Saving on Computers — Hip vs. Functional

June 2012 View more

NMAG0612_FinanceI don’t have enough fingers to count how many friends have purchased iPads or tablet PC models in the last two years. My six-year-old desktop took six excruciating minutes to fully boot up today and the fan in the desktop tower continually kicks into overdrive. Maybe it’s time to upgrade, but at what cost and with what functionality?

With technology fast advancing, great deals on desktops abound these days. My dearest friend recently bought a refurbished Dell desktop for $380, complete with great software.

Many reports suggest that if you own a desktop now, your next purchase will take a different form. If you require more portability than a desktop offers, several options exist.

Tablets vs. Laptops:

First, ask yourself if a tablet model, with touch screen, is appropriate for your needs, or is a laptop a better fit? They are both portable, feature similar functions, and can use the same programs, but there are differences, including cost.

A laptop may present the best choice if you typically write longer documents, prefer a real keypad under your fingertips and don’t mind re-juicing the battery at possibly inconvenient times. The lighter-weight touch screen tablet may fit your on-the-go lifestyle if you dash off emails, love pointing, clicking and dragging on the net, and want a longer uptime before recharging.

Depending on the models you choose, the laptop typically offers the cheaper alternative than the tablet and may better serve as your go-to computer in lieu of a desktop. According to an article ,“Tablet PC vs. Laptop”, expect to pay at least $150 more for the tablet than for a laptop with similar specifications. Because I’d need a real keyboard with a tablet, I searched for accessories. Tack on another $50 to $100 if you want to prop up your tablet for more comfortable viewing and want a traditional keyboard.

Cashing-in on discounts:

Whatever your choice – and if you have patience and do your homework—you also can cash in on substantial discounts from reputable suppliers by opting for older models, dented or scratched models or refurbished computers.

First, learn why your chosen computer is being discounted. When a customer returns a computer, it can’t be sold as “new,” but basically, it is. If the computer doesn’t work, it is refurbished and re-tested by the manufacturer and resold at a discount. Floor models, though few and far between, are also discounted. Similarly, physically marred computers go on sale, work just fine, and again, are discounted. Many refurbished computers come with full warranties, so ensure you know those guarantees up front and retain written warranties.

Apple-certified refurbished products guarantee that computers perform and look like new products, are delivered in new packaging with all manuals and accessories, and have a one-year warranty—just like new Apples. I found deals that ranged from 10–24% off at At and other manufacturers, you’ll find equally as interesting deals starting at lower prices than Apple.

No matter how low the price, carefully assess the risks of buying a used computer from a private seller versus one that is refurbished. The laptop that feels like a steal could instead yield a depleted memory or a battery that requires replacement, both expensive propositions.

If you’re unsure what computer you really want, I’d recommend, which gives unbiased reviews and easy-to-locate pricing for desktops, tablets and laptops. The site breaks down reviews based on user requirements such as big screens, good for gaming, light-weight—which I found handy.

One final word—If you have a college student, explore computer and software student discounts through colleges. Also see “Computer Discounts for College Students” at