Buying a Computer: A Cheaper Option at Under $500.00

When buying a new computer, you probably limit your search to the usual brands: Gateway, Dell, Compaq, or Emachines if you’re on a tight budget. You probably want a reliable computer, but you don’t want to invest too much money, especially if you just need a system for web browsing or home office use.

One computer you’ve probably missed is the KooBox. Strange name? Sure, but it’s no stranger than Gateway’s enduring cow theme. Calling their system the “world’s most affordable computer,” the makers aren’t kidding; $449.00 gets you a good machine with a 15′ flat-screen monitor. If you skip on the monitor, the system (including basic speakers, mouse and keyboard) is a paltry $279.

The KooBox won’t put the latest $1,000 computer to shame, but it does have surprisingly powerful hardware. Enclosed in the very compact tower is an AMD 1.5 GHz processor, 40 GB hard drive, 4 USB ports, a 300-watt power supply, Ethernet card and 52x CD-ROM drive. The sound card is good, but hard-core gamers will probably want to swap the included video card for a better one.

An upgrade on the basic KooBox system is offered for an additional $220.00, which essentially doubles the processor and storage, replaces the basic CD drive with a 48x24x48 CD-RW, enables DVD playback and includes a floppy disk drive. An HP system, at roughly those specs, can cost up to $400 more than the deluxe KooBox with a flat-screen monitor.

There is a catch, if you want to call it that; the KooBox computers don’t come with Windows XP. They don’t even come with a Mac OS. The included operating system is a version of Linux called Linspire. The operating system, according the company, is why the computer is so inexpensive.

But unlike many flavors of Linux, which are typically heavy on text and command prompts, like the old DOS OS, Linspire is essentially Windows with Linux at its core. Figuring out Linspire is not nearly as daunting for the uninitiated as an old version of Red Hat might be.

It’s essentially the same as Windows XP. You have a normal desktop, with an “L” icon replacing the “Start” button. Familiar “My Computer,” “My Documents” and “Recycle Bin” icons show up after the system is first booted. There are some minor differences: The C drive is now called Root, and from there, the directories are arranged somewhat differently.

Included in the operating system is a nice selection of software, including OpenOffice, similar to Microsoft Office. The Internet browser is fast and reliable; pop-ups are rare, even when visiting ad-loaded websites. FireFox is also available.

Linspire’s firewall is built into the operating system, and even if a virus is put on your computer, it will most likely be unable to cause any harm; Windows executable files will not run on Linspire.

It’s a double-edged sword though, as XP users will quickly notice that Windows software is not compatible with Linspire. DOS emulators like WINE are available, but many programs do not yet work with them. Even installing standard Linux programs is challenging, if not impossible.

Fortunately, the purchase of a KooBox computer includes a one-year subscription to the Click-n-Run Warehouse, a huge library of about 1,800 software selections. Installing these programs takes literally one click — the application is then automatically downloaded and installed. Games, audio, finance and instant messenger programs are some of the offered utilities, to streamline the switch to Linspire and offer a host of useful tools.

Of course, if the new OS is too unfamiliar and troublesome to use, it can be replaced with Windows. Because of the way Linspire is set up, you may need to take it to a professional to get the operating system uninstalled; it can be a difficult and frustrating process if you aren’t a computer expert.

So if you’re in the market for a new computer, consider skipping on the big names and ordering a KooBox.

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