PC Magazine has written a review of a few of the computers on the market now for under $500. It’s already out of date – Dell is selling sub-$500 systems, the HP models in the stores aren’t quite the same as the reviewed model – but it will give you an idea of what to expect. Really, it’s extraordinary what you get for that amount – they’re good home systems for non-gamers.

The three important things to keep in mind:

– You won’t get Microsoft Word or Outlook with the cheap systems. Microsoft Works 2002 includes the full version of Microsoft Word for about $80, or you can get the Student Edition of Microsoft Office XP for $129.)

– Make sure you get a CD recorder! It’s becoming as basic as floppy discs used to be.

– Make sure you get a total of 256Mb of RAM! The cheapest systems only come with 128Mb, and that’s not enough. (It’s barely enough on most systems, but the cheapies divert some of the memory to run the video system, leaving too little for Windows.)

Happy shopping!