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So You Want To Buy A Computer

If you're thinking about purchasing your first computer or upgrading to a newer model, the time to buy is now. Many computer makers are slashing prices because of slow holiday sales. CBS News Early Show Correspondent Jon Frankel spoke with Regina Lewis, an online adviser for America Online and the author of Wired In A Week, about the steps to getting your family wired.

A new computer may seem like an intimidating purchase. There are a million options and a million different machines on the market. Lewis said the first step is to work backwards from your needs.

Ask yourself, she said, "What am I going to use the computer for? For most families going online, the answer is e-mail and word processing -- a school paper, a little correspondence."

If your needs are modest, it may be best to look for package deals. Plan to pay at least $1500, but you can expect your money to go a long way.

"There has never been a better time," said Lewis. "There is still inventory from the holidays and a new wave will ship in March and February. There are great deals out there."

A good place to find a deal on a computer may be the big retail outlets like Circuit City.

"You can also buy them directly from the manufacturer -- Dell, IBM, Compaq," Lewis said. "Stick with a brand name because of compatibility… And customer service, you need that. They'll have it, the big ones."

Also big this season are peripheral devices that work in conjunction with computers. Palm Pilot-like handheld devices, cell phones and digital cameras are very popular. But don't rush into buying all the bells and whistles.

"General rule of thumb: if you'll use it right away, then get it, because you'll derive value," said Lewis. "Don't buy on future needs, like 'Oh, I think I'll need that down the road.'"

For those who tend to travel a lot, it's the question of a desktop model versus the laptop. Laptops are pricier and a little more fragile, but if you are on the road a lot, it is the obvious choice.

Many new laptops feature a disk drive that also plays DVD movies.

"You can play a movie on an airplane," Lewis said. "Kids can do this in the backseat of a car."

Higher-end laptop models cost as much as $3,000. The sleeker, smaller and lighter it is, the more the cost goes up.

E-mail is the number one use of new computers. For people who won't be doing much more than reading and sending e-mail, there are now affordable devices designed specifically for that function. For about $600, you can buy a gadget that's not much bigger than your average kitchen appliance. It features a touch screen interface that is extremely user-friendly and all it does is handle e-mail.

It's great for people with little or no computer experience. "Particularly for people who haven't grown up with (computers), the mouse throws them off," Lewis said.

Grantd, all the new technology can be overwhelming. Lewis emphasizes figuring out what you need before you make any purchases.

"There is a tendency to overbuy," said Lewis. "You don't need a Nascar to drive to work."

The best piece of advice, Lewis said, is just to do it. It's the right time to buy.

"Get going," Lewis said. "Now is the time to start. There's a lot of ways that are affordable. Rebate programs. Almost no cash down. Your experience is what you make of it. Get started."

©MMI, Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved

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