Updated tips on buying a new PC

IMGP1554-smWith a nod to my previous post with tips on buying a new PC, I thought that it’s time to update the advice (just in time for “grads & dads”).

As I posted on Twitter today, PC Magazine provides an update to their regular feature on How to buy a laptop by Cisco Cheng. This follows the helpful hints that Joel Santo Domingo over at PC Magazine published in his article last fall, How to Buy a Back-to-School PC, covering what you should consider when shopping for a new PC for back to school or for you home.

Back in April, Walt Mossberg offered his own take on the spring PC buyer’s guide, “a quick cheat sheet that tries to clarify some of the issues to make shopping easier.” (A little one-sided in favour of Apple machines, and not as comprehensive a guide as some people may want. So I thought that I should update a prior post, “What kind of a computer should I buy?”, which included suggestions from Tony Hoffman of PC Magazine:

“As per my previous Tweet, I recently updated my answer to a popular question around this time of year: “What kind of a computer should I buy?”  I noted that there is something for everyone, at all price points.  It seems that new PCs are high on many people’s holiday shopping lists, and the price:performance is better than ever before.

“This week, Tony Hoffman from PC Magazine has posted a timely article on How to Buy a Bargain Laptop.

“Everyone likes a good bargain—the trick is distinguishing what’s truly a worthwhile deal from something you may regret after you’ve used it a while. We define bargain laptops as ones costing $1,000 or less, though you can find great deals at any price. These days, with retailers going the extra mile in an attempt to boost flagging sales, laptops that might otherwise be out of reach for the frugal shopper have been descending into the affordable zone. Here we’ll look at what you should be able to get for $1,000 or less.”

Notebook PCs under $1,000

For under $1,000, you can get a very nice 15″ laptop with Core 2 Duo, 4GB, 320GB & DVD Burner (after current discounts).  Or even better if you’re looking for a desktop replacement with a bigger screen, I found a 17″ (1440 x 900 resolution) notebook with an Intel Core 2 Duo T5800, 3GB memory, 320GB SATA Hard Drive, Intel 4500MHD Graphics, 802.11g wireless, 8X Slot Load CD / Dual Layer DVD+/-R Drive, 2.0M webcam, 9 cell battery, all running on Windows Vista Home Premium Edition SP1.  (Dec 17, 2008)

“Very nice when you consider a year ago the same amount got you a 17″ widescreen with a Core Duo Processor (T2350), 2 GB of memory, 120GB hard drive and DVD SuperMulti drive. Ouch.”

Double ouch: today that same $1K (actually, under $700) will get you a slim notebook like the HP Pavilion dv6t with an Intel Core i3-350M Dual Core (2.26GHz, 3MB L2 Cache) or AMD Turion II Dual-Core Mobile P520 (2.3GHz, 2MB L2 Cache), 4GB SDRAM, a wide screen 15.6″ WLED LCD, 500GB Hard Drive, DVD+/-RW optical drive, Wireless-N, Bluetooth Module and an on-board camera. Again, nearly twice the notebook PC from last fall, and I didn’t look very hard for any big discounts, but I’m sure that you’ll see plenty as people look for graduation gifts and PCs to take on vacation.

For just a little more (under $1,500 SRP before discounts), consider the HP Envy, complete with a new processor, 4GB of memory and even solid state drives in a very sleek package, or the slim beauties from Dell, the Adamo XPS, and Sony’s VAIO Z.

Below are a few of the choices from PC Magazine’s recent How to buy a laptop article…

  • Asus UL50VF-A1: a nice 15″ laptop with two Nvidia GPUs, great battery life in a sleek and light package.
  • Lenovo IdeaPad Y460: a nice 14″ all around multimedia laptop with nice design and hardware specs to match
  • Also consider models from Dell, including the value priced Dell Inspiron 14 and the Dell Studio 15.
  • Sony VAIO VPC-Z116GXS: this slick machine comes complete with the latest Intel Core i5 processor, and solid state drives that make it one of the most powerful ultraportables you can find today.

Notebook and Netbook PCs under $500

As I noted, you can get a great computer these days for far less than $1,000 depending upon your use.  As I said in my previous post…

“For under $500 at one of the big box office stores (on sale or after rebates), you can find a name-brand notebook with a 15.4-inch screen with (as I concur with many of my associates) a decent 1280×800 resolution, Intel Pentium Dual Core T3200, 120GB HDD, 2GB of memory, six cell battery, Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100, 802.11b/g wireless and a CD/DVD Burner running Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic (splurge and get Windows Vista Home Premium for a few dollars). 

“For many general computer applications (surfing the ‘net, writing term papers, listening to music and watching DVDs, streaming video from Netflix) this would fit the bill. And more.

“This tops the 1.73GHz Dual-Core processor (T2080), half GB of memory, an 80GB drive and a double layer DVD Burner with Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic I noted last year for the same amount.”  (Dec 17, 2008)

$500? I’m dating myself.

Today you can get a very good computer under $500 – sometimes under $400 – that includes just about twice as much computer as you  were able to get less than a year ago. I found one name brand OEM model with Windows 7 Home Premium, an Intel dual core T4400 (2.2 GHz, 800MHz FSB), 4GB of Memory, 320GB  SATA Hard Drive, 15.6″ WLED screen, 8X DVD+/-RW optical drive, Wireless-G Networking, on-board camera and more…  That’s twice the RAM, twice the hard drive, and a more powerful processor than the computer I saw similarly priced late last fall.  And if you shop around using one of the price comparison, daily deal or coupon sites, you can find PCs with similar specs for even less.

Even consider the current crop of excellent mini laptops, like the HP Mini 311 or crop of new mini notebooks that arrived with Windows 7. That’s what we did: we found a great deal on netbooks from HP and Toshiba, and the mid-range and very light HP DM3 notebook PC (with incredible battery life). There are great netbook choices from almost every manufacturer, including ASUS, Acer, Dell, Lenovo, MSI, HP, Samsung, Toshiba and Sony to name a few. Check out the netbook reviews on sites such as PC Magazine and PC World.

Home Desktop PCs

When you have a home office or homework area dedicated to a computer, LCD screen and a printer, I prefer a dedicated machine. For the most part, given our more mobile lifestyles (even just moving from room to room in your home), you may consider a notebook form factor for your next home PC purchase. But incredible deals can be found on home desktop PCs: last year we added a new desktop PC at home with amazing specs for just about $600 that a year ago cost more than $1,200. 

Today a PC with similar (if not better!) features and functionality can be found for under $400. You can also find great deals on mainstream desktop PCs for the home for under $300, especially inexpensive if you have an existing monitor.I also like the small, compact form factor desktop PCs from Dell (like the very sleek Dell Zinio HD – great for a home media center with Windows 7), HP, Lenovo, Acer and ASUS. For media playback in the family room, I like the new ASUS Eee Box PCs which has on-board HDMI and a small form factor that attaches to the back of your HDTV VESA mount. 

Personally, I prefer all-in-one designs like HP’s Touchsmart (on my desk at home), Lenovo IdeaCenters, MSI and others. If you’re kids use Macs at school, consider an Apple iMac. With so many models to choose from, you’ll likely find a great PC that meets your needs and price point.

And through July 30, be sure to use Bing Cashback to save even more money.

Additional articles:

A note on extended warranties and insurance: As you’ll find, many new computers come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty; some models from Asus come with standard two-year warranties, also found on purchases at big-box retailers like Costco (which offers the Costco Concierge Warranty on many home electronics). As I noted on Twitter, thanks to American Express’ Extended Warranty (which they call “buyer’s assurance”) one of our notebook PCs was completely covered long after the initial one year warranty expired.

And accidents do happen: in order to ensure that your new toy is fully covered, also consider comprehensive insurance from a provider like Safeware Insurance: they’ve been around for a long time and offer affordable, comprehensive insurance covering your device from theft, and accidental damage.

More info: Upgrade or buy a new one? Suggestions from the Seattle Times

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3 replies on “Updated tips on buying a new PC”

This is really helpful. What about the Sunday paper ads? I see a lot of computers on sale and special from different office supply stores. Are these good buys generally?

Sorry to take so long to get back to you – new UI, you know. I think that the Sunday papers are fine for general deals for mainstream PCs. You'll want to check out the tech-oriented discount and saving sites (I frequent, Dealcatcher and Techbargains to name a few) that call out the latest deals. Also check on Bing Shopping and MSN, as well as PC Magazine's top likes at…/0,2817,2336400,00.asp

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