Buying a laptop on a budget takes some planning. Before you start looking, scope out a realistic budget range, starting with the worst-case bottom price and ending with your realistic can't-exceed ceiling. Jot down a list of the software you'll need to run, and check each application's requirements as you compile a feature set that represents your rock-bottom performance needs.
Limit Your Options
Take a hard look at exactly what you'll use this laptop for, and match your needs to the bottom end of your specifications. For example, choose a smaller screen if you won't need to open wide spreadsheets or view panoramic images, or opt for a slower processor if you'll only use word-processing software. Plan your purchase to minimize the extras you'll need to buy -- extra RAM, for example -- and figure any necessary add-ons into your budget. Inexpensive netbooks make good sidekicks for full-sized computers, although they typically lack the optical drives you'll need for software installation from CDs and DVDs, and don't offer the performance of an entry-level notebook.
Many computer manufacturers offer refurbished devices at sizable discounts. These typically represent consumer returns that undergo thorough testing, with replacement parts installed where any defects show up. You'll receive a manufacturer's warranty with these units, although the warranty term may differ from the coverage offered on new systems. Some refurbished units are current models, whereas others lag at least one hardware generation behind. Don't expect a broad selection.
Choose Store Demos
You can sometimes score a good deal on a floor demo when you visit a local retailer and look for display units placed on sale when new models come out. Check these units carefully for signs that they've been pounded on by kids and careless adults, and ask for verification of warranty coverage in writing. If you can't make sure everything works while you're still in the store, either walk away and find a better deal, or clarify your return privileges before you buy.
Whether you're in college or teaching school, your current ID card can entitle you to educational discounts on computer hardware and special-edition software. Many computer manufacturers offer direct discounts when you furnish them with a copy of your school ID. Some schools sell systems in their bookstores and offer the discount at the checkout counter. School staff members also qualify for price breaks, as do parents of students. A California-based not-for-profit, Student Discount Laptops, offers new and refurbished computers for high school and college students across the United States.
Active-duty military personnel and reservists with on-base access can qualify for special pricing at their Post Exchange, or PX. Don't expect the range of options you'd find in a warehouse-style retail store or on an Internet merchant site. You'll be limited to the models in stock, but you'll be able to buy at a discount without waiting for delivery. You can also obtain military discounts directly from computer manufacturers.
- Student Discount Laptops: Homepage
- HP Official Store: Exclusively for You -- Education Discounts on HP's Most Popular Products
- Dell: Military Rewards
- DON CIO News: Microsoft Home Use Program Frequently Asked Questions
- Fort Campbell Home: Shopping at Fort Campbell
- Dell Outlet
- Wayne State University: A Comprehensive Guide for Buying Laptop Computers
- PCWorld: Holiday Laptop Buying Guide: Shopping for the Right Notebook
- PCMag.com: How to Buy Cheap Laptops
- PCMag.com: How to Buy a Laptop
- Photo Credit Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
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