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Jewish World Review
Sept. 1, 2006
/ 8 Elul, 5766
Great desktop for $550
Take a look at the non-poetically named Compaq Presario SR1850NX. While
the name won't likely trip off your tongue, the computer itself is a
rather pleasant package. After a $50 mail-in rebate (I hate 'em, but what
can you do?), the $549 price, sans monitor, delivers a lot for the money.
At the core of this Windows-based machine is a 2.2 GHz AMD Athlon 64-bit
processor. It's not the fastest in this range; for an extra $50, Compaq
will sell you this same computer with a 2.4 GHz chip, but for the price
it's very good. There's 1 Gbyte of RAM, which is very comfortable, indeed,
for a Windows XP system, a spacious 250 GByte hard disk drive and two DVD
drives, one to play and write discs, the other to just play them.
There's also a multi-slot card reader on the front for various camera
flash devices, three USB 2.0 ports on the front, an IEEE 1394 (FireWire)
port and audio connectors for speakers, a microphone and a headset.
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 is the operating system supplied, of
which more in a moment, and the machine is labeled as being "capable" of
running Microsoft Vista, due next year.
I've had the SR1850NX on my desk for about eight weeks. It works very
nicely and quickly. Startup is fast, media streaming (through an Ethernet
connection) is good, and the sound output to the HP vs17 display's
built-in speakers is fine.
Sound brings me to multimedia and the Windows XP Media Center software. I
was a bit surprised to find the software, but no built-in TV tuner. It's
not required, of course, since "media" includes DVDs, CDs, MP3s, photos
and video clips. If desired, you can buy a plug-in board such as the
Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150MCE Personal Video Recorder for around $67 via the
Web and add the TV capability.
But the lack of a built-in TV tuner isn't a terrible thing; all it means
is that you can use the Media Center software, out of the box, for other
things. The basic Windows operating system runs just fine, by the way, and
while I've not tested Windows Vista on this machine, I have used the Beta
version of Office 2007 here and it runs without a flaw.
The black, metallic-edged case of the SR1850NX isn't a PC modder's
dream, but it's serviceable enough for individual use. If you peel off the
extensive range of stickers on the front - just about every feature of the
unit is labeled, save for the on/off switch - then it might even be kind
of stylish. About the only thing one can't do is put the case on its side
if you want to use the optical drives. I wouldn't take that chance.
The computer itself isn't as noisy as the fan in the older Apple PowerBook
G4 that sits beside it; in fact I only noticed the Compaq's fan when the
Apple portable was turned off. On its own, though, the Compaq does make
enough noise to "compete" with the audio output from the online stream of
WQXR-FM in New York, leading me to suspect the system unit is best placed
on the floor.
The supplied keyboard and mouse are utilitarian, with some nice touches
including a one-press Calculator button and volume controls for the audio
on the keyboard. The wired mouse has a scroll wheel.
Add it up: the computer for $549, the HP vs17 display, from HP's Web site,
for $210 after rebate, and, if you want, $67 for a TV tuner. For about
$825, you'd have a system that would tackle a lot of stuff in a dorm room
or family room, and for more than the next 15 minutes. It's very well
worth considering, in my opinion; details at http://www.shopping.hp.com/.
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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2006, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com