By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/14/2007 7:56:13 PM ET 2007-11-15T00:56:13

Each year the Consumer Electronics Association conducts a survey containing open-ended questions about the holidays and gifts. This year, respondents chose a new PC as their heart's desire.

Consumerism trumped goodwill, relegating peace and happiness to second place, followed by a big screen TV. And here we thought materialism went out with the 90s.

We’re offering suggestions for each of this year's most desired holiday gifts. We’ll start at the top of the list and get to peace, happiness and televisions later.

Part One:

Holiday Wish List: PCs

If you’re prepared to spring for a new PC for that special someone – or your special self – here’s some good news. One of the most coveted PCs this year also happens to be among the cheapest. The pearl white  Asus’ Eee PC (Model 4G, $399.99, eeepc.asus.com) Eee undercuts even the lightest of ultra-light notebooks at just 9 inches wide and a hair over 2 lbs.

It’s capable of running Windows XP, but the pre-installed lean, mean Linux OS is excellent. The Eee boots up in about 20 seconds without the Windows bloat. This is no desktop replacement, but if you want a truly portable notebook, the Eee doesn’t have any competition near its price tag.

I had the Eee unpacked, on our home wireless network, and was surfing the Web in less than five minutes. Everything I needed to write, browse, VOIP, listen to music, was covered by installed Linux applications and the wireless network adapter. The 512 MB of RAM  and 900 MHz Intel Celeron processor proved capable of handling everyday tasks. The Eee is the simplest computer I’ve ever used.

The keyboard is small, but if you’ve ever fumbled across the keys on a smartphone or ultra-mobile PC the Eee will feel downright roomy. I wouldn’t advise watching too many full length movies on the 7 inch screen, but YouTube and streaming videos looked great. Since the Eee uses a solid-state drive, the only moving part seems to be a small CPU fan. The result is quiet operation. The unit does get a little hot on the bottom but nothing close to thigh-searing.

You might need to spend some of the money saved on a few add-ons. There’s no CD-ROM or DVD drive and the 4 GB flash drive fills up in a hurry. You can pick up a SimpleTech 120 GB portable hard drive and a Lite-On external DVD burner for about $150 at www.newegg.com. You’ll still have one USB 2.0 port open for a printer.

Don’t want to spring for a new PC?
Let’s say you don’t want to buy a new computer but you still have a tech-head on your list. There’s only one PC upgrade that’s guaranteed to supercharge Windows Vista, video editing and playback and gaming in one fell swoop – the mighty graphics card. NVIDIA’s 8800GT 512 MB graphics card (various manufacturers, from $249.00) strikes a sublime balance between price and performance.

You might even get a hug before your recipient tears the wrapper off the copy of “Crysis” or “Call of Duty 4” you so thoughtfully included. Just make sure their PC can accommodate a PCI Express x16 card.

I’m a gamer, so I judge the performance of graphics cards by frames per second, or FPS. The faster the

FPS displayed during a game, the smoother the game’s video is displayed. My rig sports a rather costly

NVIDIA 8800GTX 768 MB card, which performs wonderfully. The $500 price tag, however, still makes my chest tighten.

Using the Fraps freeware (www.fraps.com) to measure real-time FPS, I loaded up the new PC shooter “Crysis.” The photo-realistic graphics in “Crysis” constitute the ultimate torture test for a PC’s graphics card. I tested a common monitor resolution of 1280x1024 with graphics settings on High. To cut a long process short, my hotshot GTX card and the scrappy, oh-so affordable GT actually averaged within two frames of each other. Witness the “better, faster, cheaper” miracle of technology in full effect!

Beyond gaming, any video editing or viewing, especially in HD, will thank you for a graphics card upgrade. Vista also needs sufficient graphics processing muscle to smoothly, quickly display all those fancy new interfaces.

Either way, whether you wrap up an Eee PC or 8800GT card, you’ll be a holiday hero.

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