MacCentral's holiday gift guide: Shopping at Apple

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It's amazing how fast a year goes by -- here we are in December and it's time once again for MacCentral's holiday gift guide. We like to have fun with our gift guide, so sit back, relax and dream that maybe you'll find all the goodies under your tree this Christmas. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at products in all price ranges that may interest the Mac lover in your life. Our first stop this year -- and my favorite place to browse for toys -- Apple.com.

Through an exclusive arrangement with MacCentral, Apple's Macintosh Products Guide has setup a special page on Apple's Web site to give you a way to view a brief description and prices of the products mentioned in this gift guide.

This year, some people will have the advantage of shopping at one of Apple's retail stores -- if you're lucky enough to live near one -- while everyone else can browse through Apple's online store.

It's a great year to be a Mac user, especially if you have someone that insists on buying a few goodies for you this Christmas. I think Apple's newest blockbuster product, the iPod, will be under a lot of Christmas trees this year. At US$399, the iPod can hold 1,000 songs on its built-in 5GB hard drive and it can double as a FireWire hard drive for storage.

The iPod features a 160x128 pixel display featuring a white LED backlight that is easy to see both in daylight and low-light conditions. A scroll-wheel on the face of the iPod enables users to navigate through music collections by playlist, artist or song. You can also customize settings and localize menus in different languages.

If a digital device isn't what you're looking for, maybe a desktop system will be more to your liking. Apple has some powerful machines available if you're looking for a high-end machine. Apple's Dual 800MHz G4 comes equipped with an 80GB hard drive, a SuperDrive for burning CDs or DVDs, an internal 56k modem and an Nvidia GeForce2 MX w/TwinView graphics chipset. The machine also comes with 256MB RAM standard, as well as Gigabit Ethernet and of course Mac OS X 10.1.

If the Dual 800 is a bit too much for your needs, Apple has two other systems that may fit your lifestyle -- the 867MHz and 733MHz desktop G4s. Both systems come equipped with 128MB RAM, Gigabit Ethernet and an internal 56k modem. The 867MHz model has a SuperDrive and a 60GB hard drive, while the 733MHz model has a CD-RW and a 40GB hard drive. Both machines come with an NVIDIA GeForce2 MX graphics chipset and Mac OS X 10.1.

If you're going to buy a desktop system, it only stands to reason that you'll need a 22-inch Cinema display -- umm, I mean a monitor, right? If you want to be the envy of anyone that has ever seen a monitor, the only way to go is Apple's 22-inch Cinema. The Cinema offers a panoramic view that can display two letter size documents side-by-side and still have room left over. The Cinema features a 1600 x 1024 and according to Apple it offers twice the brightness, twice the sharpness, and three times the contrast of ordinary displays. The Cinema Display will cost you about $2,499.

If you want to stay under the $1,000 mark, Apple offers two other flat panel monitors -- the Apple Studio 17- and 15-inch displays. The 17-inch flat panel features a resolution of 1280 x 1024 -- equivalent to the virtual workspace typically selected on a 21-inch CRT monitor, according to Apple. The 15-inch display supports resolutions of 1024 x 768 and true 8-bit RGB color. The 17-inch display will cost $999, while the 15-inch will cost $599.

Apple's consumer level desktop, the iMac, range in price from $799 to $1499, depending on the options you want. The standard iMac comes equipped with a 500MHz G3 processor, 64MB RAM, a 20GB hard drive, CD-ROM Drive and a RAGE 128 graphics card. The machine also comes with10/100BASE-T Ethernet, a 56K fax modem, a built-in 15-inch display, and two USB and two FireWire ports.

As you go up in price for the iMac, the hard drive increases to 60GB on the high-end model, as well as a 700MHz G3 processor. Other additions to higher-end models include more RAM and a CD-RW drive.

If you're a person on the go, maybe a portable model is the computer for you. Apple's diminutive iBook has been a popular item this year. Although perfect for students, the iBook is perfect for anyone on the go, especially if you work in cramped spaces, like a bus or train while traveling.

The iBooks range in price from $1299 to $1699 depending on options. Equipped with a 500MHz G3 processor, 128MB RAM, a CD-ROM drive and a 15GB hard drive, the base iBook will suit most students' needs. The higher-end iBook sports a 20GB hard drive, 600MHz processor and a DVD/CD-RW combo drive.

The Titanium PowerBook -- power and portability. As an owner of a Titanium PowerBook, I can say that I love this machine. It's sleek, fast, easy to carry around and has an amazing screen for work or playing games when I'm traveling on a plane. Watching a DVD on a plane always gets looks from Windows using passengers as they pull out their 20-pound notebook from its case.

The Titanium starts at $2199 and tops out at $3299 for the high-end model. Featuring a 550MHz PowerPC G4, the base model comes with 128MB RAM, a 20GB hard drive, DVD-ROM w/DVD-Video, ATI Mobility Radeon w/16MB DDR video memory, Gigabit Ethernet, a 56K internal modem, and two USB and one FireWire Port. As you move up in price you will get a larger hard drive, faster processor and more RAM.

No matter which system you choose, all are compatible with Apple's Airport wireless networking product. There's nothing like being able to take your computer around the house and still be able to surf the Internet or send email no matter where you are. The Base Station can be set up very easily and an AirPort card is a snap in most machines.

Apple also has a large assortment of software titles to choose from. For the creative types you can choose DVD Studio Pro; Final Cut Pro 2.0; iMovie; or QuickTime VR Authoring Studio. Of course Apple also has its new operating system, Mac OS X 10.1, available, as well as its server software Mac OS X Server 10.1. AppleWorks and several upgrade options are also available.

If buying directly from Apple is in the cards for you this Christmas, make sure you take advantage of any promotion the company is offering. They have launched several in the past few months; details on each of them can be found on their Web site.

Personally, I want one of everything mentioned here, but your gift doesn't have to cost a lot of money. There are ways to take care of the Mac user in your house, without spending any money -- or very little.

If you have small children, have them sit down at the computer with you and download free updates for Apple software and burn them to a CD or put them on a Zip disk. There's nothing quite like having a child run over to you with a loosely wrapped present, full of excitement and anticipation, waiting for you to open it. Kids don't care how much it costs, they want to know you enjoy the gift -- having them involved in downloading and labeling the disk will give them a great feeling. Sit down with them and install the new iTunes -- no need to tell them if you already have it -- pop in a CD and dance around the room.

The look on their face may be the best Christmas gift you receive this year.

This story, "MacCentral's holiday gift guide: Shopping at Apple" was originally published by PCWorld.

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