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Comdex goes for practical, affordable

The Comdex trade show focuses this year on practical innovation at a time when both consumers and businesses may have no money to spend. But hope springs eternal even in the deep freeze of the tech slump.

About 1,100 tech companies were showing off their wares in Las Vegas starting Monday, including high-end gear likeGeForceFx graphics chips from Nvidia, initially for hardcore gamers, and a $2,999 laptop from PC Laptops that runs at 2.8 gigahertz. On the low end are $15 IXLA disposable digital cameras. Tablet PCs could entice road warriors who want to write on their displays with a stylus. Wireless networking will be built into all sorts of gadgets. Combination cell phone-PDAs will be plentiful. But there may be more lookers than buyers at the show.

"Everyone is looking for the next great thing that will take off, but we're really in a mature business now," said Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPDTechworld in Reston, Va.

This year affordable technology may be the rage. Nothing brings this point home like Dell Computer's new handheld, the Dell Axim X5, which, at $199 after discounts and rebates, is much cheaper than other color handhelds.