Laptops

Five tips for getting a good price on a laptop

If you're looking for a laptop, there are deals to be had -- as well as inflated prices, hidden costs, and outright scams. Brien Posey shares some shopping do's and don'ts to help you get your money's worth.

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.

Additional resources


About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

64 comments
kant.domsved
kant.domsved

I bought a Lenovo T61p T7700, 15,4" last week and it has been used for 2 years and remain over 200 days garantee from Lenovo IBM. The unknown seller has upgrade alots, bigger and better hard drive, more memory, 2 new extra batteries, Windows 7 pro x64-bit instead of Vista, and i got a backpage too. I am very please with that. The price is about 1/4 from the list! But I have to ordered new keyboard and touchpadfrom ebay as well for $40:00. I am very please with my second hand Lenovo and its working just fine. /Regards

skooboy
skooboy

In the past year, I've setup innumerable laptops for customers. I can't believe the absolute crap manufactured & sold by Dell, Compaq-HP, and let's not even mention the shee-yot made by Gateway. The crapware, cheap drivers written by bone-headed overseas towelheads is just disgusting. I'll only purchase from whitebox manufacturers who do none of the above. I don't why the rest of you support these sh@t companies.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

You say in #5 not to by used hardware but in #3 it's OK to buy refurbished or open box. THat is rediculous. A lot of open box/refurbished items have been used. I know of a story where someone printed 5000 pages on a printer and then returned it. The idiots [in this case at Staples] put it back into stock as an open box and didn't bother doing a page count. You can't tell for an open box/refuurbished on what was wrong with it. [If you can't afford the full price, that could be different.] You do have to watch it when it comes to in store or online "deals". Some are still trying to dump models with Pentium still in them. Even something that has dual core in the name [i.e. Pentium Dual Core or Core 2 Duo] are out. THis is old technology - most likely with limited memory and/or expandability.

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

I bought a Refurb and it had no stand off screws in the VGA port the HDD was not replaced, it shipped with a bagged HDD that had over 12,000 reallocated / removed from use sectors the plastic piece that goes into the PCMCIA slot was missing and the Refurb OS disk that shipped with it is faulty and can't be used to install

bkn2000
bkn2000

The cheap laptops being sold new are mostly junk, like using the very dated Pentium 4xxx processors with this crappy GMA4500 video chip. I only use 7.2K HD, high-end RAM and a recent on-board video chip (not an old one like HD3200, I mean HD4250+) On a budget you will not get a dedicated card... lol The mixture of both high and low end stuff can be found in the $400-800 range, and only an expert can distinguish the differences. Do your research first and see which processors and mobo chipsets are new (2010) or old stuff. Check which version of Direct X will run as well as bus speed. In a nutshell, decide what you need, what can be compromised and then wait for a good deal. Usually takes about a month or so. I do most of my shopping at New Egg.... and we have a local Tiger Direct (CompUSA) outlet if I am in a rush.

phil
phil

As part of what my company does we resell Pcs, notebooks and nearly everything related. Pricing for laptops is most significantly affected by technology shifts. For instance Vista laptops are still available (just) but a serious problem for manufacturers and retailers to shift. This means they are sometimes hundreds of pounds (and therefore more hundreds of dollars) cheaper than models with the same spec but longer shelf life (such as windows 7 machines). While I'd never recommend vista it might be a good choice if you have another way of putting an operating system on your laptop. Vista pro has rights to downgrade to XP. The other thing that affects laptop price is seasonality. Around mid winter a lot of distribution closes (particularly in europe), meaning a lot of new product is delayed until the 3rd or 4th week in January. This new product will severly affect the price of older stuff that wasn't sold in early January, hence some good bargains appear. A third factor is the quick profit machines which get made to boost market share. Acer as an example make a range called extensa, these are slight reworkings of similar products in a diffrent chasis. They are mass produced and sold at a discount price. Spotting these deals is a bit hit and miss but there can be decent savings. A fair few machines sold at Christmas are this type. One thing to remember margins on laptops can be as low as 5% online. So don't expect big discounts from hard pressed independents trying to compete with box-it ship-it models like online retailers.

savuto
savuto

I will disagree here with the comment of avoiding B&M stores. I have bought 4 laptops, 3 of which I bought at Office Depot and Staples from whom I got better prices than I could from any online source. Granted they were all special offers and required sending in for rebates, which I normally refuse to consider. However they were equipped with what I needed and in one case only available in the format (an antiglare 17" screen) that I was unable to source anywhere else. Being an inveterate price shopper, I looked then and later for the same of similar Laptops and did not find a better price. What this means is that if you are patient and watchful, you may indeed be able to purchase a laptop locally at a better price than online.

cbutler
cbutler

In my experience as both IT support at a major wall street technology firm and now as an independent contractor working through three consultancy groups, NEVER BUY ANY MANUFACTURER's consumer grade laptops. They are almost without exception built like what their 400 dollar price suggests, which is no long term durability. Go for business class refurbished laptops if you must save some money. Dell: Don't buy inspirons, if I have to replace another keyboard for another family member (none of my clients use them) I will go nuts. Stick to the Latitude or Precision series. The IBM thinkpads are solid if you get the ones that can be used with a docking station (to oversimplify the selection process while shopping) one exception I have seen has been some HP consumer class laptops, but I have limited exposure to them. Love Dell business class laptops because all you need is a Dell branded windows XP disc from ANY other business class dell, and you can wipe and reinstall windows xp without activation hassles, etc. (when I wipe reinstall laptops at larger clients, I use the latest build Dell XP disc because it has all the service packs and security updates as of the date of the CD's build, and it saves HOURS of Microsoft updates getting the machine to a fully updated state where we can take a baseline hard drive image to fall back to in future) this is within the terms of the XP license the laptop carries (checked with dell support on numerous occasions) Just my two cents. C.

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

Doesn't help me. I've been shopping for a new laptop to replace my current one, about 6 years old. I really have only one requirement. My current laptop has a 1400X1050 15" screen. I want the same or better resolution in my new laptop. None of the stores have high res screen laptops in stock. None of the online stores make it easy to search for a high res screen. So I'm kinda stuck.

rwbyshe
rwbyshe

The first thing I tell people who are "shopping" for a new PC whether it's a desktop or a laptop is this: DON'T EVER IMPULSE BUY ANY COMPUTER!!! Do your homework and know before you put your money down that this is the computer for you. I for the most part completely agree with you on the other tips that you mentioned. My only potential disagreement with you is Linux. That's JMHO

rob123q
rob123q

I agree, a retail store can be the cheapest place to buy if you know when to go. Black Friday can be a pain but if you do not mind standing in line. I went to Staples, waited for less then an hour and got an HP Pavillion dm4t series laptop with a Intel(R) Core(TM) i5-430M Dual Core processor (2.26GHz), 4 gig ram, 500 gig HDD, DVD burner and HD screen for 399.00 and then a 50.00 rebate. Stores like Best Buy offer good deals but scare people into buying a protection plan that runs around 129.00 making a good deal sour only to have a High School kid try to work on your laptop. (I have heard horror stories from a former employee who was a high school student while working there). Anyway, there are good deals out there at the retail level, you just need to look.

allen
allen

In my experience, retail stores have had the best buys on similar products usually by more that $100.00, I'm frequently asked for recommendations, I suggest determining what you need first, then shop the retail stores on-line and in their mailers for the best deal. I never recommend Best Buy, they have the worst return policy. I've recently send a lot of people to Office Depot, where they have saved hundreds of dollars. Sometimes you have to wait a couple of weeks for the sale prices to cycle around, so keep watch and get the best deal. Never buy Used! If you only have $300.00, buy a cheap new computer, it's probably better than any used one at the same price.

zilliz
zilliz

I have to disagree with the advice to get a machine with Linux, unless you're already familiar with the OS and/or are a techie. Nothing against Linux, but it's not mainstream enough for the casual buyer to get help down the road if necessary.

zerg1961
zerg1961

I always buy my equipment through the same store as I know the owner well and he always gives me a good deal, plus I can buy my machines without windows and other software I don't need or want. Most stores here will not sell you a new laptop without windows, and I never shop at the large retailers as I find most of the kids they try to pass off as salespeople have no idea, at all. I do love the look on their faces when you ask how much the laptop/pc will cost without MS windows or MS office, and of course Nortons, they just won't do it, which is why I stick to the small retailers.

paultunes50
paultunes50

i have only been burned once buying a laptop off the internet. i do generally buy Macs which seem to hold up better. at eBay you can even get a warranty for your used laptop purchase. one plus about buying a used computer is that often you can get Applications already loaded on it like Office, Photoshop, Final Cut Pro that if you had to go and buy would cost many additional hundreds of dollars. if you back your drive up you can always have these even when the unit goes down.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Or consumer grade. Business grade typically costs more for a reason and the reveiws of the consumer lines are often quite different than reveiws of business lines.

dirtylaundry
dirtylaundry

that's used...I think you got ripped-off :( as stated before refurb is when it has gone thru the orig Mfg checklist for QC before it goes out...and what you listed in your post was clearly not. You should be able to get a new OS disk...or return the laptop for that matter and have it RMA'd or ask for your $ back.

charleswdavis6670
charleswdavis6670

If you do choose "retail" give either Costco or Sam's Club a try.

rwbyshe
rwbyshe

I think the gist of the commentary regarding buying online is that you generally will find better deals there than in the retail outlets. It's certainly not impossible to find a deal such as you did but that was one specific case versus a multitude of online outlets that typically offer much better deals.

dirtylaundry
dirtylaundry

is they are the ones that overheat the most: HPs, Compaqs, etc You can drastically extend the life of your inexpensive retail laptops if you invest in a decent laptop cooler with decent fans that draw the air away from the laptop.

phil
phil

Agree about the quality at the low end. It costs manufacturers more money to put a good battery in and better internal components. People rarely buy a base specification car, yet seem to think that a base spec laptop will be wonderful. A cheap laptop may be functioning but they are not made to last. I'm still servicing some 7 year old IBMs and business class Acers, but cheap laptops are nearly always dead after 3 or fewer years. But that might be skewed by the fact that teenagers often get their hands on them.

megildea
megildea

I completely agree. Clients that are trying to save money are completely duped by the laptops aimed at the home consumer market. This means I have to work a little harder to explain why they should go with a better quality chip, graphics, etc. I also agree about Dell. With Dell it is much easier to wipe and reinstall the OS. Many other manufacturers don't supply media anymore. I also agree that the Latitude and Precision series are better quality than the Inspiron.

rwbyshe
rwbyshe

Visit the various web sites of the manufacturers and locate a Model that you are interested in, and then use PriceGrabber or PriceWatch.com etc. to search for the best pricing. You'll probably find it easier shopping for a specific model than you will by trying to do a web search for something as specific as resolution.

DaemonSlayer
DaemonSlayer

for a laptop. New Egg's power Search on laptops will give you a host of selectable features, CPU (speed & type), GPU, RAM, HDD/SSD, screen size, screen resolution, OS (Win or Mac), even weight. I don't work for them, but I have used them for system builds and upgrades as well as my wife's laptop purchase.

dirtylaundry
dirtylaundry

many blu-ray equipped laptops usually have HD res screens (just make sure it says HD) - and then check the vid card on it, go home and check reviews on those - this should please you when you finally do make a purchase.

smj
smj

I have the same situation, and commiserate. I have found that the HP ENVY 17 series is available with an option for 1920 X 1080. I haven't actually decided to get it yet though, so cannot comment on the actual product.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Just don't buy a netbook or a Tecra and you should be fine. Do you need any kind of graphic performance? Because then you will find difficulties and will need to shop online.

mscoulter
mscoulter

I wrote an article for my blog pertaining to consumer and small business purchasing. It is available at: http://geek-me-up.blogspot.com/2010/03/what-brand-of-computer-or-laptop-should.html In a nutshell, a consumer can get so much more if they have their system custom built, especially where they buy the parts and benefit from the OEM warranties instead of the reseller warranties. Of course this is not usually practical or possible when it comes to a laptop/notebook.

kimbaslair
kimbaslair

I only "window shop" the retail stores to get a physical feel of comparison shopping, then when I find something I like, I go online and shop for the best price as well as customer reviews of the store - I agree about watching out for the shipping charge, but that is mainly for no name stores - Linux? most people unless your a techie use windows based products, myself included except for hosting - presently I'm in the market for a new machine for my roomie who does nothing but surf the web and play hidden object games so I'm looking for a machine that is very basic; it's hard trying to get one without all the crap that's preloaded, takes me forever stripping it of non-essentials - where do you go for a basic machine without having to build one yourself? (I'm tech savy, but not a technician)

Fireboss
Fireboss

I've got mixed feelings about retail stores. If you have a relationship such that they know you deals can be had. I got a display Brother multi-function color laser for 300 listed at 799 because I let the manager know I wanted it as soon as it was marked down. OTOH I've been very successful finding better deals on line when waiting wasn't an option. I've also had excellent luck buying used off Ebay. This Sony listed at 2000 and I got it for one a month after the guy bought it. He said it crashed when hooked to an external monitor via HDMI. It never happened for me. He had receipts from his purchase and I got those along with a warranty I haven't had to use. I've purchased refurbished machines as well without any issues. The key is to know what you want and what you need - they may be different things - then search for them and accept nothing less than needed. Sometimes the retail store will match closely enough to buy there. That's good for the local economy if it can be done. Usually however they are $100 off and that's too far for me.

four49
four49

Office Depot has recently adopted the terrible return policy as well. Electronics are basically unreturnable now at Office Depot (can only be exchanged, and only within 7 days). That being said, Office Depot still has much better customer service than Best Buy will ever have.

DaemonSlayer
DaemonSlayer

Walleye-world. They demand the cheapest purchase price (for themselves) forcing vendors to cut even more corners than normal for a unit that doesn't have that much of a price difference in some cases to a better model. Then again, some people have had those cheap units last them a while, but probably only because they never really tax the computer's abilities.

garyleroy
garyleroy

Almost like a "which brand of laptop is best?" question, to which there is no genuine answer, the idea of any consistency of bargains in retail outlets is wrong. Yes, you can get special buys as long as you are willing to take what they are willing to supply you with. If you get there in time to actually get one. And if you're willing to accept the mediocre offerings they usually have for the sale items. And if they don't manage to sell you unneeded security suites at inflated prices, add some overpriced memory and a few boxes of software off their shelves. In shopping for both low-end and high-end systems for the last 8 years, online sellers (including the laptop manufacturers themselves have consistently yielded much better prices for much better equipment...plus you don't have to listen to buying or technical advice from some 3-day wonder techie whose depth of knowledge doesn't go beyond how fast a game runs.

rob123q
rob123q

I agree, never buy used! A emachine (yuk) can be very inexpensive and may surprise you. I purchased one for my mother 2 years ago (199.00 at Wal-mart) and she has never had an issue. Granted she only surfs sites for recipes and send e-mail but it was great for her. I also agree, Best Buy has the worst return policy I have ever seen! I have purchased PC's from there but only in emergencys or for a great deal. Office Depot and Staples are where i recommend people to go.

dirtylaundry
dirtylaundry

tech community site and not *people magazine* so he is speaking to his fellow techies that should know linux and therefore not be adverse to opt for that OS (w/e flavor).

zdmpetty
zdmpetty

What about the little old Ladies that are just given a laptop with linux and have almost no problems.... They must be techies, sorry.

DaemonSlayer
DaemonSlayer

"Most stores here will not sell you a new laptop without windows, and I never shop at the large retailers as I find most of the kids they try to pass off as salespeople have no idea, at all. I do love the look on their faces when you ask how much the laptop/pc will cost without MS windows or MS office, and of course Nortons, they just won't do it," The large retailers just don't stock a unit w/o an OS or the crapware from the vendor, as they don't see enough demand overall to support such sales (not to mention the pressure MS has put on vendors in the past NOT to sell a PC w/o Windows.) So yes, those kids will give you that look because they don't even know such a product even exists, let alone who sells them.

SKDTech
SKDTech

If they are transferable between owners then you need to make sure and get documentation of the license transfer as well as the original install media and license keys. Otherwise you may find yourself guilty of using pirated software. Better to supply your own software.

dirtylaundry
dirtylaundry

that a *used* computer has an unknown accident history, whereas a refurb will have been checked over to mfg standards and be under a longer warranty directly. Much of his advice is like buying a car: refurb is *pre-owned certified* and *used* is like buyer beware...only computers don't have VINs and carfax ;)

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

I bought 2 of the same unit from - MetroPC through Tiger Direct the first one had the refurb process partially completed: - they replaced the HDD with a "new" Hitachi Refurb Certified HDD as seen by - 0-POH, - O-Reallocated sectors, - etc. the problems were: - both shipped with a bagged battery - both shipped with a huge dust ball in the processor heat sink that looked like clothes dryer lint and that prevented proper cooling - and the problems previously mentioned with one unit both are now running as I had a larger HDD that I had planned on installing anyway and I have boxes of various parts that I pinched a pair of standoffs for the only thing I didn't have was a second PCMCIA slot protector

surfbeetle_z
surfbeetle_z

When spec'ing out computers for customers I always go the Dell Business line with a parts only warranty since I do the software support. SOP for me is to wipe the drive and do a fresh install of the OS to make sure there's nothing I have to worry about. About 3 or 4 years ago, I bought my wife a Walmart Black Friday Compaq 5000 series laptop. What a pain. The hard drive failed in the first week, had to contact Compaq support to get a new one. Then eventually the keyboard failed. Rather than send me a keyboard to install, they wanted me to send in the laptop. They never mentioned to not send in the battery with it. When the laptop was returned, nothing had been done to it. We sent it back, again with the battery, this time when returned, the battery was gone and the keyboard had been replaced. What a pain it was to get the battery back. Needless to say, I won't buy a Compaq again, their support is lousy. This Black Friday, I bought an e-Machine laptop for $270.00 for my wife, time will tell how it holds up, but I was unable to pull a ghost image from it since my UBCD would not boot it. I have to order the re-install media for it. Not a big deal, I just make sure all of her stuff gets backed up on my server.

50-50
50-50

What's wrong with the Toshiba Tecra line? We've had good luck with HP/Compaq business class machines.

yogi_john
yogi_john

I would not build one myself. Dell offers good deals online and I can't build for the same or less. I've built two mid-range computers in the last two years--even there I'm not sure I saved much over similar offerings from online.

mattohare
mattohare

When I couldn't get parts and supplies for equipment that I'd bought from them. When they stop carrying a printer or a notebook, they also stop carrying ink, toner, surge protectors, and other things related to the item. They're fine for paper clips, pens and paper. The electronics are just to look at.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

I'll post this under the "fantasy" section of the library...

DaemonSlayer
DaemonSlayer

... is most have a 30-90 day warranty on them, while brand spankin' new has at least a full year. The way some of these companies handle repairs though, refurbs may not be much better than just plain used.

dirtylaundry
dirtylaundry

From Tiger Direct:The term "Off-Lease" refers to a product that has been leased to, and used by, a customer, then returned to the leasing agent at the end of the lease period (typically 2 to 3 years). The leasing agent, or their third-party partner, inspects, repairs (if necessary), cleans, re-packages, and then offers the product for sale as "Off-Lease". Although we only purchase and sell the highest grade off-lease products some items will show signs of use, including minor scratches, slight wear on keyboards, etc. Purchasing off lease product saves you money, creates less waste and saves the resources that would be required to produce new products. If saving money and resources is important to you and you are not concerned with minor wear you should consider purchasing off-lease. Off lease products carry limited warranties through the original leasing agent or their third party refurbisher. See below for warranty details. For more information about Off-Lease products, click here. http://static.tigerdirect.ca/html/guid_to_refurbished_products.html The link *click here* sends you to is correct the definition of Refurb so it is misleading advertising. Whomever the leasing agent was, they did not comply with the terms. A full refund should have been honored. I hope that was your outcome.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Refurb should be good to go straight out of the box. Otherwise you are buying a project kit and should be saving money. And the fact that they can "get away with it" does not excuse it. If what you describe is the quality of any one item carrying a retailer Refurb label then I thank you for the warning and will not be purchasing refurb units from them.

SKDTech
SKDTech

You got ripped off. Refurb has to meet a basic standard, what you got does not meet that standard from any retailer or manufacturer I have done business with. I would classify what you were sent as used and sent it right back to the company I bought it from along with a request for my money back. And then I would have called my credit card company and filed a complaint.

cbutler
cbutler

Smokes it into the weeds. And it is open source. And the live boot iso is updated close to 10 times per year, to keep pace with computer hardware. google Clonezilla Live and download the latest iso and burn a CD. It is terrific.

Slayer_
Slayer_

6 out of 6 have had RAM die, they all run at at borderline meltdown temps, the battery life when new is only half an hour, and the battery quickly bites the bullet and has 20 seconds of life in the first year. The max resolution is 1024 x 768.

dirtylaundry
dirtylaundry

I gave my 74 yr old computer illiterate dad a refurbed laptop w Ubuntu and it was perfect. it kept him out of trouble with the various dubious and bogus *YOUR COMPUTER IS INFECTED* drive-by nonsense and other security issues related to panic clicking. I highly recommend it for computer illiterate and older people that are not so clueless but just surf and play some games and read email...you may need to tweak it for them to play on some sites that are java-heavy, but we are techs, so this shouldn't be a problem.

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