|Computer Peripherals: Best of 2002
Even in a depressed economy and a flagging computing market, peripherals makers seem to come up with some amazing products. This week, I'll take a look at some of the most impressive and useful computing products from the last year.
At least one storage headline from 2002 was not surprising: hard drives keep getting bigger and faster. Since the beginning of the year, several companies have introduced 180 and 200 gigabyte hard disks, but you'll get a better deal on disks in the 80-120GB range.
DVD recording really came of age in 2002, with the announcement of second-generation consumer DVD writers from Pioneer, HP and Sony. The Pioneer DVR-A05 is a retail-packaged drive that offers 4X writing for DVD-R media, 2X writing for DVD-RW media, and very respectable CD-R and CD-RW writing capabilities too. HP's new 200i/200e DVD writer uses the competing DVD+R/+RW format and boasts similar performance specs. The Sony DRU500A and DRX500UL (internal and external versions of the same drive) break the format barrier with the ability to write both DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R/+RW media.
All of these DVD writers fall in the $250-$350 price range for the internal drives, or up to $450 for the external drives. Remember that you need a computer with USB 2.0 or Firewire to use the external versions of these drives.
If you're not ready to make the jump to DVD yet, a good CD-RW drive might satisfy your storage needs. Many fast CD writers are now available for very low cost, including top brands like Sony,TDK,Yamaha and Plextor. These drives range from 44X-52X in CD-R write speed, and most support 24X rewritable speed.
Serial ATA is another exciting storage development in 2002. Serial ATA is a new storage interface that replaces the stiff, bulky ribbon cables for your internal hard disks with slim, 7-wire cables that combine both power and data in the same cable. For more on Serial ATA, check out this article I wrote a few weeks ago. The best feature of Serial ATA: it's available right now on new motherboards and hard disks.
Color inkjets and photo printers get better and better, and a few printers in 2002 stand out in price and performance. The Canon S330 is the best bargain of the year, with Canon's traditional high reliability and good quality printing, combined with low ink cost and cross-platform compatibility for PCs and Macs.
In photo printing, I personally prefer the Epson six-color photo printers, but you will find strong entries from all three major manufacturers. Epson's Stylus Photo 820 and Stylus Photo 785EPX offer solid photo quality at a bargain price; the 785EPX adds a digital camera memory card reader. Cheap generic inks help reduce long-term print costs for these printers.
At the high end, the Canon S9000 can print up to 13 inches by 19 inches and offers economical factory-original ink cartridges, with the option of generic inks. The HP Photosmart 7550 costs a little less, but offers seven ink colors (seven!) on letter-sized paper. However, there are no generic ink cartridges available for HP printers.
Scanning and Imaging
Bravo to Epson for making an economical version of their Perfection 2450 photo scanner; the Perfection 2400 offers the same great performance features but cuts $75 off the price and substitutes a USB 2.0 interface instead of Firewire.
Canon followed up their ultra-skinny N1240U scanner with a similar unit called the LiDE 30. The LiDE 30 is light in weight and price. Although the scanner is slower than most, it gets all of its power from the USB interface, so you don't need an additional external power brick. The LiDE 30 is the obvious choice for students on-the-go and library researchers.
2002 will go down as the year that Intel got serious about winning the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of home computer hobbyists. Massive price reductions on their top-of-the-line Pentium 4 processors combined with support for industry standards like fast DDR RAM and USB 2.0 have made Intel processors and motherboards the first choice of computer builders and barebones system buyers.
Processor maker AMD and chipset makers like SIS, VIA and ALi are still in the running, so 2003 promises to be a very interesting year, with AMD's new ClawHammer 64-bit consumer processor scheduled for release in the middle of the year.
3D graphics accelerators for gaming continued their gradual evolution in 2002, with Nvidia's GeForce 4 Ti chipsets rounding the price/performance leaders. However, old-school video card maker ATI is coming up fast with their new 9000-series product line, and in some applications the ATI Radeon 9700 chipset beats the top-of-the-line GeForce 4 Ti4600. Expect these manufacturers to leapfrog each other during 2003.
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