Bargain Time for Laptops

Here are five tips for buying a laptop for under $800.
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I love this complaint from PC manufacturers: "Only bananas rot faster on the shelf."

As you probably know, new PCs must be sold -- and quickly -- before the next generation makes them obsolete.

So when an entire generation of new products hits the shelf at the same time, it's a huge buying opportunity. And guess what: That's happening now with

Microsoft's

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new Vista release.

So now is an exceptional time to be in the market for a new laptop, especially for units in the $700-$800 range -- a sweet spot for most home and business users.

Manufacturers are offering great deals, especially for older XP-based machines.

And they're even offering attractive Vista deals to grab market share and stay ahead of the obsolescence game.

Either way you win. You can find the speed, storage and connectivity you need to get your work done without paying for frills.

Click here for the video version of this story from Jennifer Openshaw.

Here's how to get what you really need -- all for under $800 out the door.

  • Don't pay for souped-up processors. You might be surprised at how little processing power you need for the day-to-day stuff. Most two-year old machines have more than enough horsepower for any document, spreadsheet or Powerpoint you might throw at them. The fanciest, newest processors have higher speed, but it doesn't always translate into higher productivity -- 1.8 Ghz is usually plenty.
  • Don't overspend on storage. Laptop hard drives offer plenty of gigabytes per dollar. You can get a 60 GB high-performance drive in even the least expensive laptops, and they give you plenty so long as you don't go overboard with digital music or photos. For business you really don't need much more.And you can easily upgrade or use an external USB drive if you need more storage later. I'd also pass on the DVD writer upgrade option.
  • Basic connectivity is fine.. Nowadays, most every machine in this price range is well connected with wireless 802.11(b/g), or Wi Fi, and standard ethernet, USB 2.0 and Firewire connections. You don't need Bluetooth or broadband cellular right off the bat. You can connect with nearly anything, anytime, anywhere.
  • Stick with XP if you can. Do you need Vista? Not necessarily, and there are some good reasons to stay with Windows XP.First, XP has been refined and patched with Service Pack 2, while many bugs and problems are still found with Vista. Second, Vista runs poorly on anything less than 1 GB of memory -- 2 GB is strongly recommended, which will add $150 or so to your cost -- while XP runs fine on as little as 256 MB.
  • Check out alternative application.. This doesn't have anything to do with the PC itself, but you'll probably need some form of office suite such as Microsoft's Office 2003 or 2007. Before you buy, though, you might look at the suite from OpenOffice.org and the Thunderbird mailer. They offer the same functionality as a $650 Microsoft platform -- free and fully compatible.

So what suppliers should you look at in this under-$800 space?

The usual suspects --

H-P

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/Compaq,

Dell

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, Lenovo and Toshiba -- are well represented.

Sony's

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VAIO and

Apple

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products are out of this price range.

Other players such as Acer and Asus are fairly new to branded laptops, and I believe they're a wait-and-see.

Now, here are some tips for shopping. First, I'd ask retailers for closeout deals on the XP machines. And if buying online, look for closeout and outlet pages on their sites.

Don't always assume the vendor's recommended configurations make sense. Dell, for example, offers its Inspiron 1501 on its small-business site with a faster processor, a bigger disk drive and twice as much memory for the same price as the Inspiron 1501 on the home-office site. Also, check e-tailers

Newegg.com and

ZipZoomFly.com for preconfigured systems, which are often discounted from the manufacturer's build-to-order price.

I've always looked forward to the day my laptop would be cheaper than the airline flights I use it on. If we aren't there already, we're pretty close.

Jennifer Openshaw, a passionate advocate for helping Americans improve their finances and build their personal fortunes, is CEO of

The Millionaire Zone and America Online's personal finance editor. In addition to appearing regularly on TV shows such as "Oprah" and "Good Morning America" and on CNN, Openshaw is host of ABC Radio's "Winning Advice" and serves as an adviser to some of America's top corporations. Her new book,

"The Millionaire Zone," will hit bookstores in April 2007.