Spending

Shopping for a laptop? Here's what you need to know to get a good deal

Many consumers are buying laptops for work or school during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here's how to shop smart and get a cost-effective new or refurbished personal computer.

Twenty/20

If you've been laptop shopping during the last couple months, you might have noticed pickings are slim. In the last seven weeks, laptop sales have increased by 42% over the same period last year, according to data from NPD Group, a market research firm. The long-term reality of remote work along with the implementation of virtual learning leads to electronics like laptops being in high demand. 

"Popular laptop and tablet models, typically the middle-range priced options, were sold out a couple weeks ago," says Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert. "I've also heard parents complain about this problem." 

If you're still in need of a new laptop, you may find that stores might be better stocked now than they were during the back-to-school rush. Plus, there are some spending holidays approaching that can make your budget stretch even further.

Here are answers to five questions about how to shop smart when buying a computer. 

How much should I be spending on a laptop? 

Between $800 and $1,000 is a "sweet spot for a nice ultraportable," says Tom Brant, hardware analyst at PCMag. If you're looking for a budget laptop, try to spend around $500, and if you're buying a Chromebook, $300. Both will work for school, Brant says. 

"The price $500 is a good budget to set, to minimize price without getting something too cheap to do what you need it to do," says Kristin McGrath, shopping expert at Offers.com. 

Is it a bad idea to buy a used laptop?

Not at all, as long as it is properly refurbished. 

"Every manufacturer and reseller has different standards for refurbishing previously used laptops," Brant says. "A slight discount on a rigorously tested MacBook Pro that Apple sells with the same warranty as a new one might be worth the small cost savings." 

However, buying a refurbished laptop from a third party "could be chancy," he says, as you don't know much about their standards. 

The price $500 is a good budget to set, to minimize price without getting something too cheap to do what you need it to do.
Kristin McGrath
Shopping Expert at Offers.com

"It's best to buy any refurbished machine directly from the manufacturer's online store instead of from a reseller, especially a reseller that may be hawking refurbs from 'marketplace' sellers or third parties on its platform," he says.

Woroch agrees that you need to ensure that it is certified refurbished, or guaranteed to have all the functions as if it were in new condition. She has had luck at DellOutlet.com, an official Dell-run site where you can buy their refurbished laptops at a discount. For example, an Inspiron 17" 3000 that originally retailed for $660 is being sold for $549 at DellOutlet.com (prices are subject to change). 

What are some brands that are known for quality and price? 

If you don't want to buy a refurbished laptop, there are brands that make reliable but inexpensive new models.

"In recent months we've seen some standout inexpensive laptops from Lenovo, with decent build quality and surprisingly powerful AMD processors," which are the some of the better quality processors, Brant says. "Asus also sells many budget-friendly laptops that don't look or feel cheap." 

Although Woroch is a fan of refurbished laptops, when it comes to new models, she does like Acer. "It worked great for my needs as a college student," she says. "They're definitely much cheaper than new HP, Dell, or Apple models." 

In recent months we've seen some standout inexpensive laptops from Lenovo, with decent build quality and surprisingly powerful AMD processors.
Tom Brant
Hardware analyst at PCMag

How has the pandemic changed laptop shopping? 

Because of the increased need to work and attend school from home, getting a good laptop might take more time. The supply chain is not as able to absorb increased demand as it would have been in previous years, Brant says. 

"The most important tip is to be patient if at all possible when you see a decent laptop that's sold out," he says. "Waiting a few days or a few weeks is better than buying a mediocre machine that will disappoint you for years."

If you can, wait until Black Friday or Cyber Monday, McGrath suggests. "We expect, as usual, to see some great deals on laptops during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales," she says. "You'll need to do your research beforehand to familiarize yourself with the specs you need, but if you shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, that $500 can take you a lot further." 

How else can I save money while buying a laptop? 

As with all large purchases you'll be using for a long time, you want to make sure you are getting the best value for you money. Here are other tips to help you save: 

  • Price compare. "People often assume Amazon or Best Buy have the best prices, but that's not always the case," Woroch says. "At any time, prices can fluctuate so comparison shop." Price-comparisons websites and apps can help you keep track of deals. The app Yroo allows you to search for a product and then see, side by side, the price of the product at different retailers. You can also use Camelcamelcamel.com, which shows Amazon price histories and lets you set alerts for future price drops.
  • Price match. Many big box retailers will match Amazon prices. "If you want to buy something quickly in person but Amazon has the better deal, just ask the store associate if they can honor their competitor's deal," Woroch says. Best Buy and Walmart.com (though not brick-and-mortar Walmart locations) will price-match Amazon, according to their store policies.
  • Look for coupons. Always look at Sunday sale papers and offers online to see if stores are offering discounts. Sites like CouponFollow.com aggregate deals on items like laptops, which you can browse and apply to your purchase. 

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