It's back-to-school time -- a short window of opportunity for retailers -- and a period when parents try to keep costs in check while providing everything their children need to succeed in the coming school year.
School books and office supplies are easier to deal with (and somewhat less expensive) than the electronic goods that kids want and need: computers, printers, cell phones, music players and TVs.
As for computers -- there are hundreds of great choices. In the past, lower-priced desktops and laptops meant functional but not very stylish: large-sized boxes with tried-and-true components (meaning not exactly the newest or fastest) components inside. Smaller, feature-laden machines usually cost more.
But, a year ago, Asus changed all that with its Eee PC line of laptops. Now, kids can have a laptop for around $300 (with the Linux operating system inside) or a little more if Windows (MSFT) XP is a necessity. Actually, the newest, top-of-the-line Eee PC (the 1000H) has a big, 10-inch screen, Windows XP Home, Intel (INT) Atom processor, an 80GB hard drive and an affordable price of $549.
And now, there's also a $349 desktop version of the successful Eee Box laptops. Again, there's no CD/DVD drive inside. Just add a monitor and some speakers and you have a very good, affordable home computer system.
If your child's heart is set on a Mac, the Mac mini is the most affordable in Apple's (AAPL) user-friendly computer line. For $599, the mini has a heavy-duty Intel processor and a CD/DVD optical drive (not found in any Eee model). You need to add your own monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers, though. Apple laptops start at $1,100.