Your IRS tax rebate check can buy more tech fun than you think. A search for goodies from Apple, Asus, LG, Magnavox, Garmin, and others turns up computers, flat screens, a Blu-ray DVD burner, and more.

May 12, 2008

8 Min Read

You have some money stashed away. And even if you don’t have it right now, you will have some in the not too distant future. That’s the problem with getting the government involved in anything -- no one there can keep a secret. So, depending on how much you paid in taxes and how you filed, you should see $300, $600, or, in some cases, $1,200 magically appear in your mailbox as part of the government’s Economic Stimulus Package.

While you may be thinking about paying down some bills, forget about it. The goal of the program is to see you spend, spend, spend. After all, it is your money you’re getting back and what better way to celebrate its unplanned arrival than to send it off again in exchange for goods and services?

But what should you spend it on? There are so many possibilities, so many opportunities to make your cash count during these uncertain economic times, that it could become a difficult decision. Well, fear not! We’ve compiled a short list of easy choices that are guaranteed to keep that check from burning a hole in the pocket of your otherwise pristine, tailored-made, pants. Follow along and it will be gone before you know it -- the check, that is, not your pants.

On The Cheap

You open the mail and you find yourself staring at greetings from the President and a check for $300. That’s not very much, is it? It’ll get you a tank of gas, but can you actually buy something meaningful? Oh yes!

The 19" Magnavox 19MF337B TV will downvert 1080p to fit its 1440x900 resolution. It can be found for around $280.

Ironkey has a range of thumb drives that will take you from 1GB to 8GB, ranging from $79 to $299. The company’s claim to fame -- other than what it says is one of the most aggressive encryption schemes available for your data -- is that its drive is self-aware and will self-destruct if it detects someone is attempting to tamper with it.

If you’re into rebates (you just got one, right?), you’ll soon be able to pickup either Samsung’s Access ($199) or LG’s Vu ($299) both priced to fit into your wallet after a rebate. Both of these phones support AT&T’s MediaFlo mobile TV service and if you thought YouTube was a hoot, just wait until you see what’s on that new thing they call television!

How about a computer? No way for $300, right? Au contraire, mes amis! You can latch on to an Asus Eee PC 2G laptop for $300 or Shuttle’s KPC for $199. These Linux-based computers are real and functional, not just status symbols for your coffee table. Keep in mind that the KPC will need a keyboard, mouse, and monitor but most of us have closets full of those things, don’t we?

Want an upgrade for your PC? Try these on: Hitachi has just released its Travelstar 7K320, a 320GB 2.5-inch hard drive for your laptop that will set you back just $219. For about $30, you can add an Apricorn DriveWire. That’s a hardware/software combo for cloning your portable’s current drive onto the new Travelstar and, after that, it’s kismet.

But you don’t have a portable; you have a desktop PC, don’t you? Leave a dollar in your pocket and pick up an LG Super Multi Blu-ray disc burner & HD DVD-ROM drive ($299) for one of your external 5-inch bays. It reads and burns Blu-ray and, just so you don’t have to melt your HD-DVD discs in early adopter rage, it will read those as well.

Do you have an iPod Touch? (Don’t worry; we’ll get to that.) If you do, then you absolutely, positively need Philips DCP951 portable DVD player. It will set you back $190 and it’s more of a handheld than desktop device -- with a docking port for you iPod Touch.

Hankering for an LCD TV? For $300? Yes, you’re in luck! Magnavox’s model 19MF337B is a 19-inch TV that supports NTSC/ATSC/QAM and will downvert 1080p to fit its 1440x900 resolution. Best of all, you can probably find it for around $280.

Moderate Spending Sprees

All right, you got a $600 check. Your eyes are ablaze and here are some possibilities:

You need an iPod Touch. You do, really. It’s amazing and it’s not the iPhone. We could have suggested that you purchase the teeny-weeny 8GB model for just $299 but it’s not enough. Trust us on that evaluation. You need either the 16GB version ($399) or the, gasp, drool, 32GB model ($499). It’s these two that have enough storage space for music and videos that will get you through a plane flight. (The 8GB Touch is fine for a gym workout.)

Yes, we might have mentioned the 16GB iPhone for a meager $499 but adding in the cost of the service contract required to make your calls will push that price well above even the top $1,200 stimulus check you’re likely to see. Sorry.

Instead, go upscale on laptop and desktop PCs. There’s the Asus Eee PC 4G with a 4GB solid state disk for $350 or, go big time with an Eee PC 900 ($550), which has an 8.9-inch screen that you can actually look at for long periods of time without getting a migraine. Need a desktop PC? No problem. Acer’s ASL310-UD430A will grab $400 from your pocket. It’s minimalist (both in size and talent) but it will let you browse the Internet without breaking a sweat. A keyboard and mouse are included, but bring your own monitor.

HannsG's HG-281 DPB 28" monitor has a 1920x1200 resolution as well as a pair of 2.5-watt speakers for about $588.

If you have some room on your desk, consider HannsG’s HG-281DPB LCD monitor. It’s 28-inches (all right, 27.5 if you want to be picky) of absolute viewing heaven. The monitor has a 1920x1200 resolution and, as any purist knows, that’s High Definition country. Along with the usual VGA and DVI inputs, the 281DPB sports both component and HDMI connections as well as a pair of 2.5-watt speakers. has it for $588.

High-Ticket Splurges

Filing a joint tax return could net you $1,200 from your Uncle in Washington. You’re in stimulus heaven now -- assuming the both of you can agree on what to buy.

Real HDTVs can be expensive, but Vizio markets a 42-inch model (VS42LF) that will take a $1,000 bite out of your group hug and delivers a 1920x1080 resolution for HD viewing (1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p, 480i). It’s NTSC/ATSC/QAM compatible, has multiple inputs for a variety of external components, and even has two 10-watt speakers.

Your choice of computers rises considerably as the value of your stimulus check does. Apple’s MacBook starts life at $1,099 and, to be blatantly honest in an otherwise PC-centric environment, Apple’s laptops are quite good. On the desk, you could easily find yourself setting up Cyberpower’s GI7270. The 3GHz Intel E8400 processor and 3GB of memory give it some honest computing "oomph" but the Nvidia 8500GT graphics card won’t do much for gaming. As with most such deals, you’ll need a monitor but the GI7270’s $800 price tag should leave you with enough change to make that happen too.

Do you like someone to talk to when you get lost in your vehicle? How about you don’t get lost (mostly) and can talk your lips off? You can do that with Garmin’s nuvi 880. This $1,000 GPS device has a 4.3-inch, 480-by-272-pixel screen and that’s great. But what earns the 880 its gold standard is that it has speech recognition technology inside with a remote push-to-talk microphone that you can mount on your steering wheel. No training is needed and all of its function can be (literally) called upon. And it does talk back.

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