I'm a relative newbie to CNC myself and I was in the same situation as you. I read alot and lurked here to learn beforehand. I compared all major features and specs of the top rated desktop size machines and went with a Zenbot 2424. I decided that the usable table dimensions, speed and accuracy were all comparable so the price was the deciding factor. I came in at 1825.00 for the machine, controller, Mach3 license and shipping, not to bad for a decent setup that can cut most anything. I added a Rotozip 1500 and a HF router speed control for 100.00 more as well as the assorted tooling bits from Woodcrafter for around 100.00. All in all not too bad. I have learned the basics of CNC and have done several carvings in various materials with good results. Shaun at Zenbot is very helpful and accommodating to the novice user. I plan on making the 4th axis mod and I am completing my dust shoe soon. Ther is even a Zenbot users group on Yahoo if you need assistance. I am happy I went with Zenbot. If you need some help with setup or basic CNC stuff feel free to contact me, I will try to help if I can.