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Sending your kids off to college is more expensive than ever, and parents are understandably looking to recoup some tuition costs by finding deals on back-to-school shopping. Wal-Mart’s $500 student computing bundle piqued our interest, and now it’s been marked down to $398 (with free shipping!), so we decided to take a closer look.

First, here are the items you get in the standard $398 package, along with their individual prices:

• Compaq Matte Black 15.6" Presario CQ62-219WM Laptop: $348
• Quattro Qresolve New PC Assist Plan: $79.98
• Laptop Carrying Case (various available): $14.88 to $16.95, depending on item
• SanDisk 4GB USB Flash Drive: $9.88
• HP Deskjet D1660 Color Inkjet Printer: $29

That brings the total value of the items to $483.81, which means that buying the bundle will save you $85. That’s not a slam dunk, but it’s still a pretty good deal, assuming you’re getting great products for your money. Are you?

The centerpiece of the deal is the Compaq Presario, which brings 2 GB of RAM and a 250 GB hard drive to the table. That’s not exactly a super computer, but it’s plenty sufficient for most college tasks. Reviews on indicate a high level of satisfaction with the product—it’s a solid computer for that price. Still, it’s worth noting that just a month ago it was marked down even further to $298—so even with the bundle, you’re not exactly getting some unprecedented deal on this laptop.

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Next is the Quattro Qresolve Assistance Plan, which evidently connects you with a tech support service that helps you set up your new PC and configure firewalls and network settings. User reviews range from “completely useless” to “great service,” and it’s hard to imagine that your typical tech-savvy college student will need help setting up his or her new laptop. As such, it probably doesn’t add much to the package.

The rest of the bundle seems solid—between the carrying case, the flash drive and the cheap-but-effective printer, Walmart has done a good job of identifying the key computing needs of college students. And it’s a good deal for parents who don’t want to go through the hassle of shopping for laptops and peripherals.

Still, pricing out the individual components reveals only moderate savings, and most students would probably be better off ditching the PC Assist Plan, finding a laptop that will hold its value a bit better, and splitting the cost of a wireless printer with their new roommates .

Bottom Line: This is a fast and cheap solution to back-to-school shopping, but nothing out of this world. 

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