Back to School 2004 -- School Bytes

For the Middle School Set

Image is everything to kids at this age. Tell them you understand with a machine that combines good performance with a high "cool" quotient.

VELOCITY MICRO VECTOR
You might think you want an industrious worker-bee of a child who'd never look twice at some time-wasting computer game. But really, aren't you happy with the kid you've got -- poor study habits and all? Meet the family game addict halfway with this powerful, affordable system, suitable for any academic pursuits but loaded with the graphics power (from industry leader nVidia) to render games quickly and faithfully. The price quoted is for a basic configuration with a standard CRT monitor. A brace of upgrade options are available. $978. Available at velocitymicro.com.

SONY VAIO
PCV-W500GN1
For the media junkie who's been very, very good lately, Sony's stylish one-piece computer is a sensible splurge. Its space-saving advantages go beyond the simple case design: With a built-in TV tuner and Sony's GigaPocket software, the Vaio also replaces a TV and VCR. The only all-in-one PC to give Apple any serious competition in creative applications, this machine incorporates a Firewire port for crunching digital video and a DVD burner to output your child's multimedia masterpieces. $2,000. Available at sony.com.

For the High School Set

You'll never understand your kids' taste in music or movies. It simply isn't meant to be. But you can give them a computer to handle all that, um, "entertainment."

GATEWAY 510S MEDIA CENTER
Bundled with Microsoft's XP Media Center operating system, this suite can easily grow with your child's academic and recreational needs. While the 80-gigabyte hard drive will max out quickly with heavy video recording, it's more than adequate for schoolwork. It ships standard with a 17-inch flat-panel LCD monitor and Media Center remote for watching shows or movies in the inevitable downtime. You'll love inheriting it when young Einstein (or Madame Curie) heads off to college. $1,099. Available at gateway.com.

TOSHIBA SATELLITE P25
Another Media Center PC, this laptop isn't so much portable as it is "luggable." At 11 pounds it's hefty, yes, but hardly dead weight: Look under the clean case design and full-sized keyboard, and you'll find an 80-gigabyte hard drive and Intel's fastest Pentium 4 processor. The 17-inch screen is the largest you'll find on any laptop, and the Harmon Kardon audio will satisfy all but the finickiest music lovers. The built-in wireless networking capability makes it simple to share your home or classroom's Internet connection. Billed more as a desktop replacement than a truly mobile machine, it's still tough enough to take a jouncing in any backpack. $2,099. Available at toshiba.com.

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