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.

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

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

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