Macworld's $6,000 Challenge

How far does $6,000 go these days? To find out we asked Macworld contributing editors Adam C. Engst and Christopher Breen to assemble the perfect Mac-based home office -- but to bring it in under a $6,000 budget. To keep our shoppers on their toes, we added another twist -- we told Adam to shop as if he were a bargain-hunting do-it-yourselfer, while we asked Christopher to make his selections as if he were a hassle-loathing Mac user who wanted to buy everything, install it once, and never have to tinker with it again.

Here's the complete list of what Adam and Christopher bought -- including where they purchased it and how much they paid -- followed by a closer look at each of their setups.

A CLOSER LOOK: THE SETUPS

The Bargain Hunter, Selected by Adam C. Engst

System Hardware: Dual 1.25GHz Power Mac G4 with Mac OS X 10.3, 1GB of RAM, 120GB hard drive, SuperDrive

Monitor: Two 20.1-inch Dell UltraSharp 2001FP LCDs

Printer: Canon Desktop i860 Desktop Photo Printer

Scanner: None

Fax: None

Mouse and Keyboard: Kensington Turbo Mouse Pro USB, Matias Tactile Pro Keyboard

Other Key Hardware: 12-inch 800MHz iBook G4, AirPort Extreme card, D-Link DI-524 802.11g cable-DSL router, Granite Digital FireVue FireWire 400 Hot-Swap Bay with three 160GB hard drives

Key Productivity Software: Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac, Ambrosia Software Snapz Pro X 2.0, Bare Bones Software BBEdit 7.1.4, Lemke Software GraphicConverter 5.1

Key System Utilities: Dantz Retrospect Desktop 6.0, Objective Development LaunchBar 3.3, Fetch Softworks Fetch 4.0.3, Script Software iKey 1.0.7

E-Mail Client: Qualcomm Eudora 6.1

My Strategy: Pick highly effective tools that I knew would do the job for a reasonable price -- like a used dual-processor G4, which offers enough CPU power for what my user needs to do, without breaking the bank.

Most Essential Purchases: The Power Mac, at least one monitor, the backup system with Retrospect, and Office.

Most Expendable Purchase: Circus Ponies Notebook 1.2, since I could cobble together its capabilities to some degree with a combination of Microsoft Word, AppleWorks, and shareware or freeware. I could also drop Eudora's Paid mode in favor of the free Sponsored mode (it has ads and doesn't offer tech support or a spam filter).

If I Had More Money, I'd: Buy Adobe Acrobat Professional for swapping files back and forth with editors, Adobe InDesign CS for larger layout projects, Michael Tsai's SpamSieve to bolster Eudora's spam-checking, a Palm handheld, and a fax machine.

Breen's Reaction: Damn, that Engst is a smart shopper -- look out, Sally Socolich. Other than his expert digging for great prices, the big head-smacker for me was Snapz Pro X -- absolutely essential for this kind of work. I can't believe I left it out.

The Hassle-Free Shopper, Selected by Christopher Breen

System Hardware: 1.6GHz Power Mac G5 with Mac OS X 10.3, 768MB of RAM, 80GB hard drive, SuperDrive

Monitor: LaCie 19-inch electronblue IV CRT

Printer: Brother HL-5170DN laser

Scanner: Canon CanoScan LiDE 50 USB 2.0

Fax: Hewlett-Packard Fax 1230

Mouse and Keyboard: Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical, Microsoft Internet Keyboard

Other Key Hardware: 2.4GHz Dell Dimension 4600, Linksys EtherFast Cable/DSL Router with 4-Port Switch

Key Productivity Software: Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac, Deneba Canvas 9 Professional, Roxio Toast Titanium 6

Key System Utilities: Alsoft Disk Warrior 3, Dantz Retrospect 6.0

E-Mail Client: Microsoft Entourage 2004

My Strategy: To put myself in the shoes of this no-fuss, no-muss user who didn't have a lot of time or interest in rummaging around the Web to find the cheapest price. A low price tag at a reputable source was good enough. And because reliability is a big concern -- this user needs it to work right now and continue working for the foreseeable future -- I chose new, uncomplicated products.

Most Essential Purchases: The Windows PC. Although you can open and create PC-compatible documents with Office and Canvas, install Linux on a Mac, or use emulation software to work in Windows, there are times when you need the real thing for optimal compatibility and performance.

Most Expendable Purchase: Toast. Between the Mac OS and Windows PC, I could generate the discs I need. It's more convenient to do it from a single program, though.

If I Had More Money, I'd: Include a good photo printer and a copy of Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

Engst's Reaction: I never even thought of getting a PC; in the real world, I turn mine on for writing work only a few times a year. I considered a laser printer over an inkjet, but I figured the former would be necessary only for large jobs like book layouts. I thought about a fax machine, but decided that Panther's built-in faxing was good enough for sending and that a service like eFax or MaxEmail.com would handle receiving. For me, the head-slapping omission was Disk Warrior; I should have added that to my list.

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