Fire up your Web browser and check for a stock quote at your favorite "portal" site and you will likely see a screen decorated with ads for some of the many discount brokers urging you to trade with them online. Their commissions are low (as little as $7 a trade), access is easy, and trades are executed quickly. What's not to like?

Alas, none of the discount online brokers offers the depth and quality of research available from full-service brokers, many of whom offer online trading, but at much higher commissions. So how can an individual investor hope to play on a level with the big boys without the heavy commissions?

While you can't match everything the big brokers offer, a resourceful Web investor on a budget can do pretty well. Here's where to look:

For the most basic stuff quotes, a quick profile of a company and its current financial information your Internet portal site will probably do the job. If not, try www.excite.com, or www.yahoo.com. Their financial areas offer quotes, with other basic data such as 52-week price ranges, price/earnings ratios and dividend information.

They also offer charting, which allows you to see the stock's price performance during periods ranging from the current day to the previous five years. There are current news stories, most of them gleaned from the P.R. and financial newswires. You can also find out how many brokers are rating a particular stock as a "buy," "hold," or "neutral." Don't expect to see a "sell" rating. Brokers almost never recommend a stock be sold, at least not in public.

Similar information is also offered by such sites as www.marketguide.com and www.marketwatch.com. So does the enormously popular "Motley Fool" Web site (www.fool.com) sponsored by the brothers Tom and David Gardner. This site is notable for two other features: a lot of discussion about various investment approaches, such as the famous "Dow Ten" strategy, and a large number of message forums where investors swap information and opinions about stocks.

There's not a message base for every stock but there are a lot of them, and while there is much chaff in the messages, they are worth scanning because they tend to have the latest scuttlebutt on a company. And, as Warren Buffett will tell you, company scuttlebutt is worth knowing. A similarly large base of messages can be found at www.yahoo.com.

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