Back to School 2004 -- School Bytes

When you were a kid, back-to-school shopping meant new Keds for gym and a 64-pack of Crayolas. To stay competitive these days, though, a kid needs a decent computer. How can you be sure you get what your child really needs? We took a look at the latest offerings from some top manufacturers and found great machines for all age groups.

For the Elementary School Set
A simple setup is best for this age group. Don't spend too much -- your kid will outgrow this first machine quicker than a bunk bed.

DELL DIMENSION 2400
It's not the "fashion statement" computer you see in model homes or furniture catalogs -- no fancy flat-screen monitor or multichannel speakers here. But the heart of Dell's entry-level desktop setup is a solid machine with a fast (2.66 gigahertz) processor, a CD drive and an ample 40-gigabyte hard disk. Trade up to fancier peripherals later if you want -- the guts of the system are great for everything from typing book reports to browsing the Web or playing games. Educational games, of course. $549. Available at dell.com.

EMAC
Developed specifically for the education market, the eMac is built simply to withstand the wear and tear your, uh, little angel can dish out. The robust box incorporates a 40-gigabyte hard disk, combo CD/DVD drive and beautiful 17-inch monitor into a single sleek unit. Great for more creatively inclined kids, the eMac also offers two Firewire ports for importing video from a digital camcorder. Apple's operating system is friendly, making everything from homework assignments to home-grown multimedia projects easy and fun. If you can find the "on" button, you can edit video with the preinstalled, fantastically simple iMovie software. $799. Available at apple.com.

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