It's also a lot more current than your own six-year-old bike database. Bikes have changed in the past five or six years- entirely for the better. Better frames, better running gear, and MUCH better prices. Stuff that was just hitting the market on high-end bikes back in the late 1990s is now standard issue even on mid-range thumpers.
My current biases are toward Marin bikes, as that's what I'm currently doing most of my mountain riding on. I have a Pine Mountain, a classic steel hardtail. Great bike, but also about $1,350, so maybe a little out of your price range. Same frame-a very smooth-riding one-and slightly lesser components are available in the Eldridge Grade for about $1,000. Main difference: V-brakes, versus the discs on the Pine Mountain. These are upgradeable, should you keep it for a long time and want to improve it.
Aluminum, of course, cuts some weight in exchange for a little stiffer ride. A really nice bike in this category is the Trek 6700 ($950). Nice Bontrager wheels, mostly Shimano shift-and-brake stuff, Duke C fork from Rockshox with adjustable stiffness. For even less dough, Raleigh's M600 ($780) gives you disc brakes plus a Judy fork and an all-Shimano drivetrain, albeit the relatively modest Deore line. Still, that's not bad.
My advice: Get thee to a bike shop with this short list, and then start comparing models. You want a bike that fits well, rides well and suits the type of riding you hope to do. I think a few rides will start to reveal differences between bikes, and you'll start to get a sense of what works for you. Have fun!
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