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Holiday Tech Buying Guide

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Monday, December 13, 2004; 2:00 PM

Fast Forward's Rob Pegoraro hosted the third in a series of discussions on The Washington Post's holiday tech buying guide and answered your personal tech questions. He also discussed his latest review - Microsoft's Media Center edition of Windows XP.

A transcript follows.

Rob Pegoraro (The Post)

Want to know what upcoming topics are being covered? Sign up for Fast Forward e-letter -- get updated information on personal technology news and product demos. Read past editions of Rob's e-letter online here.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Rob Pegoraro: Another busy day--they tell me I've got 82 questions already submitted. By way of reference, that's as many questions as I might answer in an hour... as I did last week, I'll stick around a little bit longer to try to respond to as many as I can. Let's go!


Arlington, Va.: Rob -- I'm looking for a DVD/VCR player/recorder that will enable me to record videocassettes onto DVDs that can be edited. Do you have any recommendations? Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: Tech Buying Guide: DVD Players and Recorders

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the link. To encapsulate my advice in that piece, a DVD+RW recorder will offer the best mix of compatibility (you can play your recordings on most existing DVD players and computers) and convenience (you can add new recordings to a +RW disc and erase old ones without any weird finalization steps).


Baltimore, Md.: Hi Rob- I've just added my mother's eMac to a home network, and your column on how to transfer her AOL contacts into Mac's mail program couldn't have come at a better time! Now, any advice on getting her AOL favorites into Safari????


Rob Pegoraro: Great question! I, uh, have no idea how to answer it. But let me give it a shot in this Sunday's Help File column (or, if anybody knows how to do that, post your suggestions here).


ipod: I want to buy an ipod for my man but it is so expensive. Should I wait until closer to Christmas to see if it is going down?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope. You're not going to see any price drops on the iPod between now and then. You might see some in January--if Apple sticks to past practice, it will introduce new iPods or update its old ones at the Macworld Expo trade show in mid-January--but that won't help on your Xmas shopping.

Er, it won't unless you use a credit card or shop at a store that offers a price-protection policy.


Greensboro, N.C.: Hi Rob,

I'm wondering if you can talk about solutions to wire an iPod into a car. I'm tired of FM transmitters now that I've personally heard how great an iPod sounds when it is directly connected to a car stereo, and I want my iPod wired into my car!

Besides the BMW/iPod system - for those of us who don't drive BMWs - what solutions are available to music-loving drivers? (or at least Honda owners)

Rob Pegoraro: Not a great variety. It baffles me that every car stereo sold these days doesn't include a simple RCA minijack line input--that would add, like, $5 to the price. Alpine makes some kind of iPod-integrated stereo you can add in, and it's possible to wire an additional line input into your existing setup (but the latter is way beyond my own competence). Any other ideas?


Kensington, Md.: Hi, Rob! Read your comments on the ThinkPad and it prompted this question . . .

Been using ThinkPads for a while and mostly like them, particularly the ones with both the eraser and the touchpad. Wish they had the extra window key though. But for unrelated reasons I need a new laptop so I bought a Sony last week and started setting it up like my ThinkPad. Got all the software loaded and then tried to install my Verizon PC 5220 card - the absolutely terrific wireless modem that gives me reasonably high speed access to the Internet from anywhere in the United States - cars, trains, subway, home, office, wherever.

Unfortunately, even though the card worked great in the ThinkPad, the brand new Sony and Windows XP Home wouldn't recognize the modem part of the card. Verizon, after several hours on hold and with technicians said it was a Sony issue. After more hours, Sony said only that "its not on our compatibility list so we don't support it and can't help you." Even when I told them this was a show stopper and the Sony would be returned to the store, they stonewalled me.

So . . . any thoughts or advice? And would you buy a new ThinkPad after IBMs decision (which, as a stockholder, I applaud.)


Rob Pegoraro: Verizon said it was "a Sony issue"?! How about being even more generically unhelpful. I mean, if they'd said Sony's PC Card slots don't provide enough power, that would actually tell you something useful. (That, BTW, is one reported issue that can stop the Verizon PC Card from working in some machines.)

I might consider buying a ThinkPad next year--anything sold then will still be the product of today's company. But after then, I would have to see proof that Lenovo is living up to the same standards as IBM, and seeing those three letters on a black laptop's case wouldn't be sufficient proof.


Bethesda, Md.: I've installed XP and feel it offers no particular advantages for me. I don't do tunes, photos, chats, etc., just letters, spreadsheets, taxes, and Quicken. XP also seems slower than my previously-used, trouble-free OS, Windows ME. What am I missing if I dump XP and return to ME?

Rob Pegoraro: Plenty. Me crashes a *lot* more than XP. It won't run many current programs--you can't plug in an iPod unless you buy some third-party software. XP's SP2 upgrade (you have installed this already, right?) makes that system much more secure than Me.

Have you upgraded your memory? If you haven't, XP will act like it's jogging through molasses. Put at least 512 megs total of RAM in, and you should see much better performance.


East Hanover, N.J.: Let me set the scene. I use a Dell laptop in my home on the first floor that has a wireless secured WEP(Linksys) connection to the PC on the second floor that has a Verizon DSL connection to the internet. I have the microsoft firewall turned on and aldo use the Microsoft pop-up blocker as well as the Google tool-bar pop-up blocker. The laptop also runs McAfee Virus Scan Enterprise Ver 8.0.0. When using the laptop I am almost constantly hearing pings from the firewall telling me something has been blocked. Every time this happens it momentarily freezes the mouse cursor which is extremely frustrating when you are trying to do work. Even stranger is that I disabled my wireless connection and I was still getting the pinging. My question is how can this be happening if wireless connection has been shut down? Stuart Yourish

Rob Pegoraro: Those pings aren't coming from people trying to hack into your WiFi network--they're from people far away on the Internet (or, more exactly, infected Windows PCs that have been turned into "zombie" attack machines by the viruses or worms that have taken them over).

I suggest you set your firewall to not alert you when it blocks one of these probes. Have it keep shutting them out, but you don't need to see that little dialog box or pop-up window every time it does that.


Springfield, Va.: Rob, I've been reading about new dvd formats coming out. I think there are two competing versions--Blu-Ray and something. But anyway, do you know what this means for the consumer? Will these new formats play on existing dvd players or are we going to have to go out and buy new players soon? And, if so, when? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: This is one of the most important stories for me to cover at the Consumer Electronics Show next month. It's going to be a huge mess for consumers, I fear.


New Ipswich, N.H.: What do you know about compatibility between Airport wireless routers and pcmcia wireless cards. My husband has a Dell Inspiron 5100 and the wireless card that came w/it will not work on my Airport network (not WEP compatible). What should I buy for him?

Rob Pegoraro: The wireless card on the Dell doesn't support WEP *at all*? You've gotta take that back to the store and get your money back... WEP is an exceedingly well-established standard, and there is no excuse for not supporting it.

I can attest from personal experience--I've got an AirPort Extreme base station at home--that AirPort networks are compatible with just about everything I've thrown at them, including quite a few Dell laptops.


London, Canada: Rob, what is the ideal MP3 player for a jogger?

washingtonpost.com: Tech Buying Guide: Music

Rob Pegoraro: Have a look at my advice on that subject...


Washington, D.C.: RE: Car and Ipod

There's always the cassette insert option if you still have a tape deck. It is the solution that I used to use for the old wreck that didn't have a CD player.

Rob Pegoraro: True, although then you get sound quality no better (or perhaps worse) than what an FM adapter would provide.


My $.02:: Rob, last week you recommended not getting a $100 digital camera.

Agreed. $100 is a bad price point for digital cameras. For that price, you can get a 3.1 megapixel without an optical zoom. For $150, you can get a 3-power optical zoom, plus (if you look through the Post plastic pack) many stores will throw in a 128MB disk card. Well worth the extra $50.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Washington, D.C.: Okay, I did all my homework and finally about 4 months ago bought an IBM ThinkPad T42 which I love. I had it upgraded, etc. and was very happy until I heard the news. Now, what do you think will happen with their tech support and my 3-year service contract????

Rob Pegoraro: Both will still work. I'm not concerned about existing customers not being taken care of--I'm more concerned with what happens in the way of new "IBM" hardware.


iTRIP recommendation: I like the ITrip transmitter, its worked well for me so far.

Rob Pegoraro: This is one of those FM transmitters for iPods--a little pod that plugs into the headphone jack.


San Diego: So which apple store is the best(tysons, clarendon or bethesda)?

Rob Pegoraro: Clarendon! But that's because I live a frighteningly short distance from there. Even got the free t-shirt on its opening day :)


Lincoln, Neb.: Treo 650 vs Sidekick vs Blackberry?

Rob Pegoraro: Treo 650--the Sidekick II is awfully competitive, but it's T-Mobile only, while the 650 should soon be available from multiple carriers.


Washington, D.C.: Thanks for taking my question. Regarding Windows Media Center Edition 2005, I have MCE 2004 on my Toshiba laptop. How do I update it to the 2005 edition? Is there an OEM software package? Windows Update? Thanks. Also, what's your favorite desktop-replacement laptop?

Happy Holidays!

washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward: Microsoft's Improved Media Center Still Falls Short

Rob Pegoraro: You've gotta ask Toshiba for that upgrade--it's up to each OEM (that's computerese for "original equipment manufacturer," aka the manufacturer of the computer). Here's Microsoft's advice on upgrades.


Richmond, Va.: Apple's "iTunes" store seems to indicate that you can download their music in either AAC or MP3 format. Is it possible to download music from the iTunes store to your computer in MP3 format and then copy it to a non-Apple player (such as a Creative Zen Micro)?

Rob Pegoraro: Not directly. All of Apple's iTunes store downloads come as copy-controlled AAC files (they carry an ".m4p" filename extension). You can, however, burn them to CD, then copy them back to your computer as MP3s--an acceptable workaround, but not if you're going to do this all the time.


Bethesda, Md.: Re: Apple stores. Actually the choice is Tysons, Clarendon, Bethesda, and Bethesda...

Rob Pegoraro: Right--one opened in downtown Bethesda this weekend (Apple tells me it's the 100th Apple Store), joining the one in Montgomery Mall.


Germantown, Md.: I want to put my printer on the home network. What should I buy? What's the difference between Print router and Print server?

Rob Pegoraro: If you're lucky, your WiFi access point may already have a USB port you can plug a printer into. Otherwise, you'd want a print server--a little box that your printer plugs into, and which makes it available to everything else on the network.

Or, plan C: Plug the printer into whatever computer will be running all the time, then use the standard printer-sharing features in Windows or Mac OS X to share it across the network.


Alexandria, Va.: OK, Windows Media Center didn't seem to work so well. Without elaborating, you mentioned other media receivers in your review that work better. Which ones? What are the pros and cons? Do they do video as well as audio?

Rob Pegoraro: Here's the story I wrote last month about digital-audio hardware, in which I recommended two music receivers, the SlimDevices Squeezebox and the Roku Soundbridge.

I haven't seen any of these devices that handle video well. FWIW, this morning I redid my wireless network as Microsoft's developers had recommended--disconnecting both of my own computers in the process--and still could not stream video in a remotely watchable way using Media Center 2005 and the Media Center Extender.


Helena, Mont.: Can you address the issue that the cost of an ipod or mp3 player is a small cost compared to the cost of purchasing the music. A $300 ipod may contain up to $5,000 worth of songs.

Rob Pegoraro: What's so new about that? The same could be said about every stereo ever made, or even every CD rack.


Takoma Park, Md.: Rob:

You really ought to do something about the bad cell phones being distributed by reputable companies such as Verizon. They do have a ton of features, but can't do basic things such as sustaining a phone call, or keeping a charge, right. I'm specifically speaking of the LG phones. I urge you to take look at the phones.

washingtonpost.com: Special Report: Cell Phone Plans

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestion!


Fairfax Station, Va.: We were able to install an aux connection with our Audi A4 so we could use our Ipod (the called it binary feed). A simple search on google might prove helpful. We were also able to use the Ipod on a friend's Honda Element using an aux cable (aux jack is on the element's dashboard just under the glove compartment.)

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Washington, D.C.: Rob,

I have recently discovered the beauty of RSS (some of us are late bloomers) and I am wondering you can recommend any good feeds. Anything tech related is good. I already get the Post ones as well as a couple from ZDNet. What are some good blogs? What are your favorites? Thanks for all the great info!

washingtonpost.com: Sign-up for free washingtonpost.com RSS feed

Rob Pegoraro: The amazing thing is how many sites have RSS feeds these days. Most blog publishers provide it for free, and most major news publishers have also gotten into the act. So the answer is pretty much, find a site you like and look for an "RSS" icon... you'll probably find it offers a newsfeed.


Virus Protection for Windows 98: Submitting early...I have a 6-7 year old computer (gateway) that works fine, the for the most part. It runs on Windows 98. Problem is: The main anti-virus software programs no longer cover 98. What's a worried boy to do?

Rob Pegoraro: Meaning, whatever antivirus utility you've used no longer supports Win 98 at all? You could switch to a competing product, or, if you want, there's a free anti-virus utility called AVG (free.grisoft.com), that does work under 98.


30ll6: Is there a hand held global sat. pos device that's not too expensive? My husband's new ford truck did not come with one and I would like for him to have it even if it is hand held. Thanks. MP

Rob Pegoraro: Funny you should ask--I've got a reviewer trying out a couple of handheld GPS receivers. We should have a writeup in print within a few weeks.


Madrid, Spain: Hi, I will have to buy a laptop for use in Spain where I am currently living. I have been trying to compare models here with those in U.S. but they don't seem to be the same. Why is this? However, prices in the U.S. seem significantly lower than in Europe due to the fall in the dollar. Companies do not seem to deliver directly outside of North America but I could have one delivered within the continental U.S and brought over. Do you or your readers have any advice or other comment to make on this idea? Assuming my belief of significant lower prices in the U.S. is accurate, how long is this likely to remain so? Finally, warranties are supposedly international, but does this bring problems in practice.

Thanks, for your help as always.

Rob Pegoraro: I have no clue about buying computers overseas, but maybe my readers do... suggestions welcome!


Raleigh, N.C.: Rob, Great article on IBM... It is not hard to believe that IBM as well as other giants around here in NC are selling out to other countries. If our Governor gave existing companies in the Triangle area the same thing he gives companies to come into the area like Dell, or companies from other countries, perhaps IBM would not have to do this. It is all about profit and some how Dell was always able to do exactly the same thing 2 weeks earlier and 1/2 the price than IBM, not sure how they always pulled that off considering they used the same chips and stuff. IBM has been a part of my life for 23 years or longer, I have the original think pad handed out in the early 1980's, a small flip note pad that said think on the leather cover (batteries and electrical power not necessary). I kept it in good condition because it was genius idea. IBM not only built the best in computers they designed the best in micro chips for years, But profit comes first and as for the "ThinkPad" I am thankful for it having been in our lives. That computer will never have the same visionary impact as it did when it was in IBM's hands but maybe Dell might not be able to put out the same product for 1/2 the price now that the Thinkpad is owned by someone else.

That computer will never have the same visionary impact as it did when it was in IBM's hands but maybe Dell might not be able to put out the same product for 1/2 the price now that the Thinkpad is owned by someone else.

Sincerely a loyal engineer to IBM products and company, the company that engineered a beginning to technology, the company that built a new industry and made Raleigh NC, our home.

Maybe one day the government will stop giving to other companies to come here and return back to companies who came here and help build this area.

By the way I was never directly employed by IBM, however, my career was highly impacted by IBM numerous times.

Sincerely, Kim

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for sharing your musings with us...


Fairfax, Va.: Need a bit of advice - am a low-tech Dad, with a 12-yr old daughter who LOVES to schedule and plan her activities - for a reasonable price, say no more than $100 what's a good starter PDA device to purchase for her - somebody mentioned the Zaire (?) made by Palm? thanks for any advice. Fairfax Dad

washingtonpost.com: Tech Buying Guide: Organizers

Rob Pegoraro: It's the Palm Zire--but the name of a certain kleptocratically-ruled country came to my mind as well when I first heard of Palm's new brand.


Leesburg, Va.: You discussed exporting AOL address book data to a Mac. What are your thoughts on exporting AOL address book, particularly email addresses, to Outlook. (Email addresses are much more prone to typing errors.) Is their any 3rd party software to do this?

washingtonpost.com: Help File: Copying an AOL Address Book Over to a Mac

Rob Pegoraro: Yes--from AOL, even. The service offers a free AOL Sync program that can sync up your address book with Outlook or Outlook Express. You should be able to get it at the keyword: sync, or at aolsync.aol.com.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Rob. Based on your evaluation of the 2005 Media Center PC yesterday, it seems that you are not impressed. Do you feel that the fact that your evaluation model was a notebook computer rather than a desktop contributed to your poor experiences with it? I run a desktop 2005 edition Media Center PC and so far I am certain that it is ready and ripe for primetime. Do you plan to evaluate a desktop version and provide a more in depth review on the DVR capabilities of the Media Center PC? I really think that you gave a great operating system and device a bad rap. Thanks.....

Rob Pegoraro: Good question. A desktop Media Center PC would have certainly cost less (I could write an entire column on what a ripoff this Qosmio seems--for starters, shouldn't $2,600 buy you a cooling fan that doesn't whine full-tilt all the time?), but my complaints with MCE 2005 focus on the software itself. The DVR capabilities here, in particular, are pretty weak once you actually make the recording itself. How can Microsoft add an interface to let you crop a photo from 10 feet away, but leave out any way to crop a video recording?


Washington, D.C.: I have been looking forward to trying out the new portable XM MyFi. What have you heard about it?

washingtonpost.com: A Closer Look: Satellite Radio That's Well Received (December 12, 2004)

Rob Pegoraro: That's my reviewer Daniel Greenberg's take on the MyFi (having seen it upfront last week, I agree with his assessment).


Fairfax, Va.: On printer sharing, you could dedicated one computer to be the host which could be too techy but save you some money. Another con is that computer has been on for the other computers to print from the host.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes--that was my Plan C option.


Arlington, Va.: What's the deal with RF modulators? I understand why you need them for older TVs, but why are they so expensive? I can't fin one for less than $20, and most are more. It's not like its particularly amazing technology. At that price, most of the modulators are half the price of the DVD players!

Any idea where I can get a simple one for a reasonable price. I hate getting ripped off by having to buy these essential "extras."

Rob Pegoraro: There aren't that many older TVs that require such a thing. It's a niche product. Plus, *all* video accessories cost more than they should--that's just how the market is.


Arlington, Va.: Rob: Thanks for the columns. What's your opinion on HDMI-capable dvd players (i.e. those with the output) vs. DVD players with DVI outputs? I can only seem to find a single Toshiba brand dvd player capable of hdmi. I'm planning on buying an lcd hdtv and would like a nice dvd to accompany it. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Very techie question here! HDMI (high definition multimedia interface, I think) is basically DVI (digital video interface, an all-digital video connection) plus some copy-restriction circuitry, plus the ability to carry a digital audio feed. That means--can you believe this is even possible?--one cable to connect your DVD player and TV.

Only catch is, if you have a separate home-theater receiver and speakers, the all-in-one approach of HDMI does you little good unless your receiver will also offer HDMI input (so you can wire everything through that).


Merion Station, Pa.: I'm getting ready for a new computer. My soon-to-be old one is a fairly capable four year old Dell Precision 420 (W/2000) with two 80 meg scsi drives. I have a hard wire network w. Linksys router. I'm thinking of keeping the 420 to serve as a file backup for my new machine and my wife's desktop. Do you know of software that will automate backups for new and changed files across a network -- and that is simple enough for a fairly experienced home user to set up and configure?

Rob Pegoraro: Try Retrospect (I haven't used it for that purpose, but I hear lots of good things about it).


Washington, D.C.: I am looking to buy an MP3 player as a gift this year. I know that Ipod is the popular choice, but I have also been looking at the iRiver H320 as an equal option. Which is a better buy?

Rob Pegoraro: If you only need to play MP3s--er, digital music files in general--the 20 GB iPod would be a better buy. It's $30 cheaper than th H320 and, since it doesn't need controls to show photos, it's also simpler. (Plus, Apple is just a better designer of interfaces than anybody else in the MP3-player business these days. Sorry, but it's true.)


Woodbridge, Va.: I have seen your recommendations for cameras and would be happier to buy one of those if I was buying it for myself. However, I am trying to buy a digital camera for a 12 year old that wants to take pictures of birds at the bird feeder and while she is sitting in trees. She has a bit of a clumsy streak and spending a lot of money on a camera that may fall out of a tree would make me and my child cry. Is there an inexpensive camera that can get decent(4x6)pictures from a 20 foot distance?

washingtonpost.com: Tech Buying Guide: Cameras

Rob Pegoraro: Yes--the $150 models an earlier poster mentioned. (They have more resolution than you'd need to print out 4x6 shots, but to cover that 20-foot-range you'd need to use the digital-zoom feature, which will eat up that extra resolution).


Yuma, Ariz.: I don't want to be morose, but IBM for go or bad was a hallmark of the American Tech industry. They are telling it that IBM is not giving away the family jewels in this merger, but is that really true? It seems to me that this is an open door and I feel a cold wind blowing into my country's financial and technological independence. What say you?

Rob Pegoraro: I disagree. I have my doubts about what this means for IBM, but I think that the PC industry here will survive and grow beyond this.


Springfield, Va.: Hi Rob, I was going to purchase the 20 gig I-Pod as a Christmas present for our son. There are a couple of add-ons that are available to allow the unit to play through your car stereo. One was about $30 and the other was around $100. What is the difference between the two?

Rob Pegoraro: Dunno--what was the name of each? $30 sounds like the right price, $100 does not.


St. Louis: There's always the cassette insert option if you still have a tape deck. It is the solution that I used to use for the old wreck that didn't have a CD player.

Rob Pegoraro: True, although then you get sound quality no better (or perhaps worse) than what an FM adapter would provide.

Rob, I have to disagree with you on this one. No static or reception problems with the cassette option while my iTrip always seems to have reception problems. I've tried several different stations but I always find myself using my cassette adaptor when I have a chance.

There is also limited information on ipodlounge.com about adaptors that can be used to hook up an ipod directly to a stereo. I agree with you that this would be a nice feature for car stereos.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the note--iPodLounge.com is a terrific resource for iPod users.


McLean, Va.: Regarding printer sharing yet again...I've been using plan C for some time now. However I think I just found a printer that is networkable for a very reasonable price. For about $240 The HP2610 all in one looks like it will do the trick. I have a mixed OS X and XP home network. 5 machines, a wireless access point and a PS2. I'm hoping to be able to add that printer to the mix.

Rob Pegoraro: That's the model with a built-in WiFi receiver, right?


Arlington, Va.: I have a 7 year old boy who is beginning to get interested in video games. How do I choose between the various platforms available (PC, PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc)? It baffles me. Which of these platforms has the best games for a boy that age?

Mom in Arlington

Rob Pegoraro: 7 years old... well, first, has he mentioned any titles in particular?

Since I wrote my bit on game-console shopping last month, I've had an interesting exchange with a guy who used to edit GameSpy. He wrote in to say that I was ignoring GameCube's appeal among pre-teens--that his own kids, and those in his neighborhood, were huge GameCube fans, owing to the high proportion of kid-oriented titles on the GameCube. I'll throw that out as another thing to consider--while I think the GameCube remains a poor choice for gamers in general, I can see where this reader's coming from.


McLean, Va.: No, 2710 has wifi for about $100 more. 2610 is ethernet or usb connections

Rob Pegoraro: Ah, I see. So you'd hard-wire that into your access point?

- R


Greenbelt, Md.: When I use XP to backup my Dell Inspiron 600m laptop files to a CD, I get an error message at the end of the first CD that it is full, and there appears to be no option to continue with subsequent CDs. What am I doing wrong?

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds offhand like a bug in the CD-writing wizard in Windows. Try splitting your backup into multiple groups of files, each no bigger than a CD-RW's capacity.


Arlington, Va.: Hi, Rob. I'm considering getting myself a new computer for Christmas, since I'm at 128mb, but then figured maybe upgrading just the memory to 512mb would be good enough. My computer is 5 yrs old---am I warranted in buying a new one? It has CD-RW and DVD drives in it and I use it generally for home computing. But how much longer 'til 512mb becomes what 128mb now is? Should I buy the 512mb in the hopes that I can upgrade the memory to 1536mb eventually? Thanks and happy holidays to you!

Rob Pegoraro: Five years is a really long time, even given the slowing pace of evolution in the computer industry. A machine that old will most likely lack both USB 2.0 and FireWire ports, for instance--meaning you can forget about plugging in any high-capacity digital-music player. I would think seriously about shopping for a new machine.


Sterling, Va.: XM radio or Sirius? Which offers the best for the consumer?

washingtonpost.com: At XM, Boldly Going (November 29, 2004)

Rob Pegoraro: I've found that XM offers better reception around the D.C. area. (If you've found otherwise, please let me know.)


Washington, D.C.: I want to buy an FM transmitter as a gift for someone with an iPod - not the mini but the larger one. What do you think about the iTrip? If I decide on the iTrip over the other transmitters available which one should I get? (I think there are various iTrip models depending on the kind of iPod - the only thing I know about my friend's iPod is that it isn't the iPod mini.)


Rob Pegoraro: I'd probably go with the iTrip myself. I've tried it and it does work fine, and it has the advantage of being really compact. The only catch is, if you can't use the default FM frequency stored on the device (I think it's 87.9), it's highly non-intuitive to switch the iTrip to use a different frequency.


Herndon, Va.: Rob: The biggest and most advanced computer feature on the market today is the 64 bit technology. I saw an AMD 64 bit laptop from Gateway this weekend less than most 32 bit Intel Pentiums. Why would I not buy a 64 bit AMD with Windows XP for 64 coming out soon. (the server XP software is already out.)

Rob Pegoraro: You believe that "coming out soon" business?! Ha :)

The only good reason to buy a 64-bit processor if you run Windows is to take advantage of an extra level of security built into Windows XP Service Pack 2 called "no execute," or "NX" for short--it's supposed to stop buffer overrun attacks, a common tactic in the malware business.


Lincoln, Neb.: I'm looking to replace a Handspring Visor with a new PDA. I need to sync with Outlook, and am thinking a Tungsten E? I don't want a camera in this or need a phone with it. Any other suggestions, or cautions? Also, is a USB cable the best way to sync? I have a cradle for my Visor, but don't know the pros and cons of either system. Thanks! LS

Rob Pegoraro: The Tungsten E's a great little laptop--I have one myself. The only quibbles I have with it are the battery life (notably worse than the Visor or any other handheld with a black-and-white screen) and, in my own case, the fact that I still haven't learned how to write as fast in Graffiti 2 as in the original Graffiti handwriting alphabet.


NOVA: I bought my husband a Creative's MUVO FM Mp3 player along with a subscription to audible. Was this a good choice of mp3 players and audiobook services? are there other audiobook services? What about playing the mp3 in the car--what's needed?

Rob Pegoraro: There aren't any other audiobook services, although a lot of audiobooks these days are apparently sold in MP3 format at regular book stores.


Alexandria, Va.: For the questioner who wants to connect his iPod to his car stereo, I've found (to my surprise) that I get the best results from the cassette adapter. (Unfortunately, though, that option requires that one's car have a cassette player in addition to, or instead of, a CD player.) I found the FM transmitter to be worthless in this area, where nearly every available FM frequency is taken up by commercial radio. Hope this helps!

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the note. I am, in fact, one of those people without resort to a tape deck in my car.


Alexandria, Va.: So you don't like Gamecube?

As somebody who rarely games anymore, I got one because it was cheap, it has fun games that don't require a huge time investment, it has fun games that four people can play without having to spend time learning a lot of rules, and it has Zelda (which are the best puzzle games around).

For the record I'm 23.

washingtonpost.com: Tech Buying Guide: Gaming

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the comment...


Arlington, Va.: Aside from the lack of video editing support provided within the 2005 Media Center Edition. Would you recommend it as a good (albeit more expensive) alternative for TIVO? Considering the size of many of the condos around here; it would sure save a TON of space if I could condense my digital entertainment components into a single device. Thanks...

Rob Pegoraro: No, I wouldn't recommend it. Its competition in the video-recording biz isn't TiVo, but the Comcast/Dish/DirecTV digital video recorders, which cost nothing to get (or next to nothing, in DirecTV's case) and only run you $5 or so a month to use, as opposed to TiVo's $13/month.


Potomac, Md.: Reply to Merion Station Pennsylvania,

XP's included backup utility seems to work well, provides all the features you need, and should recognized all shared folders on your network, including the folders you want to use as your backup repository.

Rob Pegoraro: But that isn't normally installed on XP, is it? I recall reading that you have to install it off the XP CD after the fact.


Alexandria, Va.: On the AMD 64, the performance numbers that AMD uses generally overestimate by "200." That is a Athlon64 3200 will run about as fast as a Pentium 4 at 3GHz. Normal people still won't need 64 bit for a long while.

Rob Pegoraro: My contention these days is that processor speed is--outside of home moviemakers and hardcore gamers--not that relevant at all. There are just so many more important factors to consider.


Capitol Hill: As someone who's been intending to buy a new IBM ThinkPad in the not-too-distant future, I'm wondering what we can expect now that Lenovo will be taking over production. Will there be changes in existing models? Styling? Build quality? Should I rush to buy one now, before supplies of the IBM-manufactured machines run out? Are we likely to see discounts as IBM tries to clear out its stock?

Rob, I seem to recall your mentioning that you use an X30 ThinkPad for your work with The Post. Any recommendations on the T vs. the X series machines? I am a pretty basic business user - word-processing, email, some spreadsheets, photoshop, etc. - and need to be relatively mobile. The X series has considerable appeal because of its size, but I wonder if you ever find the small screen size limiting. Or the keyboard cramped? Any other drawbacks to the small profile? Any recommendations you have to offer would be greatly appreciated.

Rob Pegoraro: I've found the X30's screen size to be fine--it's the right size screen in a second computer. No complaints at all about the keyboards; IBM does them better than most other companies in the laptop business, possibly better than all of them.

I wish the X30 had USB 2.0 ports and a bigger hard drive, but is is, in fact, two years (and change) old.


Fairfax, Va.: I'm looking for a nice digital camera for my sis to take pics of her baby. His grins are just seconds long, so I really need to find something with a very short time between pressing the button and actually capturing the image. She currently has a Fuji Finepix, which is great, but only 3.2 megapixals. She also has a Sony 5 megapixal camera, but it is VERY slow. I'm hoping to find something in the $300 range. Any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: The two Kyocera Finecam models I mentioned in my digital-cameras gift-guide story beat shutter lag pretty soundly, and one of them should be gettable for around $300. (Note that both have been in the market for more than six months, so the odds are pretty high of them being replaced with newer, better models soon.)


New Windsor, N.Y.: I use Windows XP with Service Pack 2. Is there a way to disable the following Windows warning? I rarely visit a site I don't trust. Thank you.

Security Alert

You are about to be redirected to a connection that is not secure.

The information you are sending to the current site might be retransmitted to a nonsecure site. Do you wish to continue?

Yes No

Rob Pegoraro: If you can turn off that notification under IE, it would be under the Advanced tab in the Internet Options control panel. If Firefox offers this option, it would be somewhere in the about:config screen (type about:config into the address bar to see that lengthy list of options).


Williamsburg, Va.: I am looking into buying an LCD flat panel display for my husband for Christmas and I'm having a real hard time sorting through the many models out there. My target is a 17" monitor for $400 or less. Some flexibility in display angle would be good. I've read some good reviews of some Samsung models that seem to fit the bill, but there are so many models out there that every time I think I'm zeroing in on one I find a close cousin that doesn't get such great reviews. I'm confused! Any advice?

Rob Pegoraro: Your budget sounds eminently reasonable. The two big things to look for, among all the numbers listed with each screen, are:

refresh rate (a lower number is better)

contrast ratio (higher is better)

Oh, and display angle (the closer you can get to 180 degrees, the better)


Anonymous: Can a wireless media receiver broadcast streaming audio to your stereo as well as music files? Also, is there a way to turn a stream into a file for future listening?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes and yes. But not all wireless receivers support every variety of Web radio, and the software to save those audio streams (look on our list of archived reviews for programs called Replay Radio and Radio Recorder) sometimes costs extra.


Potomac, Md.: Do you have any insight into how well an IPOD can be integrated into a home stereo configuration? I would love to use my IPOD rather than constantly reloading my 5 disc CD changer. The $79 kit from Apple looks relatively simple -- just wanted you thoughts on the subject. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The iPod Dock will work fine, so long as you don't mind having the iPod attached to the stereo (and having to get up to tap the iPod's controls to change songs). It's certainly the easiest, cheapest way to integrate an iPod with a stereo.

But... the iPod dock only costs $40. Where's the $79 figure come from?


Miami: Okay. Now that I've already ordered my computer (on line) from HP with Media Center installed, and after reading your review of Media Center Edition, I wonder if I've made a mistake! Instead of buying a DVD recorder for my old home videos, (and I need a new computer anyway)I thought I'd get something that can do it all. Video, pictures, and music. I have a Plasma TV with computer input available. Should I just get a "regular PC" and a stand alone DVD recorder? I think I would save money and headache, based on your review of Media Center.

Rob Pegoraro: Honestly, I think you would too. DVD recorders--especially those that have hard drives built in--have the huge advantage of not requiring a computer's presence in your living room, and most let you edit the recording before finishing the disc.

(That would be different if you were already planning to put the new computer in the living room, but I suspect that's not the case for most people not living in college dorms or Manhattan studio apartments.)


Fairfax, Va.: I'm about to become a father for the first time and am thinking seriously about buying a digital camcorder. Do you have any recommendations? I need it to be compatible with my iMac G4, iMovie and iDVD.


Rob Pegoraro: Just some general advice: Make sure it has a FireWire (aka 1394, aka i.Link) output, so you can plug it into that iMac. Don't pay much attention to alleged bonus features like still-camera capability (the pictures will stink unless you get a really expensive camera) and make sure it uses MiniDV tapes (they're much smaller than Digital 8).


Alexandria, Va.: How difficult is it to wi-fi into a home network a mac and a pc?

Rob Pegoraro: Not difficult at all. The only potential glitch can come with AirPort-centric networks: having to type in the network password in "hexadecimal notation"--the gobbledybook sequences of numbers and a-f letters--on PCs when Macs allow for a plain-English password.


Solomons, Md.: Hope you can help clear up my confusion about recording DVDs - I currently have Directv (with HD), but not with the Tivo-like DVR box. If I upgrade to the DVR, will it record in HD format? Can I transfer what's on the DVR to a DVD if I buy the appropriate DVD player/recorder? Any ideas on what I'll need? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: There is an HD-capable DirecTiVo model, but it's pretty horrendously expensive at the moment. You would be able to burn your recordings to DVD, but you'd lose the HD resolution and you could only make a real-time copy out the S-Video jack--push record on the DVD recorder, play on the TiVo, then wait an hour to record an hour-long broadcast.

(Hence, I'm a big fan of DVRs that contain internal DVD burners)


Washington, D.C.: What's the least amount of money I can spend on a decent laptop with WiFi capability? I don't need the bells and whistles, just something that I can get online with while in class or sitting in the park.

Rob Pegoraro: $800? Less? WiFi is almost a mandatory feature now; the only catch is that many cheaper Windows models weigh a ton and offer lousy battery life.


Nintendo curious: Hi Rob,

Can you tell me about the new Nintendo handheld game unit -- is this a good bet for my kids or will the older gameboy advance be better? What's the benefit of the new machine?


washingtonpost.com: A Closer Look: Dual Screens Give Gamers New Options (November 28, 2004)

Rob Pegoraro: Here's our take on the new Nintendo DS; our reviewer liked it, and so do customers, to judge from its sales so far.


Washington, D.C.: RE: Itunes for IPods Only

Rob, Don't you think Apple is making a strategic mistake, just like they did with the Mac OS. Instead of getting in the business of selling an OS and other software, Apple stayed in the business of selling hardware, forever limiting themselves to 5 percent of the micro PC market. Seems to me that they are doing the same with Itunes. I know they want to promote sales of Ipods but I think in the long run they would bring in more revenue by expanding the Itunes marketplace. Thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: Excellent question! Don't know the answer to it, but I'll have some thoughts on it in my year-in-review column.


Lake Ridge, Va.: In the next few months I expect to be in the market for a laptop. I prefer Macs for security, usability and quality. However, my brother is telling me horror stories of the costs of upgrading. I've had my PC for five years and never upgraded, so I don't know that I'm that concerned. My laptop would be mostly internet, CD/DVD burning and some video/audio manipulation (very limited) and word processing. Is it worth it to drop the big bucks for the Powerbook?

washingtonpost.com: Interactive Laptop Gallery

Rob Pegoraro: Yes--if you need a bigger screen. The iBook is a terrific deal, but its screen tops out at 14 inches (and that offers no more resolution than the 12-inch model). If you need more room on your screen, the PowerBook's 15-inch model is the way to go. Some friends of mine had to make that decision and wound up going with a PowerBook a few months ago (FWIW, they seem quite happy with the purchase, despite the extra cost).


Washington, D.C.: What do you think is the best consumer photo viewing/editing/filing program on the market for Windows PCs?

Rob Pegoraro: Adobe Photoshop Elements 3


Bethesda, Md.: Re: ipod in the car. I've been using a cassette adapter for a year and a half, and it's not too bad-- as long as the music you're playing doesn't have a wide range in pitch or loudness. So, no classical symphonies in the car.

Rob Pegoraro: One of two contrasting views on cassette adapters with iPods...


Washington, D.C.: You really think the FM transmitters for iPods sound better than cassette adapters? I totally disagree! While the quality of the cassette adapter certainly leaves something to be desired for true audiophiles, I could always hear over-the-air static when using an FM transmitter. It sounded terrible! The cassette adapter does the job pretty well, I think, and I definitely prefer it over the FM transmitter.

Rob Pegoraro: And here's the other...


Philadelphia: I'm a dinosaur who owns a 5+ yo Dell with Windows 98. It suits my needs except for the Mp3s which I have downloaded and never backed up. I don't think any MP3 players are compatible with Windows 98. Should I be looking at an external hard drive or a CD burner to preserve my 4 GBs of MP3 files? Are any of those compatible with Windows 98? Please don't suggest anything that requires opening the computer. Remember, I'm old.

Rob Pegoraro: You might be up a creek, Philly; a machine that old won't accept the USB 2.0 or FireWire connections all new external hard drives and CD burners require. It might not even tolerate a USB 1.1 connection (Win 98's USB support turns out to be kinda shaky). You could find a parallel-port model on closeout somewhere, but it's going to be dog-slow. Sorry...


Rob Pegoraro: That's it for this week, folks! I'll be back here one last time next Monday, 2 p.m. sharp. Thanks... see y'all then.


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