PC Shopping Tips for Back-to-School Deals

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Back-to-school sales are well under way. And stuff is cheap -- six glue sticks for 99 cents!

Another good deal this time of year is a computer. While the holiday season is considered the best time to get a deal on a computer, back-to-school is a close second, according to Steve Baker, an analyst for NPD Group.

New portable all-in-one computers that look like giant tablets (20-inch diagonal screen) just came out from Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ). Apple ( AAPL) updated its MacBook Air last month. And Gateway just announced its back-to-school lineup with desktops starting at $298 and laptops at $380.

There are lots of new models, shapes, prices and features -- touchscreens are on some of the pricier models to help use the latest operating system from Microsoft ( MSFT). You can buy a basic laptop for $200, or splurge on a loaded one for a few grand.

Beyond the deals, students need a computer for school. According to a survey of students by market researcher Lab 42, 82% plan to head to college with a new computer.

But it may be tricky to find the latest and greatest on store shelves. Rare among the recent Sunday ads were laptops with fourth-generation chips from Intel Corp. ( INTC), which unveiled the new chip in June.

"It's a combination of things," Baker said. "There's still plenty of generation-three stuff out there and they're certainly being reduced in price. Fourth-gen is still expensive. All the product that is going to use Haswell (the name of the fourth-gen chip) hasn't been released yet. There isn't a huge amount of product out there yet."

And that's good news if you're on a budget. As computer makers launch new models, they're clearing out the old. Retailers tend to toss in free software and accessories to entice shoppers -- from a free year of Internet security to a complete student version of Microsoft Office.

Microsoft has long offered student discounts. A few years ago, it offered students the entire Microsoft Office Suite for $60, or 90% off the retail price and half the price of its student version of Office.

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