Hardware

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.

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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.

rwbyshe9
rwbyshe9

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.

hembrasalvaje
hembrasalvaje

my current laptop that i have had for almost 4 years is a refubished one that i bought from an ex govt computer store. it has served me well and i have replace a couple hard drives and upgraded the ram and optical drive. it would have been 4-5 years old when i got it and it runs windows 7 ultimate beautifully. cant say it would run vista though

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

I have gotten some of my best deals at retail stores. The real tip is to know exactly what you need or want and look for it.

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