Archive for March 6, 2009

Compaq CQ2009F: A peek at a cheap PC

Compaq Presario CQ2009F PC HP Pavilion SlimLine PC
If you're looking for a really cheap computer, you might want to consider the HP Compaq Presario CQ2009F desktop PC.

Consumer Reports just bought one—for only $270 (not counting shipping). That makes it one of the lowest-priced PCs we've ever brought into our computer test labs.

Such a cheap computer might be very tempting for cash-strapped PC shoppers. But just what are you getting for your hard-earned dollars?

Our budget Presario is fresh out of the box, so we're just beginning our extensive evaluation of the PC. But some informal, initial observations:

  • It's tiny. The CQ2009F is roughly 9½ by 10 by 4½ inches (HxDxW)—smaller than even the HP Pavilion Slimline we've been testing. (Click on the images for more details.)
  • Ports a-plenty. There are four (two front, two rear) USB ports; dedicated keyboard and mouse connections; front-mounted microphone and headphone jacks; a slot for nearly any digital camera memory card format (except Compact Flash). And of course: Ethernet and telephone jacks are on the back.
  • Also included: A DVD burner, a 160 GB hard drive, 1 GB RAM, and Windows XP Home.

But, some design issues that you should be aware of:

Cq2009F keyboard compared to standard keyboard

  • The keyboard is somewhat cramped. (Click on images at right.)
  • The power supply is external—similar to the power cords for most laptops and the Apple Mac Mini.
  • There's no spare drive bay. You'll need external drives, which are typically pricier than internal models, for more storage space.
  • Not included: A monitor or speakers.

Obviously, there's much we won't know until we put it through our rigorous lab tests.

Compaq Presario CQ2009F keyboard close-up
For example, its Intel Atom 230 processor isn't as robust as the chips found in most desktops. We expect it to perform well enough for most people's typical tasks like word processing, e-mail, and Web surfing. But we don't expect stellar results for demanding applications, such as action games and video editing.

Another consideration: In our surveys, Compaq's reliability and technical support have been undistinguished. (Computer brand reliability data and computer tech support Ratings are available to subscribers.)

Our take (so far): This dirt-cheap computer will most likely satisfy budget-conscious shoppers looking for an inexpensive home PC for routine tasks.

We'll complete our lab tests and detail the performance of the HP Compaq Presario CQ2009F in our desktop computer Ratings (available to subscribers) soon. In the meantime, for more computer shopping help, see our free online Computer Buying Guide online.

—Jeff Fox

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Mar 6, Millions of U.S. Households not Ready for HD

WASHINGTON (Reuters) By Kim Dixon – With about three months to go, U.S. regulators say some consumers are still unprepared for the television industry switch to digital broadcasting, which will affect Americans who do not receive their signals through cable or satellite.

The federally mandated transition was originally set for February 17, but lawmakers postponed it to June 12 on the theory that people need more time to get ready.

The switch from analog to digital allows broadcasters to send more data efficiently and also frees up the existing analog spectrum for such uses as cell phone and public-safety radio transmissions.

About a third of the nation’s 1,800 full-power broadcasters switched from analog to digital TV signals on the original February 17 date, though only about 15 percent of the nation’s households were affected.

“We must be mindful that this is just the beginning and that the large impacts lie ahead of us,” Eloise Gore, associate chief in the media bureau at the Federal Communications Commission, told a public meeting on the switch on Thursday.

President Barack Obama and most congressional Democrats won a delay of the full digital transition to June 12, after a government coupon program for converter boxes needed for older TVs could not provide coupons due to budget issues. That put millions of households on a coupon waiting list.

Backers of a delay feared vulnerable groups, like the elderly and needy, would lose access to emergency information if they lost television signals for days.

“For many, television is not simply a source of entertainment but a vital source of news that can be a lifeline in an emergency situation,” acting FCC chairman Michael Copps said.

For the most part, the transition in February went smoothly. Significantly fewer calls came into call centers than estimated, for example.

5 MILLION STILL UNREADY

Still, about 5 million U.S. households are still “totally unready” and 2.3 million households are waiting for the $40 government coupons, the government said.

“We are … struggling with the procrastination of seniors who now see the June 12 date and see they have more time to act,” said Sandy Markwood, chief of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

But that coupon waiting list should be cleared within three weeks now that the government has millions in new stimulus money assigned to re-fund the program and allow it to use first-class mail, among other changes.

The government is now sending out 2 million coupons a week with a turnaround time of 9 days, compared with 21 days, thanks to new funding, an official said.

Among the most common problems for consumers have been reception issues because of antennas that need to be repositioned or replaced. Viewers must also perform a scan to pick up channels once they receive a converter box, according to the FCC.

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Class-action settlement reached for owners of Toshiba rear-projection DLP TV owners

GavelIf you own a Toshiba rear-projection DLP TV that’s had a problem with short bulb life, you may be getting some relief. Last week, a court approved a class-action settlement that requires Toshiba to reimburse the cost of replacing the bulbs used in the lamps, and to extend the warranty for replacement bulbs from six to 12 months.

The settlement applies to 2004 and 2005 Toshiba rear-projection DLP sets purchased between January 1, 2004 and September 18, 2008. The lawsuit alleged that the bulbs used in the lamps were defective, and that Toshiba knowingly misrepresented the life span of the bulbs, breaching express and implied warranties. The suit claimed that while Toshiba estimated the life of the bulbs to be about 8,000 hours, many customers found they were burning out after 300 hours, or about two months of regular use. Replacement bulbs cost about $300 each if installed by the user.

Toshiba, which is no longer in the rear-projection TV business, denied any wrongdoing, but agreed to the terms of the settlement, which was approved by a federal district court on Feb. 24, 2009.

If you own one of these TVs and believe you are eligible to make a claim, visit the settlement’s website (http://www.dlplampsettlement.com) for more information. While the warranty extension applies to all TVs covered by the deal, regardless of whether you file a claim, you will have to apply to get a new bulb or receive a reimbursement for one you’ve already purchased.

—James K. Willcox

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DTV coupons: more coming soon, says NTIA

Samplecoupon

Flush with a cash infusion from Congress, the stalled government coupon program to help consumers purchase digital-to-analog converter boxes is back in business.
The program, which allows households to receive two $40 coupons, ran out of money in early January. Since then, applicants have been placed on a waiting list that has swelled to more than 4 million.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration says it will be able to unclog the program quickly now that it has the new funding. The agency predicts the backlog will be cleared within three weeks unless there is a rush of new applications. Coupon requests slowed over the past month, dropping from 203,000 on Jan. 26 to 33,000 requests on March 3.

If new applications come in more quickly than anticipated, NTIA says it will give households dependent on over-the-air broadcasting top priority, moving those requests to the front of the line. Households that also have some type of paid TV service can request coupons but won't get them until those with only antenna reception have been taken care of.

It's still unclear how expired coupons will be handled. Rules on that part of the program are still being crafted. Of the almost 49 million coupons mailed as of March 4, 2009, more than 16 million—roughly one-third—expired before being used.

The stimulus bill signed into law a few weeks ago included $650 million to help revive the coupon program. Separate legislation moved the date for full-power television stations to discontinue analog broadcasts to June 12th, several months past the original from February 17th deadline. More than 600 stations have already gone to all-digital, but the bulk of the nation's nearly 1,800 stations have yet to cut their analog signals.

Consumers who have older, analog-only televisions will need a converter box to continue receiving free, over-the-air television once their local stations cut off their analog signals. Most boxes cost $50 to $80. For more, see our free Ratings and guide to digital converter boxes.

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