PCs for Five C's

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Hardware

Of course a $500 price tag isn't unprecedented. For a couple of years or more, retail superstores have offered consumers $500 desktops suitable for use as a family's second or third PC. These days, several vendors stock $199 Linux systems ready to be the family's fifth or sixth.

But can half a grand buy a PC you'll feed good about buying? The first item on our checklist and/or wish list was a dual-core processor -- and believe us, if you weren't familiar with the 65-nanometer-process, entry-level Pentium Dual-Core chip that Intel quietly slipped into its lineup below the Core 2 Duo last year, you will be after five minutes shopping for $500 PCs.

We also kept an eye out for PCI Express x16 slots to allow upgrading from low-priced desktops' integrated graphics, and -- hardest to find in this price range -- 2GB instead of 1GB of memory, to shift Windows Vista from Park to Drive. Unless otherwise mentioned, every system we eyed came with a DVD±RW burner, with WiFi standard equipment on laptops.

Then we took a $500 bill from our wallet -- a neat trick; William McKinley's picture hasn't been printed on U.S. currency since 1945 -- and set off on our virtual shopping spree. As in previous Web-site surveys, any errors in transcription are our fault; any price or configuration changes since Monday and Tuesday, February 25 and 26, are the vendors'.

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