Most of the 10 desktop computers Consumer Reports tested that had Intel’s new third-generation Core processors rose to the top of the Ratings. But several using the prior version of the processors are still competitive performers. They can save you money.
The A6 Gateway FX6860 UR10P, $950, with the second-generation Core i7 processor, was excellent at the $1,000 level. The Acer AM3970-UR11P, a Best Buy at $700, the Gateway DX4860-UR11P, $825, and the Asus Essentio CM6850-01, $800, also have second-generation processors and were good performers. If you mainly do office tasks, send e-mail, and surf the Web, those processors are plenty powerful.
Of course, lots of good deals exist on desktops with the new processors. The Dell XPS 8500 IS, $750, and the Gateway DX 4860-UR14P, $700, are both Best Buys.
Consumer Reports testers found that desktop performance for certain tasks, such as uploading photos or converting home video files for TV viewing, can be up to 20 percent faster with the new processors. If you’re planning to watch movies on your computer, get an all-in-one with a Blu-ray player, such as the Dell Inspiron One 102321-644MS, $1,100.
Casual gamers should look for AMD's A series processor or a third-generation Intel Core processor with an HD graphics 4000 chip. Serious gamers should look for desktops that combine Intel second- or third-generation Core processors, 1 gigabyte of video memory or more, and at least an AMD Radeon HD 6450 or Nvidia GeForce GT 520 graphics card.
Tips for your upgrade: Any PC that came with Windows 7, and most Vista-based systems, should be upgradable to Windows 8. Make sure you take a few preparatory steps. Install the latest Windows 7 updates and update any applications that need it as well. Do an antivirus check, delete unwanted files, and defragment your hard drive. Back up files.
CR Extra: Slicker clickers for your TV
One time-honored tradition of TV watching — combing through sofa cushions to find the remote — may finally be nearing an end. Rather than fumbling with the buttons, couch potatoes can simply yell or gesture at the TV to control it.
Samsung's Smart Interaction, available in its ES7500 and ES8000 LCD TVs and E8000-series plasmas, uses a built-in microphone and video camera to recognize hand gestures and voice commands; you hardly need the regular remote.
Once the TV detects a hand motion, you can wave to navigate menus; to make a selection, clench your fist. Basic voice commands can also be used to turn the TV on and off, and perform basic TV functions.
LG has pioneered gesture-based TV remotes with its wand-like Magic Motion. The latest version, called the Magic Remote, has an integrated scroll wheel plus a built-in microphone for voice commands. You simply point the wand at the TV to move a cursor through onscreen menus, clicking the scroll wheel to make a selection.
Panasonic is packing a small, egg-shaped second remote with a large, circular touchpad in the center with its new VT50 flagship plasma TVs. Using your thumb, you can control a mouse like an onscreen cursor to navigate menus, and even enter text on an onscreen virtual keyboard. To make a selection, you tap the screen or click the small left arrow key on the remote.
Bottom line. Consumer Reports testers got frustrated trying out these new controls in the test lab. It takes awhile to get used to saying, “Hi, TV” to get things started. And waving your hands at the screen can get tiring. The special remotes are helpful for Internet features but for most TV watching, regular remotes work better.
Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.