DIGITAL GEAR - Solid-state drives still expensive

The latest in storage, GPS, mouse and converged communications technologies

Solid-state drives may replace hard drives as future storage devices on computers, but not until their price plummets. Alienware has SSDs and other cool hardware on its latest PCs, the Area-51 ALX and Aurora ALX desktops, but its prices rise with the SSDs. Innovation is also the appeal of Plantronics' Calisto Pro Series, a sophisticated hands-free telephone system that merges wired, wireless and online communications into one system. Moving to the kitschy, Saitek allows users to personalize PC scrolling by inserting a printed picture on a mouse top.

The future of PC storage

Alienware provides a glimpse of future PC storage with its Area-51 ALX and Aurora ALX desktop PCs, which come with 64G-byte SSDs (solid-state drives).

Boot and program load times are quicker with SSDs and they are more reliable, Alienware says. They also consume less power than hard drives, the company says.

However, SSDs are expensive. An SSD-free Aurora ALX system with Windows Vista Ultimate, running Advanced Micro Devices's Athlon 64 X2 6000 64-bit processor, a Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX graphics card, 2G bytes of memory, a Logitech gaming keyboard and a 320G-byte hard drive costs US$4,099. The price jumps to US$5,799 when the hard drive is replaced with two 64G-byte SSDs.

Hard drives provide more storage capabilities than SSDs, so it's smart to hold off until SSDs become competitive on price and storage capacity.

Both PCs are available at Alienware's Web site.

AAA to the rescue, again

There may be a Chinese restaurant a few blocks away, but is it good? AAA Mobile's GPS-based travel guide for mobile phones not only provides directions to the restaurant, but also shows how it rates. The ratings feature gives it a leg-up over GPS (Global Positioning System) services that provide only locations and directions.

The service also gives hotel ratings and point of interests recommended by the AAA service. That is helpful for tourists and pedestrians wiggling around big cities in search of places to eat and sleep. Users can bookmark the locations.

The 100,000 listings provided by the service may be tiny, but it could start a trend of more GPS systems adding recommendations and ratings.

It works only on mobile phones in the U.S. with Verizon Wireless's service and is available for US$9.99 a month.

Make the mouse your own

Innovation on mice hasn't hit a wall -- Saitek's Photo Mouse lets people customize the top of a mouse with printed pictures, making it fun to use. A hatch on the top of the mouse opens up, where a picture can be inserted. The idea is to personalize a mouse, said Mark Starrett, Saitek's director of marketing, in a statement. But then pictures of loved ones can be placed on a mousepad or as PC wallpaper too, so pick your choice. The kitschy US$19.95 wired optical mouse works with Windows and Mac systems.

Converged communications

Plantronics' Calisto Pro Series is a hands-free telephone system that combines wired, wireless and online communications into one unit. The system can take landline, mobile phone or VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) calls either through a wireless handset or Bluetooth headset.

A desk-based base station houses and recharges the wireless handset and a Bluetooth headset. The handset operates at a range of up to 300 feet (91 meters), according to Plantronics. Users can also download up to 200 Microsoft Outlook contacts from a PC to the handset.

A Bluetooth headset not only takes calls from landlines, it also directly connects to a Bluetooth-compatible mobile phones. A PC connects to the base station through a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port to accept VOIP calls.

Despite a clunky base station, Calisto Pro is a productive device to have for multiple forms of communication. It became available in the U.S. in September for US$279.95.

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