The sweet spot is the midlevel model priced at US$1,299. For that price you get a speedy Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 2.2GHz, 1GB of RAM, a 120GB hard drive, a CD/DVD burner, a built-in "iSight" webcam, 802.11n compatible wireless, Bluetooth wireless, a glossy 13.3-in. display offering 1280- by 800-pixel resolution, and the new Intel X3100 graphics subset to drive the display.
The one thing you'll want to consider is adding more RAM. We recommend 2GB of RAM, though the MacBook can take twice that amount. Word to the wise: Don't buy extra memory from Apple. Installing RAM is wicked easy, and you'll save serious bucks by buying from a third-party vendor such as Data Memory Systems.
Summary: The recently updated MacBook offers a stylish package of hardware and software at a good price, and it runs Windows to boot.
Editor's Note: What about Windows laptops? There's no standout for standard business/home use this year.
Gaming laptop: Alienware Area-51 m9750
Alienware wrote the book on high-performance gaming desktops and laptops, so it's no surprise that the company's Area-51 m9750 makes our cut for high-end notebooks. The m9750 boasts an attractive, sleek-looking magnesium alloy chassis and a slew of configuration options in prices ranging from US$1,700 to US$6,000.
In its most awe-inspiring configuration, the portable features Intel's speedy Core 2 Duo T7600 (2.33GHz, 4MB cache, 667MHz FSB); twin 512MB NVidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX 3D cards in SLI configuration; a 17-in. 1920- by 1200-pixel LCD display; 4GB DDR2 RAM, and two 320GB SATA drives in RAID 0 configuration. And get this: True seekers of high performance can even choose to tack on two 64GB solid-state hard drives in RAID 0.
The result is an absolute monster of a gaming laptop. The most pleasant surprises about the m9750, however, are its size and weight. At 15 in. wide by 11 in. deep by 1.5 in. high and weighing in at just under 9 lbs., it's not the behemoth we expected.
Price: starts at US$1,699
Summary: Fast, sleek and utterly droolworthy, Alienware's m9750 delivers the goods in a pricey package.
802.11n router: Linksys WRT600N
The recipe for home routers once was simple: Plug in your broadband and connect your PCs, add a firewall and Wi-Fi support, and voila -- computers all around the house are connected. These days, however, things aren't so simple because of streaming video, voice-over-IP and other bandwidth-hungry applications that demand more speed over greater distances.
Enter the Linksys Dual-Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router (WRT600N), which supports the widely accepted but still not officially ratified Draft 2 of the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard. That standard provides typical wireless speeds of roughly 100Mbit/sec. and spreads the Wi-Fi signal over a far wider area than older technologies such as 802.11g.
If you prefer to use traditional Ethernet, this router supports gigabit speeds. It also has a USB 2.0 port for attaching an external hard drive, an increasing need in these days of ever-growing media collections.
More impressively, this router supports simultaneous access over both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum bands. That enables you, for instance, to have a separate network for your computers and for your streaming media or VoIP.
All this power comes at a price -- at US$279 retail, the WRT600N is considerably more expensive than those older, simpler routers. But you can do so much more with this well-engineered, richly featured router than we even dreamed possible in the simpler old days.
Price: US$225 to US$277
Summary: This do-everything home router provides significantly greater speed and range than older routers and offers many extras, including the ability to manage network-accessible storage.