How to Save Money on Your Next Laptop

Last Updated Jan 25, 2011 10:28 AM EST

In the market for a new laptop? Maybe even multiple new laptops? (Nothing makes employees happier than a speedy new PC.) Before you whip out the corporate Amex, follow these five tips to make sure you get the best possible deal.

1. Choose a Refurbished Model

Many buyers associate the word "refurbished" with "used" and/or "junk," but it's just not so. A refurbished laptop is one that was returned to the manufacturer for some reason (maybe it had a problem, or maybe the original buyer just didn't like it), and therefore can no longer be sold as new. But the manufacturer will fix any problem(s) and repackage the system so it's almost indistinguishable from new. (Better than new, some would argue.) In fact, both Apple and Dell sell refurbished laptops with the same one-year warranty as new models. Alas, that's the exception to the rule: most refurbs come with a 90-day warranty, which is their only real downside.

So what's the upside? Huge savings. A refurbished laptop might cost $50, $100, or even hundreds less than its new counterpart. I've purchased a ton of refurbished computer gear over the years, and I can honestly say I've never had a bad experience.

2. Don't Go Overboard on the Processor

The processor is one of the costliest components in a new laptop. It's also one of the most overrated. Given that most mobile workers do little more than e-mail, Web browsing, and Word/Excel/PowerPoint stuff, you don't need a fancy (and expensive) Intel Core i7 CPU. As long as you've got a dual-core processor and sufficient RAM (2GB minimum, 4GB optimum), you'll have all the horsepower you need. And you'll save hundreds on the price of your laptop.

3. Skip the Extended Warranty

I can understand the desire to protect your investment, but most consumer advocates agree that extended warranties are a waste of money. If your laptop has a problem, it will most likely present itself within the first couple months. If something happens out of warranty, well, you already have an IT person on the payroll, right? He/she can probably swap a bad hard drive faster and more efficiently than the manufacturer's support department.

4. Hunt for Discount Codes

You know that "promo code" field you see on the checkout page for almost every online store? Ever wish you had a code that would, say, chop 5% off the price or score you free shipping? All you have to do is look around. If you're at the Dell checkout page, open a new browser tab and Google "Dell coupon code." Or head to a site like Savings.com or RetailMeNot, which aggregate codes for thousands of stores. You won't always score coupon gold, but the few minutes you spend searching could prove very worthwhile.

5. Consider a Notebook/Netbook Hybrid

Netbooks are underpowered, but appreciably slim, lightweight, and affordable. Notebooks have more muscle, but they're bulkier, heavier, and more expensive. Consider something in between, like HP's new Pavilion dm1z. It comes with a dual-core processor, an 11.6-inch HD screen, and Windows 7. It weighs 3.5 pounds and measures 0.8 inches thick. And it starts at a very reasonable $449.99.

Bonus tip: Don't blindly assume that Costco, Sam's Club, or another warehouse store has the lowest laptop prices. Very often, they don't.

Any laptop-shopping tips of your own to share? You know where: the comments!

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    Rick Broida, a technology writer for more than 20 years, is the author of more than a dozen books. In addition to writing CNET's The Cheapskate blog, he contributes to CNET's iPhone Atlas.