The average tax refund is around $2,500. Given the state of the economy, you may be tempted to stick it in your mattress. But we all know the patriotic thing to do is spend it-immediately. It may be too late to save Circuit City, but there's a whole army of Blue Shirts counting on you. With that in mind, here five great ways to put that windfall to work.
HP Firebird with VoodooDNA 800
The desktop may be on the decline, but HP proves there's still room for fresh ideas in this category with its latest Voodoo PC inspired system. The HP Firebird VoodooDNA 800, announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, is not your average gaming rig. Instead HP put the performance of a high-end gaming desktop in a PC that uses less power, takes up less space and makes a lot less noise with its factory-sealed liquid cooling system. It looks great too with a distinctive wedge-shaped case that is similar to HP's first Voodoo-inspired desktop, the Blackbird, only much smaller. The Firebird 802 starts at $1,799.99 with a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad 9400 processor, 4GB of memory, dual Nvidia GeForce 9800S MXM 3.0 graphics cards with 512MB each (MXM modules are smaller and use less power than standard desktop GPUs), 500GB hard drive, slot-loading DVD burner and Vista Home Premium 64-bit SP1.
Apple MacBook Pro
In a world filled with $350 netbooks, the Apple MacBook Pro, which starts at $2,000 (or $2,799 in the case of the recently-refreshed 17-inch version), seems extravagant. But if you've got a refund check burning a hole in your pocket, there could be worse ways to blow it. Aluminum unibody chassis that is lighter, thinner and sturdier, Nvidia GeForce 9400M chipset, glossy edge-to-edge display and button-less trackpad The 17-inch desktop replacement, which was updated at MacWorld in January, also includes a lithium polymer battery that Apple says is smaller, lasts longer and can be recharged three times more often than a run-of-the-mill laptop battery. The 15-inch model starts at $1,999.00 with an LED-backlit display, 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2GB of memory, 250GB hard drive and slot-loading DVD burner.
Lenovo ThinkPad X301
The ThinkPad X series has long been the ultraportable of choice for real road warriors. While the matte black mobile may look the same on the outside-and have the same great keyboard and trackpoint-the X series has definitely kept up with the times. The latest model, the ThinkPad X301 has a 13-inch LED-backlit widescreen display, solid-state drive, internal DVD and lots of wireless options including WCDMA/CDMA. Despite all of this the X301, is less than an inch thick and weighs less than three pounds (3.1 pounds with the extended 6-cell battery). Though it usually starts around $2,600, Lenovo is currently running sales on the ThinkPad X301. The base model is now $1,999 with a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400, 1GB of memory, Intel integrated graphics, a 64GB hard drive and Vista Home Basic. I'd recommend 2GB of memory minimum (a $40 upgrade) and the internal DVD burner ($225), bringing the total price on sale to $2,343.
Even at my desk at work I've used a laptop and its built-in display for years. But recently I had a chance to try out a 24-inch widescreen display, and I understand why people love this high-resolution displays. But why stop there? Apple, Dell, HP, Gateway, and Samsung all offer 30-inch models, and if you shop around, you can now pick up a 30-inch widescreen LCD for less than $1,000 not including Apple, of course, which charges $1,799 for its 30-inch Cinema HD display. (Note that HP no longer lists the LP3065 on its site, but you can still find it online.) Each model has its strengths and weaknesses, and the one you choose depends a lot on personal preferences in terms of design and connectivity, so I've included links to several reviews below. But if I had to pick one, the Gateway XHD3000 currently offers the best combination of price, performance and features, even though it doesn't match the looks of its competitors.
Canon Pixma MX7600
Canon is known for great photo printers and all-in-ones, and the Pixma MX7600 is the company's top-of-the-line AIO for home and small offices. It has all the features of a workhorse printer including relatively fast printing and scanning, an auto-duplexer and full-featured fax machine. But the MX7600 also prints great photos using Canon's Pigment Reaction six-ink printing system. The MX7600 takes up a lot desk space, and it's not cheap with a list price of $399.99 (you can find it online for a little more than $300), but you get a lot for the money.