Forty years ago, TV viewers first marveled at the stop-motion puppet animation of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and sighed over the spotted elephant, Charlie- instead of Jack-in-the-box, and other denizens of the Island of Misfit Toys.
Today, of course, stop-motion animation means playing Half-Life 2 on an integrated-graphics chipset, but shoppers at Circuit City will find what some might call a Misfit Processor: the Pentium 4 515, a 2.93GHz rarity among Intel's current 90-nanometer-process CPUs in that, while it sports an LGA775 socket and 1MB of Level 2 cache, it has the old 533MHz instead of 800MHz front-side bus and no Hyper-Threading Technology. But it still pumps out its share of performance, especially in the HP Pavilion A744X-B desktop which the electronics retailer sells for $980 after rebates with 512MB of DDR400 memory, a 120GB Serial ATA hard disk, double-layer DVD±RW drive, and a 15-inch LCD monitor.
Even without the holidays -- and especially without Dell changing its "Dell Delivers" tagline to "Dellf Delivers" -- there's a lot to explore in 2004's final installment of Hardware Central's quarterly tour of vendor Web sites in search of great desktop and laptop buys under $1,000. As always, any mistakes in transcription are our fault, but any volatile price or bundle configuration changes since our December 15 and 16 survey are the sellers'. Let's set off -- or, as Yukon Cornelius would say, mush.
One of the most eye-catching desktop buys, whether at HP's own site or one of many superstores', is the $1,000-after-rebate tag for the M1160N Media Center Photosmart PC, which backs Microsoft's Win XP Media Center Edition, remote control, TV tuner, and TiVo-style personal video recorder with AMD's Athlon 64 3400+ (2.2GHz) chip, 512MB of PC3200 memory, a 200GB hard disk, double-layer DVD+RW, and Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 XT AGP graphics card.
The M1160N is a conventional minitower, but CompUSA lists a $900 Cisnet 35 Media Center in a small-form-factor shoebox case with Athlon 64 3000+, 120GB hard disk, DVD burner, and ATI Radeon 9200 SE graphics.
If you'd rather put Intel under the tree, HP's non-Media Center Pavilion A730N is $900 with a Pentium 4 530 (3.0GHz) CPU, 512MB of DDR400, 200GB of Serial ATA storage, double-layer DVD±RW, and Intel's 915G Express' chipset's Graphics Media Accelerator 900 graphics plus an upgrade-ready PCI Express x16 slot.
If you want to pair your PC with a handsome 17-inch LCD monitor, Costco has $850 and $950 Dell Dimension 3000 bundles with CD and DVD burners, respectively. Still, we'd suggest you think twice -- the computer has 3.0GHz Pentium 4 power, 512MB of memory, and a 160GB hard disk, but just Intel's old Extreme Graphics 2 (i865GV) chipset with no AGP slot for graphics upgrades.
The Sony site let us configure an RS700CG desktop with Pentium 4 530 (3.0GHz), 512MB of DDR400, 160GB hard disk, GMA 900 graphics, and DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive for $890 including Sony's Giga Pocket personal video recorder. That leaves enough in our budget to upgrade to either 1GB of RAM or a Pentium 4 540 (3.2GHz), but alas, the free upgrade to a double-layer DVD±RW had only a few hours to live as we typed this.