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Lower prices, new OS from Apple

Apple Computer's lineup this year has more speed, lower prices and a new operating system.

And, of course, Apple's traditional elegance and ease of use.

Perhaps the best value for home and sometimes mobile use is the iBook. The company recently dropped the price of the tough little notebook to start at $999, although realistically you need more random access memory and perhaps an AirPort wireless network card.

It has a respectable 700-megahertz processor, but comes with a paltry 128 megabytes of RAM and a 20-gigabyte hard disk. With 128MB of RAM, OS X (pronounced 10), the default operating system, bogs down if you open more than a few applications at a time.

If mobility isn't a big deal, the flat screen iMac or the weighty eMac could have your name on it. The flat-screen machine starts at $1,199 and suffers from the same RAM problem as the iBook. But it comes with a decent-size 40GB hard disk and a 700MHz processor.

The eMac kicks off at $1,099. It has a regular cathode ray tube monitor, though it is a 17-inch screen. If you need to change screen resolution for some reason, this is the budget machine for you. The flat screens do a poor job of handling different resolutions.

And then we jump to the machines for people who have lots of money. Apple's pro range of desktops sport dual processors. As you might imagine, that makes your computer faster. OS X will love you for it. But if you're planning on running the older, soon-to-be unsupported OS 9, don't bother. The base desktop machine starts at $1,699 and has 256MB of RAM, a 60GB hard disk and a CD-RW/DVD drive.

You'll need to add a monitor, though. And if you want to stay in the Apple family, a 17-inch flat screen Studio Display will lighten your wallet by $999. Any regular PC-type monitor should plug right in, though.You don't have to be 100 percent Apple if you're watching the pennies.

Then there's the new PowerBook G4 that every mobile "Mac head" has been wanting for some time. It has a 1-gigahertz processor, a DVD burner and 60GB of hard disk. If you've got $2,999, Apple's got the sexiest notebook ever.

Go with a regular CD-RW/DVD drive and scale the processor back to 867MHz, and you can get into a PowerBook for $2,299. If you've never used the 1280-by-854 pixel screen on these machines, you haven't lived.

The entry-level mobile machines don't come with a $99 AirPort card. If you travel even a few times a year, you'll want one even if you don't think you'll need one. Always add as much RAM as you can afford. And while you're on your spending spree, add a $299 iPod. These three things will make the experience more than the sum of the parts.