Gateway, HP, and EMachines all have $399 computers in the stores for Christmas. Here’s an article about Gateway’s announcement today. The Gateway configuration is typical – 1.8GHz Celeron processor, 128Mb RAM, 40Gb hard drive, Windows XP Home Edition, and a CD recorder. (The price does not include a monitor, and you have to wait for a $100 rebate.)

If you’re really pressed for money, the cheap computers are a remarkable buy. If you had your druthers, you’d rather spend more to get better quality components, slightly higher specs, a few other features, and better support. And don’t forget that these computers do not include Microsoft Office – Word, Excel, and Outlook. Those programs are so ubiquitous that most people never think about them until they get home – and it’s expensive to buy the Office suite later.

And if your home computer might ever be used to play a game – the kind of game that costs $39.99 at Best Buy – you have quite different needs that cost a bit more money. So think ahead before you buy the cheapies!

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