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Verdicts on the Latest & Greatest Technology

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What’s hot these days in PC technology? What’s merely hyped?

With the caveat that this is at least somewhat subjective, here’s a rundown of some of the latest and greatest gadgets, gizmos, and gewgaws, along with a recommendation of which are worth opening your wallet for.
Superfast CPUs

A superfast central processing unit can speed up processor-intensive tasks such as digitizing music or video. The latest chips from Intel, AMD (Advanced Micro Devices), and Motorola that I’ve tested deliver smaller improvements in such common activities as word processing and surfing the Web.

When buying a new computer, it’s most cost-effective to opt for the “sweet spot”–a CPU one to three notches down from the top of the line–unless you absolutely need the slightly increased performance of the very fastest chips.

Verdict:

Qualified thumbs up.

Rewritable DVD Drives

 

Rewritable optical drives are replacing other auxiliary storage media, including Zip and Jaz drives and, in some cases, tape backup drives.

“CD-RW drives” have dropped in price lately. Plus, the cost of the discs on a per-megabyte basis is less than the cost of other storage media, and unlike with tape backup drives, your data is quickly accessible. Those CD-RW drives I’ve looked at are terrific for backing up data and burning audio CDs.

The just-released “DVD+RW drives” have seven to eight times the capacity of CD-RW drives and are faster than their predecessors, “DVD-RW drives.” They can do everything CD-RW drives do plus store business videos or home movies. I’m now testing a Hewlett-Packard DVD100i.

Verdict:

Thumbs up.
Flat Monitors

There are two different types of flat monitors: “flat-panel displays” (also called LCDs or liquid-crystal displays) and “flat-screen monitors” (also called flat-screen CRTs or cathode-ray tubes).

Flat-panel displays are thin screens commonly used with portable computers but lately available for desktop PCs as well. They take up less space and use less energy than their clunkier counterparts.

Flat-screen monitors, on the other hand, are the same TV-like screens that have traditionally come with desktop PCs, only their screens are flat and produce less glare and distortion than traditional curved screens.

Apple Computer once again pushed the technology envelope by recently announcing new iMacs that resemble desk lamps, with a flat-panel display attached to a small round base. The attractive futuristic-looking devices, which should be available shortly, are as much fashion statements as computing devices.

I was impressed with the flat panels from NEC and ViewSonic that I’ve evaluated, though color fidelity wasn’t as precise as with CRT monitors (which is typical). I’ve also been impressed with the flat-screen CRTs that I’ve looked at, including one I’m testing now from HP, though as with LCDs you pay a premium for them.

Verdict:

Qualified thumbs up.

The Optical Mouse

The latest computer pointing devices use light to track movement. I’ve evaluated optical mice and trackballs from Microsoft and Logitech. The benefits, according to the companies, are no skipping and jamming, no moving parts to clean or to wear out, and no need for a mouse pad.

The devices worked well for me, though so have conventional $5 no-name mice. If an optical mouse comes with a new computer, it’s a nice feature. But if you’re replacing your current mouse, an optical mouse or trackball is probably not worth its premium price.

Verdict:

Thumbs down.

Digital Cameras

Taking pictures with a filmless camera has many benefits over using a traditional camera. With a color inkjet printer, you can immediately print out your images, or you can quickly import them into an image editing program to crop, color correct, or otherwise improve them. There’s a lot to be said for this combination of control and immediate gratification.

I’ve looked at a range of different types of digital cameras from various companies. If you intend to use the camera strictly for creating Web images or e-mailing photos, rather than creating prints, you can save money by opting for a lower-resolution model.

Verdict:

Thumbs up.

Digital Camcorders

If you have a huge amount of free time, consider buying a digital video camera. Used with a video editing program, these marvels of technology let you play the role of a Steven Spielberg.

Starting with raw footage, you can add titles, a soundtrack, and special effects. Perhaps most important, you can edit down scenes to keep your viewers from falling asleep! I’ve tested units from Sony and Canon and have had an easier time using them on a Mac than a PC.

Digital moviemaking can be very time-consuming. However, as with much else that’s digital, it’s very enjoyable.

Verdict:

Qualified thumbs up.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at reidgold@netaxs.com or http://members.home.net/reidgold.

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