Yep, the art. You have to be very very good at it to get a good deal, almost as good as for buying a car.
So why is it so hard?
Well, I don’t really know. But here are some tips on how to make it a bit easier and more efficient.
1. Reviews – that’s a must. Before making a decision about which laptop to buy – read reviews. Tons of reviews. You can find reviews on Amazon product pages, on the manufacturer’s sites (these are usually only good for getting a feature list), independent sites (for example Laptop Magazine, Notebook Reviews, CNet and PC Magazine sites) and blogs (such as my review of the HP experience). From the reviews you can learn the technical details (like the features, benchmarks) see the comparisons with other models (or previous models for the same laptop), and of course get an idea about how the laptop actually performs and feels (although that might sometimes be a little subjective).
2. Customer Satisfaction – that is hard to know, but a good place to start would be the forums on Notebook Review site. There you can ask for opinions from owners and actual customers, and learn about the “bad” things (like the switchable graphics problem that I encountered), and tips on what to look at and what to avoid.
3. Prices – now here’s the problem: the prices that you see as the “List Price” are not the prices you should pay. It’s just like cars: the dealer puts a sticker, but everyone knows that’s not the real price, and the game is to figure out what’s the lowest you can pay without the dealer showing you the door. So, the price tips:
3.1 When to buy? Prices go down when a newer model is available. For example, Sandy Bridge Intel processors came out around October 2010, the new laptops with them started to appear everywhere right after the New Year, and suddenly all the prices on the previous i7/i5/i3 series laptops started to go down. How to expect that to happen? Well, here’s a tip: Intel will announce new series of the processors this October as well. But generally it is hard to know whether to wait for a new model to come out or not.
3.2 Use coupons!!! Especially if you’re buying from HP.COM or DELL.COM – never ever shop there without checking for coupons first. On DELL some of the coupons may be stackable, and some may be mutually exclusive, worth adding and removing one at a time to find the right combination. On HP they usually allow only one coupon. On both sites they will show very high list prices, and then show “significant” discount, to show you that you get “a good deal”. Don’t let it foul you: you can get hundreds of dollars more (depending on the model of course) by using the coupons in addition to the automatic discount. The HP that I bought (and returned) had a list price of $1600, while I paid $1000, after taxes, using coupons. Where to find them? On Mr. Rebates, for example, when you choose the store, you’ll get the list of up-to-date coupons.
3.3 Look for deals – if you have time, you can hunt for deals. For example, I bought my HP laptop during a Memorial Day sale, which was the lowest price for that particular configuration for months (it hasn’t been that low since then). That means that you have to be patient, check the coupon resources frequently (as the coupons and discounts change very frequently), and target specific sale-prone dates (like the Memorial Day holiday, end of summer sales, or the Black Friday).
3.4 Rebates – On Mr. Rebates you can get 3-5% rebate from Dell.com, HP.com, Lenovo.com, Toshiba.com, etc. On a $1000 purchase it can be up to $50 and more cash back to your wallet.
3.5 Prebuilt Configurations – While it is tempting to configure your own system with the features that you want, it usually delays the arrival of your new laptop for weeks. You can buy a pre-built system at a very attractive price at retailers like Costco, TigerDirect, PCMall, Newegg etc.
3.6 Sales Tax – depending on where you live, you might be required to pay use taxes even if the stores don’t charge you the sales tax. But if not – shopping at a retailer that doesn’t charge the sales tax may save you more than buying a cheaper model from a retailer that does. Take that into the account.
Bottom line – it’s not just a trip to Best Buy and you’re done (or, it is but then you’ll pay hundreds of dollars more). It requires a lot of thinking, preparations, research and stamina to buy a good and reliable laptop nowadays.
Your Little Advisor.