Although a computer's looks are irrelevant to its functionality, nothing beats having a cool-looking computer when you're trying to make an impression.

Now that Apple's iMac has shown there is profit to be made outside the beige-box model of hardware design, manufacturers of Windows PCs are striking back with desktops aimed at people and companies willing to pay extra to have something neat to look at on their desktops.

We looked at two new Windows models, the Packard Bell NEC Z1 and the Gateway Profile series, and Apple Computer Inc.'s new G4.

The manufacturers of those first two machines have borrowed technology from their laptop lines and stuck it into new, svelte-but-pricey desktop models. Both computers come with flat-panel liquid-crystal-display (LCD) screens that are just a few inches thick, and if both computers look as if they're missing something, that's because there's no bulky tower or desktop case to deal with; the processors and drives are built into the monitors and their tiny stands. As a result, these new PCs weigh about half as much as other computers and take up only about a quarter of the desktop space.

Both models have some respectable specs going for them.

The Profile, which starts at $1,999, comes with a 400-megahertz processor, a 4.3-gigabyte hard drive and 64 megs of memory. Nice numbers for a new desktop. Still, Gateway also sells a similar computer and a monitor with comparable specifications for about half that price. Cool looks aren't cheap, in other words.

The Packard Bell NEC Z1 is a similar-looking package, with a wireless keyboard, slightly more impressive specs and a heftier starting price tag, $2,500. The Z1 comes with a 450-megahertz processor, an 8.4-gigabyte hard drive and 96 megs of memory. That's enough power for the most demanding of customers, but shop around at Packard Bell NEC's Web site and you'll find that, for about that much money, you could get a similar but boring-looking machine with a 550-megahertz processor.

But Apple, having helped paved the way for cool-looking computers with the iMac, is not resting on its laurels and has just struck back with its new G4 line, which Apple is billing as "the first supercomputer on a chip."

You can plug the G4's distinctive silver-colored case into any Mac-compatible monitor, or you can buy the coolest (and among the most expensive) monitor around--the flat panel, letterbox-shaped Apple Cinema Display.

If you've got the budget, why not pick up Apple's "Ultimate" G4 package? You'll get a 450 MHz G4 processor, a 20 gigabyte hard drive and 128 megs of memory. That monitor will put an extra $4,000 on your tab (it's only money, after all), for a total of $6,498. But if you want a floppy drive, well, sorry, Mac users--you're still out of luck.

Gateway Profile

Price: $1,999

Processor: 400 MHz

Hard drive: 4.3 gigabytes

Memory: 64 megabytes

Packard Bell NEC Z1

Price: $2,500

Processor: 450 MHz

Hard drive: 8.4 gigabytes

Memory: 96 megabytes

Power Mac G4

With Apple Cinema Display

Price: $6,498

Processor: 450 megahertz

Hard drive: 20 gigabytes

Memory: 128 megabytes