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Avoid upgrade blues, buy a new, cheap PC


Still not convinced it makes sense to upgrade your old PC? Then buy a new one - and make it a bargain.

One advantage that most shoppers have today is that they already have a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and set of speakers attached to their old computer. Recycling those items can save a few hundred dollars on a new system because they need only buy "The Box" - the computer itself.

If you have a little patience, auction sites like e-Bay are a good bet. You'll often find the best prices there - usually undercutting big retail stores by $200 or $300. You'll also find older but serviceable secondhand machines, such as Pentium III, 733 MHz models, that retail stores won't sell new because the price level has dropped below their minimum barrier.

Sometimes a newly discontinued model that's been taken off retail shelves will serve your purposes. I've found PCs on e-Bay offering 30-day warranties; recently I noticed an Intel Celeron, 1.1 GHz machine with a 40-gigabyte hard drive, 256 megabytes of memory, a network card, and a 48X CD-ROM drive for $490 - a price you will rarely find on a department store shelf.

If you're looking for a hot machine, you're talking about a Pentium 4 system. These are somewhat more expensive, but you'll still find bargains - including one from a small company called eMachines Inc. (www.e4me.com) that does little advertising but sells through large retailers.

The eMachines T4160 model has an Intel Pentium 4 processor running at 1.6 GHz, 256 megabytes of RAM, a 40-gigabyte hard drive, a 16X CD-burning drive, and an nVidia TNT2 AGP graphics card - all for $700 (without monitor). That's hard to beat for a machine that will be useful for years.

Don't expect too much, though. With just three PCI expansion slots and a case that's not made to be fiddled with overzealously, the T4160 limits you. But the specs are good enough that you won't have to worry about upgrading for a few years.

Finding a good brand-name PC for less than $700 is more difficult. Dell, the mail-order giant, has a deal right now on its Web site (www.dell.com) for the SmartStep 100D, a slick-looking system with an Intel Celeron 1 GHz processor, 128 megs of RAM, a 20-gigabyte hard drive, and speakers for $600 - including a 15-inch monitor.

Gateway's (www.gateway.com) response to the bargain-basement challenge is the 300L, which likewise goes for $600 and offers a 1.2 GHz processor and comparable accessories. Like its competitors, it ships with Microsoft Windows XP.

These are all good deals, especially considering that it wasn't too long ago that you couldn't buy a new computer for much less than $1,200. If you have a monitor and you're happy with it, go with the eMachines, which has a lot more performance power than the 300L or the SmartStep.

If you need a monitor and other peripherals, Dell and Gateway are the way to go.

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