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$62.50

When you purchase a block of Microsoft Points, they're applied to your Windows Live ID, so you can use them on Zune Marketplace (to buy music) or on Xbox Live, via an Xbox 360, to purchase Xbox Live Arcade titles, video rentals, and other items. Sticking with the Zune Marketplace discussion for now, as you purchase songs online, your pool of available points is depleted. Therein lies the problem with Microsoft Points: there's no actual way you'll ever evenly spend the points you've purchased. You're essentially giving Microsoft an interest-free loan.

Here's why: individual songs on Zune Marketplace are typically 79 Microsoft Points (which is equivalent to 99 cents, the same price that Apple typically charges for a single song), but 79 doesn't divide equally into 100, 500, 1,000, 2,000, or 5,000. Therefore, no matter what you buy, there will always be points left over. Points that you paid Microsoft for. Money that is now in Microsoft's bank account and not yours, accruing interest. That's right: you've given Microsoft a loan.

Our advice here is very simple. Don't buy content from Zune Marketplace, even if you are a huge believer in the Zune vision and think that the Zune devices are next to godliness. You're wasting your money.

Any Xbox 360 or Zune user will occasionally need to do a Microsoft Points-to-currency conversion. Unless you're truly a math whiz, an automated calculator can come in handy. Several are available online, but a good one can be found at the Unofficial Microsoft Points Converter site (www.mspconverter.com). It works with a variety of currencies, not just U.S. dollars.

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