Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Five tips for getting a good price on a laptop


As a freelance technical writer, I buy an astronomical amount of computer equipment each year. Of course, since I have to pay for all of that equipment out of my own pocket, I am always looking for a bargain. Over the years, I’ve figured out several tricks for getting good prices on computer equipment. Here are a few things I’ve learned about getting a good price on a laptop.

1: Stay away from retail stores

If you want to get a good deal on a laptop, stay away from major electronics retailers. I don’t want to name names, but there is one major electronics store within half an hour’s drive of my house. I have noticed that its prices are always the same as the MSRP listed on the Internet. Even the store’s sale prices are more expensive than what you would pay if you were to buy the same laptop online.

Of course, the price isn’t the only reason I recommend avoiding the major electronics stores. Things like high pressure sales tactics and upcharges for things I don’t want (such as extended warranties, setup, software suites, and delivery) are enough to drive me insane. Unless I need a computer immediately I avoid the electronics stores at all costs.


2: Decide what’s important to you

If you have to have the latest and greatest laptop, you’re going to end up paying a premium price for it. However, if you don’t absolutely have to have the best, you can save big bucks by compromising on a few features. You may also find that it is cheaper to upgrade a laptop than to buy one with everything you need.

For example, a few years ago, I needed a laptop for a project I was working on. The only real requirement was that I had to have 4 GB of RAM. At the time, laptops with that much memory were really expensive. I was able to save a fortune by buying a 1 GB laptop and then buying the memory for it separately.

Here are some other ways you can save money:

  • Buy last year’s model.
  • Find a laptop that comes with Linux instead of Windows.
  • Buy a comparable system from a less expensive manufacturer.


3: Shop the online outlets

Most of the major electronics stores have online outlet stores where you can purchase open box items at a discount. A lot of PC manufacturers have similar online outlets that sell refurbished computers.

Even though some people may look down on those who buy refurbished systems, I have saved an absolute fortune by purchasing refurbished laptops. Not every computer I buy is refurbished. But if I plan to use a computer only as a lab machine, I have no problem with buying refurbished hardware.


4: Comparison shop

Several Web sites, such as My Simon (TechRepublic’s sister site) and Price Grabber, will do the comparison shopping for you. Such sites query numerous online stores and show you which store has the best price on the laptop you want. Although I whole-heartedly encourage comparison shopping, there are two things to watch out for.

First, price comparison sites examine a finite number of stores. If you know of some stores that often have good prices on laptops, it may be worthwhile to manually check their prices in case they are not included in the price query on the comparison site.

The second thing to watch out for is that some online stores will charge an obscene amount of money for shipping, just so that they can claim to have the lowest price. For instance, I once found an online store that had a computer for $200 less than anybody else, but it wanted almost $400 for shipping.

Incidentally, if you do decide to purchase a laptop from an online reseller, take the time to check out the store’s reputation. The Internet is filled with charlatans. Many years ago, I was low on cash but I needed a laptop for an upcoming project. After a lot of shopping, I found a place that had the laptop for much less than anyone else. A day after placing my order, I got a phone call from someone in Thailand who told me that the laptop that I purchased didn’t come with a battery. If I wanted the battery, it was going to cost me $200. I figured I could get by without a battery so I told the guy no thank you. Then he told me that if I wanted the power cord it was going to cost me $300. Needless to say, I canceled my order. The next day, I started receiving fraudulent charges on my credit card. I eventually got the mess cleared up, but it taught me the importance of researching vendor reputations prior to making online purchases.


5: Beware of buying used laptops

Although I sometimes buy refurbished laptops, I do not buy used laptops. The reason for this is that laptops just take too much abuse. A refurbished laptop is fully compliant with the manufacturer’s original standards and it comes with a warranty. A used laptop has no such guarantees.

If I knew someone locally who was selling a used laptop, I might consider buying it if I could test drive it first. However, I would never even consider purchasing a used laptop off the Internet. You never know if it has been dropped.

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