [P22:20] covers music downloading systems, ripping/digital jukebox software, flash memory players, and hard drive players (e.g., Apple’s iPod). Among download systems, PC Magazine liked RealOne Rhapsody 2.1 best (but Napster 2.0 wasn’t out yet). The Editors’ Choice for ripping is no surprise: MusicMatch Jukebox 8.1 (pay the $20 for the Plus version: you won’t regret it). Creative Labs’ $150 Nomad MuVo NX gets the Editors’ Choice among flash memory players (128MB, 1.5oz., 1.4x2.9x0.6", and very good battery life), along with the $200 Rio Call (256MB, 1.8oz., 2.5x2.6x0.8", even better battery life; it also has an FM tuner and memory slot). No surprise in the standard hard-drive player category: The 40GB Apple iPod may be pricey, but it’s still Editors’ Choice. The $270 Rio Nitrus gets an Editors’ Choice nod as one of the first players based on the teeny-tiny 1.5GB Cornice Storage Element hard disk (half a cubic inch!); at 2.0oz. and 3.0x2.4x0.6", it offers the size and weight of a flash player with more capacity.
Centrino notebooks—that is, those using Intel’s Pentium M, the Intel 855 chipset, and Intel Wifi—offer excellent performance and battery life, but many companies are using the Pentium M without the other choices (abandoning the “Centrino” label). Editors’ Choice in a five-system roundup [C23:6]: Acer TravelMate 803LCi, $2.799: 1.6GHz Pentium M, 512MB DDRAM, 60GB hard disk, DVD/CD-RW drive, ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB graphics, 15" LCD, 6.1lb. Somewhat unusual keyboard, four USB2.0 ports and FireWire, and the unit ran almost five hours on a battery test.
In this roundup of so-called desktop replacements [W21.7], the Best buy goes to Toshiba’s $1,899 Satellite 2455-S305: Pentium4-2400, 15.0" display, 512MB RAM, 60GB disk, DVD-R/RW burner, 9.1lb., 3:07 battery life.
Another desktop replacement roundup [C24:1], asserts that these heavyweight notebooks “could send your desktop packing.” The five systems cost $2,574 to $3,800, weigh 7.2 to 9.9 pounds (without AC adapter), and have 15" or 17" LCD screens. They’re sort of an odd lot: The Eurocom D500P is $1000 more expensive than any other system, has the smallest screen, and comes from an unknown company—but it has a “fantastic feature set.” The Dell Inspiron 8600, rated 8.2 and getting one of two Editors’ Choices, is two pounds lighter than the other systems and looks an awful lot like a midrange notebook (although, at $2,600, it’s pricey); it’s the only other one with a 15" screen. Of the three clear “desktop replacement” units, the $2,574 HP Pavilion ZD7000 receives the other Editors’ Choice. It comes with a Pentium 4-3200 (not a notebook-class CPU), 512MB SDRAM, a slow 60GB disk (4200RPM, where the others are either 5400 or 7200), a DVD+RW burner, nVidia GeForce FX Go5600 128MB graphics, XP, and Works.
Just at a guess, no magazine’s going to waste space on CD-RW burners these days. A high-speed burner goes for $30 after rebates, sometimes less, and just isn’t sexy—but it will probably burn CD-Rs a lot faster than a DVD burner!
This roundup of 4x DVD burners costing less than $300 [C23:8] may have been the last roundup with no multiformat (DVD-R/+R/-RW/+RW) units. Editors’ Choices were the $299 Pioneer DVD-A05 for DVD-RW, the $300 TDK 420N Indi DVD for DVD+RW.
In a brief review of various optical (and other removable-media) drives [W21:8], the Best Buy went to Sony’s DRU-510A for the fastest optical storage (4X DVD+R/RW) and general compatibility.
A big roundup of DVD drives, 23 in all [P22:19]: 10 external units ($240 to $600) and 13 internal drives ($200 to $280). The $600 price is a little misleading: That’s the Alera DVD Copy Cruiser Dual, an external disk duplicator—but it had trouble copying CDs. Most external drives run right around $300, and it’s fairly remarkable that you can buy a name-brand external DVD burner for $240—Plextor, no less, albeit not dual-format.
Editors’ Choice for an external drive is LaCie’s d2 DVD+/-RW, $299, which is light, attractive, and perofrms very well, including 4x burning on both DVD-R and DVD+R. For internal use, Editors’ Choice is the $229 Memorex Dual Format DVD Recorder, which also burns at 4x and delivered top speeds at a relatively low price. The tests also included six DVD authoring programs; Editors’ Choice here is the $70 Sonic MyDVD 5 for video quality and elegance; for another $30, MyDVD Studio Deluxe 5 includes CD-burning software, archiving/backup software, and a media player.
Windows for Pocket PCs is now Windows Mobile, with better security, increased messaging support and better multimedia. An early roundup [P22:13] of eight devices with the new OS, $300 to $550, includes one Editors’ Choice: HP iPAQ Pocket HC h2210. $400, 400MHz Intel CPU, 64MB SDRAM (56MB usable), 32MB ROM, 3.5" transflective TFT, 5oz., 4.8x2.9x0.6, bluetooth included.
This brief roundup [P22:21] includes four more Windows Mobile Pocket PCs, each with a 3.5" display. Editors’ Choice is the $500 HP iPAQ Pocket PC H4350, which is the first PocketPC to feature a thumb keyboard.
A comparison of PDA/phone hybrids finds none of them perfect, one of the two most expensive worth a Best Buy [W21:9]. Sony Ericsson P800, $600, has an odd 208x320-pixel color screen (4096 colors), runs Symbian OS, weighs 5oz. and measures 2.3x4.6x1.1"; it’s basically a chubby phone with a decent-size screen included.
Monochrome lasers aren’t dead yet; the newest ones are fast and cheap. This five-unit roundup [C23:9] gives the highest rating to Samsung’s $199 ML-1710. That gets you 12.4 tested pages per minute, 600dpi printing, and the highest consumable cost at 2.7 cents per page.
PC Magazine breaks inkjet printers down into “personal” and “photo” categories, although most personal printers do just fine as photo printers. In a test of nine personal and 11 photo units, the $100 HP Deskjet 5150 gets Editors’ Choice as a personal unit, Canon’s $500 i9100 Photo Printer as a photo printer for enthusiasts, and the $300 HP Photosmart 7960 for photo printing and standalone photo printing (without a computer: it accepts media cards and has a 2.5" LCD to preview images).
Most multifunction printers [P22:21] now offer very good image quality. Key to deciding on an MFP are your major functions: Do you need fax keys, an automatic document feeder, memory card readers? Two out of ten units earn Editors’ Choices: the $400 Canon MultiPass MP730 (by far the fastest printer, and with excellent Photoshop output quality) and the $130 Dell A940 (built by Lexmark) for value.
This big roundup of inexpensive portable projectors [P22:13] includes units ranging from 2.2 pounds to 7 pounds, $999 to $2,000, all with SVGA (800x600) rather than XGA (1024x768) resolution. Why the lower resolution? Because the projectors are cheaper and you shouldn’t need more than 800x600 resolution for PowerPoint—and regular TV or DVD only uses 480 lines of resolution. Editors’ Choice: NEC VT460, $1,200, highest tested brightness (and the closest to meeting brightness claims), sharp video quality—but on the heavy side at 6.6lb.
“Midrange” scanners offer more performance than ever. This four-unit review [P22:19] includes four scanners with 48bit color, transparency adapters, full-page scanning and USB 2.0 interfaces, at prices between $150 and $200. Two of the four earn Editors’ Choices: the $200 Epson Perfection 3170 Photo (larger and heavier than the others, but it produced the best OCR and photo scans) and has a substantial software bundle) and HP’s $200 Scanjet 4670, a snazzy transparent device that’s cooler than the average scanner.
This small roundup [W22:1] covers three $200-$230 scanners with special photo-restoration features. No Editors’ Choice, but a clear point leader: Epson’s $199 Perfection 3170 Photo. While all three printers restored faded colors nicely, only the Epson could remove dust from film scans as well as print scans; it also has the highest resolution of the three.
Increasingly, real-world tablet PCs are convertible notebooks—they have standard keyboards, but you can turn the display around so that the unit behaves as a touch-screen tablet. That’s true of all three designs in this mini-roundup [22:22], from Gateway, Sharp and HP. Editors’ Choice here is the HP Compaq TC1100, $2,399: 1.0G Pentium M, 512MB SDRAM, 40GB disk, 10.4" screen, Ethernet and 802.11b/g, Bluetooth. You can actually remove the keyboard, leaving a 3.1lg. tablet PC; as a notebook, it’s four pounds (but has a small screen).
Just in time (if, like me, you’re a little late purchasing this year’s tax program), here’s PC Magazine’s annual roundup [23:1]. As usual, there’s no point changing from TurboTax to TaxCut or vice-versa if you’re happy with your current program. This year, there’s a kicker: if you hated the TurboTax activation code (and the trivial spyware that accompanied it), be aware that Intuit heard you: There’s no activation code for 2004.
TurboTax earns the Editors’ Choice this year. The nicest changes (other than the dropped activation nuisance) appear to come in the interview process—one of the most powerful TurboTax features, but also sometimes cumbersome. For repeat users, a “welcome back” interview asks about significant life events that would change your tax patterns and modifies the interview accordingly. For all users, checklists at the beginning of interview sections create required tax completion sections. The combination should reduce the number of screens required to complete a form.
Editors’ Choices and five-star ratings from a massive 200-item roundup [P22:10]:
Ř Backup: Stomp’s BackUp MyPC 4.85 ($69) and Dantz’ Retrospect Professional 6.5 ($129) for traditional use, Connected TLM ($15/month for 4GB) for online backup, Iomega Automatic Backup 1.0.2 ($40) for real-time backup, TrueImage 6.0 ($45) for drive imaging, GoBack 3 Deluxe ($30) for system rollback.
Ř Migration: Desktop DNA Professional 4.5 ($39).
Ř Disk tools: PowerQuest’s PartitionMagic 8.0 ($70) for partitioning, Heidi’s Eraser (free) for cleanup, Kroll Ontrack’s EasyRecovery Lite 6.0 ($89) for data recovery, PKZip for Windows Standard Edition 6.0 ($30) for compression, Executive Software’s Diskeeper 7.0 SE Home Edition ($30) for defragmentation, V Communications’ SystemSuite 4.0 ($60) as a utility suite.
Ř File management: V’s PowerDesk Pro ($40), which I continue to recommend.
Ř Internet utilities: EdenSoft’s PopUpCop 18.104.22.168 ($20) to control popups, SpeedBit’s Download Accelerator Plus Premium 5.3 ($30) and Headlight’s Lightning Download 1.1.1 ($20) to manage downloads, Gaim 0.61 (free) and Trillian 1.0 ($25) as instant messenger add-ons.
Ř Networking: GFI LANguard Network Security Scanner ($249 for 50 IP addresses) for security assessment, Woodstone’s Servers Alive (free for 10 hosts, $99 for up to 1,000) for server monitoring, Magneto’s MegaPing ($49) as a toolbox.
Ř Microsoft Office tools: Cell Color Assistant ($20) and The Sheet Navigator ($30) as Excel add-ons, LiveWeb (free) for PowerPoint, Corex’ CardScan 6.0.4 ($79) for Outlook.
Ř System utilities: RegCleaner (free) for registry cleanup, DisplayMate for Windows ($69) for display tuning.
Ř Printing utilities: FinePrint 4.80 ($40).
Ř Screen capture utilities: TechSmith’s SnagIt 6.2 ($40) for screen capture, Rendersoft’s CamStudio 2.0 (free) for screen recording.
Ř Keyboard and macro: MJMSoft’s KeyText 2000 ($25).
This roundup of antivirus and spyware programs [W21:7] includes unsurprising Best Buys. Antivirus: Norton AntiVirus 2003. Anti-spyware: Lavasoft Ad-aware Plus 6 and Spybot Search & Destroy 1.2.
This roundup of popup and antispyware programs [C28:8] gives the usual Editors’ Choice to Spybot Search & Destroy, and another to Edensoft PopUpCop 2.0 ($20), but only for Internet Explorer.
A roundup of anti-spam tools [P22:20] yields no Editors’ Choice for personal use (but Norton AntiSpam 2004 was highest-rated). Brightmail Anti-Spam 5.1 and Postini Perimeter Manager share honors as enterprise tools. These corporate tools aren’t cheap: Brightmail costs $1,499 per year for up to 49 users; Postini $15 to $20 per user per year.
Another roundup of PC protection tools in several categories [P22:21]: Norton AntiVirus 2004 is the Editors’ Choice for antivirus software. Norton Personal Firewall 2004 and ZoneAlarm Pro 4.0 share honors for personal firewalls. Norton Internet Security 2004 is the Editors’ Choice as a security suite—not surprisingly, since it combines NAV and Norton Personal Firewall (and adds Norton AntiSpam).
Is videoconferenging ready for real-world use? PC Magazine seems to think so, with the article title “Videoconferencing: Look again.” [P22:22] Two sets of software receive Editors’ Choices. SightSpeed Video Messenger ($30 per user per month with no time limits, no charge for 10 minutes a day/100 minutes a month) is recommended for basic videoconferencing. VidiTel costs $35 per month per user and offers a more sophisticated videoconferencing solution. If you just want to see whether those little camcorders and robust access make videoconferencing worthwhile, the article suggests trying one of the IM clients: MSN Messenger or Yahoo! Messenger.
“Take a meeting online” [P22:23] considers web conferencing software (and adds another unfortunate neologism, “webinar” for web seminar). All four tools reviewed include web-based PowerPoint presentations, document sharing and annotation, application sharing, whiteboarding, and chat. Other features differ, and if you’re interested you really should read the article—I think you need to be a would-be user to make sense of all this. Editors’ Choice goes to WebEx Meeting Center ($100 per seat per month standard, $200 pro), which already has more than 60 percent of the market.
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