Quick, what's the national pastime?
We say baseball still gets the nod, but computing is closing in. Both PCs
and the Web are national obsessions these days, at home and at work. And just
as baseball fans vote for the best of the best to play in the All-Star Game,
PC World editors have been casting ballots to select the winners
of our 18th annual World Class Awards. Over 70 outstanding hardware, software,
and Web products make the cut--call them the buys of summer.
As always, performance, value, consistency, and innovation are the four
qualities we seek in a World Class winner. Some products here are standouts
in a couple of these areas, but the Product of the Year--AMD's Athlon processor--is
a superstar in all four. Athlon-based PCs sprinted to the top of our corporate
and home PC charts this year, touting record-breaking performance and affordable
prices. And AMD's chip was the first to hit a clock speed of 1 gigahertz,
beating Intel at its own game.
Our all-star lineup includes rookies (such as Adobe's InDesign, Handspring's
Visor Deluxe, and Microsoft's IntelliMouse Optical) and veterans (including
Adobe Photoshop, Dell's Dimension PCs, and Microsoft Office). New award categories
this year for designer PCs, gadgets, and MP3 players reflect the move toward
stylish, fun, and funky computing devices.
Another emerging trend: Web-based services are rapidly encroaching on the
turf of desktop applications. Our top groupware product is the browser-based
HotOffice, and we've added categories for Best Web Service (EFax) and Best
Free E-Mail (Yahoo Mail). We're not saying that you'll never again have to
trek to a computer store to purchase shrink-wrapped software. But a year from
now, it could be a whole new ballgame.
Not every award winner here is...well, a winner. Y2K doomsayers, we're
relieved to report, are our Losers of the Year (guess they'll have to save
those candles and canned goods for the next millennium). Though the Y2K crowd
edged out Microsoft for this award, the software giant has been declared a
monopoly, and its fate will be decided by legal battles that could drag on
for years. And in "Hits & Misses," we take a poke at the most irritating
vendors, trends, and events of the past year.
But enough pregame show. Welcome to year 18 of the World Class Awards,
PC fans. Play ball!Winners, Losers, and TrendsProduct of the Year: AMD Athlon
It started as a spring phenom last season and it has only gotten stronger.
Today, AMD's fast Athlon CPU shows no
sign of suffering from a sophomore jinx. Architecturally superior to Intel's
Pentium III, it's done for the high end what the company's K6 CPU did for
the low end: set off intense competition where we all wanted it. The Athlon's
performance means AMD can charge profit-making prices that are still low enough
to keep Intel honest. Consequently, IBM, Compaq, and others can offer reasonably
priced and powerful consumer PCs. Let's just hope that AMD can meet demand
and not blow its lead in the late innings.
Losers of the Year: Y2K Doomsayers
They told us banks would fail and planes would tumble from the sky like
lethal confetti. Were we nervous? Umm, slightly. When 1/1/2000 rolled around,
however, nearly all of the world's computers turned out to be perfectly aware
of what year it was. Maybe the billions invested in Y2K preparedness were
well spent; maybe people overreacted. Either way, we have three words for
those who built bunkers and hoarded rations: Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah.Trend of the Year: Broadband Availability
For the Web-addicted among us, superfast, always-on Internet access is
the hottest ticket this side of field-level seats at the Giants' new ballpark.
And rival broadband technologies DSL and cable are finally evolving from a
vague rumor into something more than a handful of users can get. Yes, glitches
happen, security remains a concern, and monthly fees ($35 and up) aren't peanuts.
But as broadband gradually blankets the country, the screech of a dial-up
modem could become as rare as a baseball stadium built for speed, pitching,
and defense.The Best in Computers, System Basics, and Service & SupportComputers
Best Corporate PC: HP Vectra series;
Best Small-Business PC: Dell Dimension XPS series; 800/388-8542, www.dell.com
Best Home PC: Gateway Astro; 800/846-2000, www.gateway.com
Best Designer PC: Sony VAIO Slimtop series; 888/315-7669, www.sony.com/pc
Best Notebook: Gateway Solo 9300LS; 800/846-2000, www.gateway.com
Best Subnotebook: IBM ThinkPad 240; 800/426-7255 ext.
Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch are this year's best PCs. Corporate
users looking for a powerful starter will appreciate HP's Vectra
series. Priced at $2500 and up, Vectras sport built-in networking,
an easy-off side panel for breezy upgrades, and a chassis-intrusion detection
mechanism that automatically alerts your company's information systems crew
when an unauthorized person opens the PC case.
With fast-paced Pentium III processors, Dell Dimension XPS
PCs, starting around $1200, have more zip than a Randy Johnson fastball. Dell's
big units offer good value for small-market teams and won't spend much time
on injured reserve, thanks to the vendor's first-rate system reliability.
The Gateway Astro is a perfect fit for rookie home PC
buyers. Its all-in-one case is a breeze to set up. And its low, sub-$800 price
is tough to beat. For good looks and solid performance, we like
Sony's VAIO Slimtop PCs best. Priced at $2500 and above, VAIO Slimtops
offer innovative, svelte design; sleek flat-panel displays; and lots of storage.
For road trips, the extra-inning battery life of the $2848 Gateway
Solo 9300LS lets you go the distance. If slim and light are key,
the $1500-$2400 IBM ThinkPad 240 delivers: It weighs just
a feathery 3 pounds, but its comfortable keyboard is nearly as big as those
on notebooks twice its size.System Basics
Best Operating System: Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional;
Best Application Suite: Microsoft Office 2000 Professional;
Best Utility: Ontrack SystemSuite 2000; 800/872-2599, www.ontrack.com
Best E-mail Software: Qualcomm Eudora 4.3; 800/238-3672, www.eudora.com
Best Web Browser: Microsoft Internet Explorer 5; 425/635-7123, www.microsoft.com/windows/IE
Best Antivirus Software: Norton AntiVirus 2000; 800/497-6180, www.symantec.com
Best Security Software: Network Ice BlackICE Defender;
Best Input Device: Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical; 800/426-9400, www.microsoft.com/mouse
You can't make the plays without the basic PC products. Microsoft's
Windows 2000 Professional ($319) is our top choice among operating
systems; it combines Windows 9x user-friendliness with NT management and security.
It's a natural fit for office systems and business-oriented notebooks, but
home users can stay with Win 98 (or 95) for now. Keep any of these Windows
versions in shape with the $60 Ontrack SystemSuite 2000.
Its utilities work better as a team and have a deeper bench than those of
rivals Norton and McAfee.
The best application suite is probably the one you already own. For new
users, though, we like Microsoft's Office 2000 Professional
($599) best for its collaboration and Web integration tools. Internet software
essentials include the $50 Qualcomm Eudora 4.3 and
Microsoft Internet Explorer 5. Eudora fields e-mail with advanced
filtering and color-coded labels; it can catch mail, account settings, and
address books from Microsoft Outlook and Netscape Communicator. IE 5 delivers
stability, speed, and a number of handy search tools.
Help your PC perform at 100 percent by installing Norton's AntiVirus
2000 ($40). It offers automatic e-mail scanning and handy update
features. The $40 Network Ice BlackICE Defender foils gate-crashing
Net intruders by maintaining constantly updated files of known hacking techniques
and changing security levels in response to attacks.
Shuffle through apps with Microsoft's IntelliMouse Optical ($55);
its electronic eye tracks movements over surfaces, and works for left- and
right-handed batters.Service & Support
Best PC Support: Dell
Best Software Support: Microsoft
Before handing over your credit card to make that final PC purchase, it's
a good idea to run a background check on the service and support policies
of the company that you have in mind. In our most recent Reliability and Service
survey (see "PC Reliability and Service: Things Fall Apart"), our readers
reported that Dell still provides the best support for
desktops and notebooks. And when we asked readers to rate software vendors'
service and support, the biggest software company of them all, Microsoft
, received top marks.Hits & Misses
Every season has its ups and downs. Here we look back at some of the past
year's most memorable events and bonehead plays in the PC industry--from the
funniest dot-com ads to absurd technological innovations and unfortunate copycats.
Best Makeover of a Formerly Ho-Hum Product
Microsoft's $109 Works Suite 2000 gets our nod for this
category. The update turned a much-maligned suite into a comeback-package-of-the-year
many of us would be proud to own. Kudos to Microsoft for finally giving us
what we wanted: a cheap way to get Word on a new PC, along with extras like
Money and Encarta.Most Likely to Kill Other Removable-Media Storage Options
CD-RW drives earn our award this year. Not only have they plummeted in
price--to less than $200--but they provide an attractive alternative for storing
MP3 music tracks and archiving other important data.Most Amusing Dot-Com Advertisement
Approximately 450 million Web site ads came out in the past year, all vying
to be amusing. We liked exactly three. E-Trade's
ER-themed "money out the wazoo" ad wins the series, though it's
hard not to crack a smile every time you see that Pets.com
sock puppet. EDS's stellar cat-herding ad was disqualified
after judges learned that the company is technically not a dot-com.It's About Bloody Time
This award goes to PC vendors--namely Compaq, Dell,
and Sony--who've warmed up to the idea that beige isn't everyone's
hue.Best Technology That Might Be Illegal Soon
Despite My.MP3.com's and Napster's
legal troubles, accessing anyone's CD collection via Web connection was très
cool.Best Technology Burned Up During Reentry
We choose Iridium, which let its $5 billion satellite network
fall from the sky after not getting enough money to keep it in orbit. People
just didn't want to pay $1200 for a mobile phone, even if they could use it
from Antarctica. Company Most Likely to Inspire George Orwell References
The newly merged AOL/Time Warner monolith gets our vote.
The marriage of an online behemoth and a traditional media giant will create
the largest media conglomerate around. The supercompany isn't just in a league
of its own--it should be eligible for membership in NATO any day now.Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out
This award goes to Packard Bell, a PC company that merged
with NEC and then single-handedly improved the industry's service and support
by dropping out of the U.S. market last year. We Have Now Patented the Words A, An, and The
Amazon.com gets the this award for patenting one-click
technology--the idea of paying for something online with one click. Another
patent we imagine it applied for: No-scroll technology (a page that fits on
your screen).Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Product Design
Emachines earns this award for building the iMac...er,
EOne. Our read: You can try to clone Big Mac, but if it hits like Mario Mendoza,
maybe it is Mario Mendoza.Most Promising NewcomersHardware
Handspring's Visor Deluxe offers an object lesson in
how the game changes. Though nothing is radically innovative about this PDA
from the inventors of Palm Pilot, the well-conceived package--a tweaked version
of the Palm software, slick case design, and low price--is the most sought-after
palmtop of the year. Call it the best Palm that Palm Computing never built.
Look for the Visor to get even cooler as more add-ins for its Springboard
slot (such as a wireless modem module) hit the market.Handspring888/565-9393www.handspring.comSoftware
When we picked Linux as last year's Most Promising Software Newcomer, we
cautioned that the Open Source operating system wasn't quite ready for the
big leagues. With the release of Corel Linux OS, that's
starting to change. Corel emphasizes user-friendliness, with a fast and easy
setup routine, a superintuitive version of the KDE user interface, and a specialized
tool for downloading updates and patches. The initial release choked on some
cutting-edge hardware, but recent updates should banish most setup woes. Most
of us won't ditch Windows just yet, but trying this upstart OS is easier than
ever: Purchase Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux, and you get the
OS for free. Corel800/772-6735linux.corel.com
Corel Linux OS pictured with the Handspring Visor Deluxe.Internet
Privacy was on the minds of PC users this year--and Zero-Knowledge
Systems Freedom protects yours like nobody's business. The $50 software
creates a pseudonymous digital identity, called a nym, that lets
you surf the Web, send e-mail, chat, and use newsgroups without leaving a
trace. Freedom routes your data through a network of 150 servers; Zero-Knowledge
never knows its source or destination. Your identity remains secret, and personal
info will not make its way into the wrong hands. Not just for the paranoid,
Freedom offers peace of mind in the nosy, invasive world of the Web. Zero-Knowledge Systems514/286-2636www.zeroknowledge.comThe Best at Home and on the RoadComputing at Home
Best Personal Finance Software: Intuit Quicken Deluxe
2000; 800/446-8848, www.quicken2000.com
Best Tax Software: H & R Block Financial's Kiplinger
TaxCut Deluxe; 800/457-9525, www.taxcut.com
Best Reference Software: Microsoft Encarta 2000; 888/218-5617, www.encarta.com
Best Game: Electronic Arts The Sims; 800/245-4525, www.thesims.com
Best Ink Jet Printer: HP DeskJet 932C; 800/552-8500, www.hp.com
Best Personal Laser Printer: Brother HL-1240; 800/276-7746, www.brother.com
Best SOHO Networking Kit: Intel AnyPoint Home Network;
Keep your home office in order with some useful software and hardware.
Intuit's Quicken Deluxe 2000 ($59) offers such features as employee
stock option tracking and e-mail alerts about FTC stock-sale or purchase filings.
H & R Block Financial's Kiplinger TaxCut Deluxe ($40) includes
access to federal and state returns. A flat fee of about $20 gets you an advance
of up to $5000 on any refund due from an electronically filed return.
Clockwise from left: the Gateway Astro, the HP DeskJet 932C, Electronic
Arts' The Sims.
As Casey Stengel used to say, "You can look it up!" That's surely true
if you have Microsoft's Encarta 2000. For just $99, it
has a 42,000-article encyclopedia, a dictionary with audio pronunciation,
and an Interactive World Atlas that lets you magnify images to the level of
After working for 3 or 4 hours in the hot sun, your guys need a little
recreation. We recommend Electronic Arts' The Sims ($50).
Players create and develop the lives of virtual people, balancing their personalities
and guiding them to success in friendship, finance, and romance.
Whether for statistics, fan mail, team logos, or lineup cards, there are
always reasons to print. The $199 HP DeskJet 932C is our
favorite ink jet printer, with an attractive if bulbous design, clear text,
quick printing speed, and lifelike color graphics. For a personal laser, we
recommend the Brother HL-1240. This $299 model prints clear,
sharp text fast.
Now that you have your system ready to go, the best way to get everyone
in the house online is the telephone line-based Intel AnyPoint Home
Network. For $69 per PC, the parallel-port version networks two
computers and delivers fast enough performance to handle multiple streaming
audio and video applications.On the Road
Best PDA: Handspring Visor Deluxe; 888/565-9393, www.handspring.com
Best Gadget: Think Outside Stowaway Keyboard; 760/431-9090, www.thinkoutside.com
Best PC Card Modem: 3Com Megahertz 56K Global GSM and
Cellular Modem PC Card; 800/638-3266, www.3com.com/mobile
Best Wireless Communication Device: Research in Motion
BlackBerry Wireless Handheld (model 950); 519/888-7465, www.rim.net
Best Projection System: InFocus LP330 Dragonfly; 800/294-6400, www.infocus.com
This year's mobile tools use innovative designs to help you take your home-field
advantage with you on the road. For starters, consider a personal digital
assistant. Although Palms still dominate the PDA market, the $249
Handspring Visor Deluxe stole the limelight this year. It does everything
Palms can do and also offers the Springboard module for a useful hardware
add-on such as a digital camera, a modem, or an MP3 player. The Visor comes
in a guava-colored case.
Want to tote a keyboard with your Palm or Visor? Check out this year's
best gadget, Think Outside's Stowaway Keyboard. This full-size
$100 keyboard accordions down to the size of a PDA, making it easy to respond
to e-mail or type notes while you bounce along on the team bus.
For notebook users looking to connect, we recommend 3Com's Megahertz
56K Global GSM and Cellular Modem PC Card. It's a bit expensive
at $199, but this speedy performer is wireless, phone-ready, and both Windows-
Clockwise from left: the IBM ThinkPad 240, Creative Labs' Nomad II,
Nikon's Coolpix 990, and Research in Motion's BlackBerry Wireless Handheld
If you want to go the distance on the road with constant e-mail access,
consider Research in Motion's BlackBerry Wireless Handheld (model
950). The $399 pager-esque device lets you send and receive e-mail,
check your calendar, or (for an additional $40 per month) surf the Web--all
remotely. The screen is small, but a QWERTY keyboard and lightweight construction
make this unique device functional.
Perhaps your mobile mission requires a presentation that delivers. For
$5499, the InFocus Dragonfly LP300 projector weighs in
at a trim 4.8 pounds and comes loaded with a manual zoom, built-in speaker
and video inputs, and a convenient wireless remote control device.The Best in Office Products, Graphics & PublishingOffice Essentials
Best Workgroup Monochrome Printer: Xerox DocuPrint N2125;
Best Workgroup Color Printer: Minolta-QMS Magicolor 2
DeskLaser; 877/778-2687, www.qms.com
Best Personal Information Manager: Interact Commerce ACT
2000; 877/386-8083, www.actsoftware.com
Best Business Accounting Software: Peachtree Complete
Accounting 7; 800/228-0068, www.peachtree.com
Best Communications Software: LapLink 2000; 425/483-8088, www.laplink.com
Best Group Application: HotOffice; 561/995-2220, www.hotoffice.com
A great team deserves top-notch equipment--hardware and software that give
it the edge that it needs. The $1299 Xerox DocuPrint N2125
laser printer punches out crisp monochrome text at a zippy 11.7 pages per
minute, and it sweetens the deal with such useful paper-handling options as
an envelope feeder and a duplexer. For workgroup color-printing, the $1104
Minolta-QMS Magicolor 2 DeskLaser produces handsome prints at a
Clockwise from left: Minolta-QMS Magicolor 2 DeskLaser, HP Vectra
PC, Ontrack SystemSuite 2000.
On the software side, Interact Commerce's ACT 2000 ($200)
is a well-designed upgrade to a championship-caliber contact manager.
Peachtree Complete Accounting 7 ($249) sports a sleek new look,
plus features for helping businesses become e-businesses. For the telecommuters
on your roster, LapLink 2000 ($169) adds even more Internet
smarts to a veteran remote-access package. Players on the road can use
HotOffice, a Web-based group application, for sharing calendars
and contacts and for accessing (and keyword searching through) shared documents
from any browser.Graphics & Publishing
Best Business Graphics Software: Microsoft Visio 2000
Standard Edition; 800/248-4746, www.microsoft.com/visio
Best Image Editing Software (tie): Adobe Photoshop 5.5;
Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6; 800/622-2793, www.jasc.com
Best Drawing Software: CorelDraw 9 Graphics Suite; 800/772-6735, www.corel.com
Best Web Design Software: Macromedia Dreamweaver 3 Fireworks
3 Studio; 800/457-1774, www.macromedia.com
Best Desktop Publishing Software: Adobe InDesign 1.5;
A few veteran players dominate big-league design and publishing software.
In the business world, the $199 Microsoft Visio 2000 Standard Edition
comes to bat as a great diagramming tool with a slick new interface,
Web features that enable you to convert diagrams to HTML, and faster drawing
speeds. Who says flowcharts are boring? Not Microsoft, which just acquired
It seems as though Photoshop has been synonymous with photo editing since
the Dodgers moved to the West Coast. Adobe Photoshop 5.5
continues the tradition. In this version, Adobe augments Photoshop's already
rich feature set with ImageReady 2, its high-end Web graphics application,
giving 5.5 a full suite of Web capabilities. While Photoshop comes with a
large-market price tag--$609--the $99 Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6
is much kinder to your wallet and still packs quite a punch as a full-featured
image editor. Paint Shop Pro takes the extra base, too, by doubling as a drawing
program with vector illustration features.
In professional illustration, CorelDraw 9 Graphics Suite
remains a clutch performer. For $470, this do-everything product combines
the popular CorelDraw and Photo-Paint in one tightly integrated illustration,
photo-editing, and painting package. Macromedia's Dreamweaver 3 Fireworks
3 Studio offers another outstanding partnership. This $399 package
unites Dreamweaver's Web authoring and Fireworks' Web graphics so you can
shorten download time, keep designs consistent, and gain unmatched control
over Web pages' HTML code.
Adobe InDesign 1.5 features solid navigation tools, multiple levels
of undo, and .pdf output.
The only newcomer to our design and publishing lineup, the $699
Adobe InDesign 1.5, is a budding star among desktop publishing tools,
with powerful navigational features, Adobe .pdf output, and multiple levels
of undo. It also integrates seamlessly with Adobe's graphics apps.The Best in Storage, Display, Imaging, and AudioStorage
Best Hard Drive: Maxtor DiamondMax 60; 800/262-9867, www.maxtor.com
Best CD-RW Drive: Plextor PlexWriter 8/4/32 EIDE; 888/675-3986, www.plextor.com
Best CD-ROM Drive: Toshiba XM-6702B; 949/457-0777, www.sdd.toshiba.com
Best DVD-ROM Drive: CenDyne CDI CD 00042; 714/979-7367, www.cendyne.com
Best Removable-Media Drive: Iomega Zip 250 USB; 800/697-8833, www.iomega.com
The storage game is all about putting up big numbers. The $329
Maxtor DiamondMax 60 IDE hard drive comes in
at 60GB, making it 38GB bigger than last year's winner, a 34GB IBM Deskstar.
And at a mere $5.50 per GB, this speedy performer is a terrific value to boot.
CD-RW drives--a promising rookie category two years ago--continue to make
big strides in price, performance, and popularity this year. The $200
Plextor PlexWriter 8/4/32 EIDE is our top CD-RW
choice; it's easy to install and provides a fast 8X write speed--useful when
backing up files or burning CDs. Serious digital-music fans will need a fast
CD-ROM drive for extracting songs. Our favorite, the $60 Toshiba
XM-6702B, is a solid performer.
DVD-ROM drives sped faster this year, but a continued dearth of DVD software
means you'll probably use your drive to watch movies or read CD-ROMs. Your
best bet is CenDyne's CDI CD 00042 ($147),
a competitively priced model with major-league speed and hassle-free installation.
The $180 Iomega Zip 250 USB rounds
out our storage team. Bigger and faster than its predecessor (the 100MB Zip
drive), it's an impact player on any team.Display & Imaging
Best Monitor: Sony CPD-E200; 888/476-6972, www.sony.com/displays
Best Flat-Panel Display: Sony SDM-N50; 888/476-6972, www.sony.com/displays
Best Graphics Board: Hercules 3D Prophet II GTS; 877/484-5536, www.hercules.com
Best Scanner: Epson Perfection 1200U; 800/463-7766, www.epson.com
Best Digital Camera: Nikon Coolpix 990; 800/645-6689, www.nikonusa.com
If your current graphics system leaves you squinting like a home-plate
umpire, you'll appreciate our picks in display and imaging products. The winners
feature state-of-the-art technology, beginning with Sony's
CPD-E200--a 17-inch monitor that offers a gratifying combination
of price and performance. In addition to its bold graphics quality, the CPD-E200
costs only $350.
Sony also takes center stage in the flat-panel display lineup, with a razor-thin
15-inch LCD, the SDM-N50. At $1499, this sleek but pricey
model features built-in sensors that allow the unit to automatically adjust
the panel's brightness, depending on the level of ambient light.
To help drive beautiful images on those monitors, get the $349
Hercules 3D Prophet II GTS. Its 32MB arsenal
of high-speed DDR SDRAM helps it blaze ahead of the competition in 3D games
such as Quake 3 Arena and Flight Simulator 2000.
Meanwhile, if you need to transform your important paper documents and
photographs into digital files, give Epson's
Perfection 1200U scanner a tryout. This easy-to-use workhorse delivers
fast scanning capabilities, sharp color and detail, along with USB connectivity--all
for a reasonable price of $249.
Last year, Nikon's Coolpix 950 took the World Class Award among digital
cameras. This year, the Nikon Coolpix 990
edges out its predecessor. At $1000, it's not cheap, but this easy-to-use
3-megapixel camera captures some of the sharpest, most vibrant pictures we've
seen. Although it's chunkier than the 950, it has USB for fast transfers.
Best Sound Card: Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live series;
Best MP3 Player: Creative Labs Nomad II; 800/998-5227, www.nomadworld.com
Best PC Speakers: Klipsch ProMedia v.2-400 THX; 800/554-5665, www.klipsch.com
Best Voice Recognition Software: Dragon NaturallySpeaking
Preferred 4; 800/437-2466, www.dragonsys.com
These days, we talk less to each other and listen more to our computers--but
they had better sound good, or we'll tune them out. For a game-winning audio
experience, you need a great sound card, and Creative Labs'
Sound Blaster Live family of products is a good place to start.
Teaming the same basic (but great-sounding) hardware with different software
bundles, it fields an array of $99 cards designed for users with different
special interests, from gaming to MP3.
MP3 enthusiasts will want to check out the $299 Creative Labs
Nomad II. With 64MB of memory and support for both the MP3 and Windows
Media audio standards crammed into a 3.2-ounce package, the Nomad II is hard
Our rookie of the year in PC speakers is the $250 Klipsch
ProMedia v.2-400 THX duo. Its THX certification evidences studio-quality
sound sharp enough to rival that of many home sound systems.
Computers don't just sound better these days, they've become better listeners,
too. Dragon's NaturallySpeaking Preferred 4
($169) can "learn" your voice in just 5 minutes of coaching. In addition to
providing full-blown dictation capability, the software permits Web browsing
via voice commands.Best of the NetInternet Tool Kit
Best ISP: EarthLink; 800/395-8425, www.earthlink.net
Best Modem: S3 Diamond SupraExpress 56e; 800/468-5846, www.diamondmm.com
Best Free Web Service: EFax; www.efax.com
Best Free E-mail: Yahoo Mail; mail.yahoo.com
Best Freeware: Zone Labs ZoneAlarm 2; 415/547-0050, www.zonelabs.com
Best Internet Utility: AskSam Systems SurfSaver Pro 2;
With new Web sites popping up continually and broadband spreading like
pennant fever countrywide, now's the time to upgrade your Internet tools.
Whether free or not, these products and services make Web surfing sweeter.
To get online, try our favorite ISP, EarthLink, which
boosted its cachet by acquiring the number-two national ISP, MindSpring. A
new modem can perk up connections, too; we favor the S3 Diamond SupraExpress
56e ($100) for swift download speed and ease of installation.
EFax's free service uses a simple setup to receive e-mail,
faxes, and voice mail in one in-box. Yahoo Mail, beyond
its easy, no-cost e-mail interface, offers a wealth of features, including
an outstanding contact manager. Another steal is Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm
2, a simple, effective, and free personal firewall that protects
your PC on the Net.
For $30, AskSam Systems' SurfSaver Pro 2 will save Web
pages on your hard drive for offline browsing and near-instantaneous searching.
(There's also a free version, but it has advertisements.)Web Sites
Best Web Portal: Yahoo.com
Best News and Information Site: CNN.com
Best Shopping Sites (tie): Amazon.com, EBay.com
Best Travel Site: Expedia.com
Best Recreational Site: Shockwave.com
Best Online Computer Store: PC Connection, 888/213-0260
Notwithstanding the continuing emergence of new Web sites and services
trying to become contenders, most of our World Class picks have been around
for years. Yahoo.com, the top portal, sustains its excellence
as a search engine, e-mail provider, and auction house and continues to add
new features such as next-generation wireless access.
Formerly known as CNN Interactive, Ted Turner's online dynasty goes by
CNN.com these days. But like Turner's Atlanta Braves, it's still
a powerhouse; in fact, we think it's the best source for news on the Web.
(Full disclosure: PC World's parent company, International
Data Group, provides most of the technology content for CNN.com.)
A good read: Amazon.com still ranks as one of the very best shopping
sites, despite past snags like denial-of-service attacks.
Both of our shopping site winners, Amazon.com and
EBay.com, overcame injury-plagued seasons to capture a share of
first place. Both endured their share of foul-ups this year--including denial-of-service
attacks that rendered their sites unreachable for a few hours. Still, they
continue to delight hordes of fans.
Dive into Expedia.com's vast wealth of travel planning
information, and you will start longing for your current homestand to come
to an end. Expedia.com hits a round-tripper by finding the lowest fares, handling
all of your trip details as a one-stop shop, and being superfast.
If you just can't come up with the time to get away on vacation,
Shockwave.com offers a wealth of entertainment when you're stuck
at home. If the site's online radio stations and animated film shorts, including
mini-episodes of South Park, don't grab you, its
classic arcade games should fit the bill. Hop online for a couple of games
of Joust or Defender, free of charge.
Finding the right place to buy your hardware and software can prove a little
more difficult than tracking down MP3s. PC Connection paints
the corners with its online store and print catalog, offering a terrific selection
of computers, peripherals, and software--along with nice prices and overnight
delivery. And even though the store does not offer online custom-configuration
tools for PCs (yet), a quick call to its toll-free 24-hour sales line allows
you to pick the components that you want on your team.