3 Cheap PCs for the Price of One Tablet

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When the Apple ( AAPL), H-P ( HPQ) or Research in Motion ( RIMM) spinmeisters dreamed up the notion of low-cost tablet computers, I seriously doubt they expected their brainchild would not just be pricier than a normal notebook, but a lot pricier.

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Do the math: A decent iPad 2 starts at about $499. But true ready-for-business tablets such as the 64 GB Verizon ( VZ) Wi-Fi and 3G iPad can top $800 -- and that's before the cover, the keyboard and the nutty $30 spare charger.
Fry's, an electronics superstore, offers a nice online service to help your chances of finding a $300 Toshiba Satellite 15.6-inch Notebook in stock somewhere.

Compare that spend to the bread and butter of business mobility -- the notebook PC. These days, with just a bit of effort, a perfectly solid business-ready portable computer can be had for way less than $400.

So my inner cheapskate wondered: How many legitimate work PCs can I get for what I would spend on a $1,000 tablet?

Let's find out, shall we?

Compaq 15.6-inch Presario ($278 from Walmart.com)
We skinflints of the world know where the money is: Wal-Mart ( WMT). The company routinely offers solid PCs for less than $300. Recently, I was dumbfounded by the value of this Compaq Presario. Sure, this 15.6-inch computer is a refurb, comes with a snoringly slow Celeron 900 processor and a limited 2 GB of RAM. But honestly, how much more do you need for basic Web computing and word processing at the office? And this unit comes with a 250 GB SATA hard drive, which means it's plenty fast. Plus it has Wi-Fi connectivity, a bunch of USB ports and Windows ( MSFT) 7 installed. And if all that doesn't grab you, if you buy before July 31, you have six months to pay off the computer with no interest. Say you divide that $278 price tag by six; that works out to just $47 a month. That's less than a tank of gas. And for that, you are not leasing a computer, you are buying it. Is there a better business IT bargain on the market? Probably not.

Toshiba Satellite 15.6-inch Notebook ($300 at Fry's -- in-store only)
Yes, you will have to get off your you-know-what and brave the in-store elements. But Fry's, an electronics superstore, offers a nice online service to help your chances of finding one in stock somewhere. Besides having a nearly full-sized keyboard, this computer has a nearly full-size numeric keyboard. Then there is the full-on eSATA USB combo connection, meaning just about any next-gen storage device will rock on this bad boy. The Toshiba comes preloaded with face recognition; Toshiba's uber-cool, Apple-like multitouch mouse control; a six-cell battery; and one of Intel's ( INTC) unloved, but effective for business, Pentium P6200 processors. You'll miss a lot of high-end bells and whistles, but for three hundred bucks, who cares.

Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 series ($429 at TigerDirect)
Since I have been such a good shopper, I can reward myself by going a whole $7 over budget. But for this PC, money is no object. The legendary ThinkPad is the perfect 100% mobile work solution. This baby is a Windows 7, 64-bit, Intel Core Duo-powered notebook PC with a fab high-resolution 15.6-inch screen. It comes with a DVD burner, 2 GB of RAM and four hours of battery life. Just to mention a few perks. The ThinkPad has been the weapon of choice of practically every corporate road warrior since it came out in 1992, and now you can have one for less than a nice client lunch.

Three laptops for one tablet? Yup, you can do it. And you can also start wondering if that tablet you crave is really worth the money.

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.