It's possible to spend $400 on an ice cream maker that looks like an Italian racing car, or a slightly lesser amount on one that looks like a vacation cabin in the north woods. Both of these will make fine ice cream, the former with no ice, salt or cranking, the latter with ice and salt but no cranking.

But the point of ice cream makers is not the quality of the ice cream they make. That depends mostly on the base ingredients and the way they were put together. Assuming that machine instructions have been followed and the basic mixture was good, all ice cream makers can turn out good ice cream.

The question is what you have to do to get there.

Two cheaper alternatives to the racing car and the vacation cabin are on the market and one, the Donvier Ice Cream Maker, actually represents something new under the sun. Or at least a new way of putting a couple of older things together.

The other alternative is a moderately priced conventional electric ice cream maker, made by Waring, that does require salt and ice but the kind that is available in any kitchen. It costs about $45. For $45 you won't get a racing car motor or ultra-sturdy metal dasher and crank mechanism, but you will get a functional, easy-to-use ice cream maker that should stand up for years.

The Waring is cranked by use of electricity. And it's fairly neat to use, which becomes a consideration when you have to use it near a source of electricity and not out on the lawn. It works fairly quickly, producing fairly firm ice cream in 40 minutes or so depending on the temperature of the base mixture when you begin cranking.

Because it does represent innovation, the Donvier has had a lot of publicity, and in general it lives up to its billing. It operates by the grace of a refrigerant sealed into the container. You store this container in the freezer for at least 7 hours or overnight, then remove it and pour in your ice cream mixture, attach a dasher and handle which you give one or two turns every couple of minutes for 15 or 20 minutes and, voila, ice cream.

The refrigerant begins freezing the ice cream in contact with its edges in just a minute or two, and you turn the crank just often enough to keep this frozen layer distributed throughout the mixture. In fact, the ice cream begins to freeze so fast that if you don't keep an eye on it, it will freeze so solid that the crank mechanism, which is made all of plastic and not exactly the rock of Gibraltar, begins to feel a little wobbly.

The refrigerant eliminates the need for ice, salt, or any significant amount of cranking.

Even the Donvier, however, doesn't let you be totally unpremeditated in satisfying your ice cream desires, unless you are willing to give up permanently valuable freezer space to the refrigerant-filled cylinder. Otherwise, you have to think at least seven hours ahead.

You can make a couple of batches of ice cream, one after the other, with the Donvier, but not an unlimited number because the refrigerant needs to be rechilled in the freezer in between times. You can buy extra containers so that you can store one batch while you're making another.

The Donvier comes in two sizes, one that makes a pint of ice cream and one that makes a quart. One pint being hardly worth the trouble in most cases, it might be wise to stick with the quart size in which, after all, you can make smaller amounts as well. The quart size costs about $45, the pint $35.

Another service the Donvier can provide might be of great value to last-minute cooks. An example: the hot soup that you want to serve chilled in half an hour can be poured into the chilled container, and within minutes it will be frosty itself.

There's only one little nit to pick about the Donvier, and that has more to do with esthetic principle than it does with mechanics or concept. Why do manufacturers "decorate" their perfectly good products with graphics that look as if they'd be more at home on Baby's First Drinking Cup? Where are the graphics police when you need them?

So those are the cheaper choices: one new idea and one older idea, both executed at modest cost. They may not last for generations but they should provide a number of seasons of ice cream easily and quickly without breaking the bank.

The Donvier is available at department and kitchenware stores, the Waring mainly at department stores. Baby's First Drinking Cup? Where are the graphics police when you need them?

So those are the cheaper choices: one new idea and one older idea, both executed at modest cost. They may not last for generations but they should provide a number of seasons of ice cream easily and quickly without breaking the bank.

The Donvier is available at department and kitchenware stores, the Waring mainly at department stores.