1. HP Pavilion DV2000Z
OS The DV2000Z currently ships with Windows XP but is cleared to run Windows Vista when it launches in January - provided you pay $100 or more to upgrade.
Processor AMD's newest mobile chipset, the cutting-edge 1.6-GHz dual core Turion 64 X2
Memory and Hard Drive Tricking out the DV2000Z with more RAM and a bigger hard drive is affordable. 2-GB RAM and a 100-GB drive added $290 to the bill.
Features We liked the HP Mobile Remote (for controlling movies and music from a distance), the built-in 1.3-megapixel webcam and the ExpressCard slot for wireless modems.
Warranty We added HP's $350 three'year Accidental Damage Protection with Express Repair.
Total Cost $1,380
Bottom Line Nice price for a workhorse laptop with full accident coverage. Too bad it's not preloaded with Windows Vista.
2. Apple MacBook
OS Like other Intel-based Macs, the MacBook runs Mac OS X. With free software called Boot Camp, it can also run Windows XP.
Processor New to Macs, Intel's fast and powerful 2-GHz Core Duo chipset.
Memory and Hard Drive This model starts with a paltry 512 MB of RAM and a 60-GB drive, and upgrades don't come cheap.
Features The MacBook has the Apple Remote for Front Row, a built-in iSight camera, optical audio output to connect to home-theater receivers and the breakaway MagSafe power cable that reduces accidental damage.
Warranty Its three-year $249 AppleCare Protection Plan doesn't cover accidents. It just offers easier access to tech support and defective-parts repairs.
Total Cost $1,548
Bottom Line A great OS, a powerful chip and sweet features. We still wish for cheaper RAM and broader warranty coverage.
The Case for the Mac
The iPod effect Apple sales are surging right now, and it's not just because of those ubiquitous TV ads. Lifelong PC users buy iPods, realize that Apple's appeal isn't just marketing and soon find themselves shopping at the Apple Store for bigger-ticket items. It's a good time to drink Steve Jobs' Kool-Aid: the next few months will bring an unnamed media player (think iPod for your living room) and Leopard, the newest edition of the Mac OS. Among other nice features, Leopard includes Time Machine, a visually appealing way to back up files and locate missing ones, and Spaces, a tool for organizing your busy desktop into distinct screens. In addition to their own smooth-running virus-free OS, today's Macs can even run Windows XP with a free utility called Boot Camp. There are still things Macs can't do, and Apple's shift to Intel chips means that certain programs, like Microsoft Office for Mac and Adobe Photoshop, run slow. (We expect updates of both in 2007.)
Who's it for? Macs are for people who are more interested in a low-stress experience while enjoying music, movies, e-mail and websites, rather than in pushing the limits of their system with gadgets and games.
The Case for Windows
Dawn of a new desktop: What's not to like about Windows, the software that runs more than 90% of the world's personal computers? The list is long: it's prone to viruses and other Web-borne illnesses, it can freeze, and compared with the Mac OS, it doesn't come with much useful preinstalled software. All of that changes in January when Microsoft launches Vista, the first new version of Windows in five years. Built on a more stable foundation, it asks the user before installing any software, so that unwanted applications can't just sneak in. Photo, music and movie managers are an integral part of the 'home premium' edition. Hardware-wise, both the Zune music and movie player and the Xbox 360 will access multimedia content on Vista PCs, extending their reach into the living room and beyond. Mac fans argue that Microsoft is just trying to create a Mac-like environment-and it may be true-but many things still run only on Windows.
Who's it for? Windows-only business professionals and hard-core PC gamers know it will do more for them. But it's a good choice for gadget fans too. A lot of PDAs and multimedia devices, like the Logitech DJ wireless music system, require Windows.