I’ve been spending some time trying to buy a laptop for my mother.  

Every computer she’s ever had has been given to her as a hand-me-down.  Her current PC is a tired old Compaq that I bought 10 years ago, which finally gave its last dying breath.

I lobbied my brothers for some cash and we decided to buy her an inexpensive laptop, figuring that because she lives in a condo, she is always in need of space —and more to the point, is in a continual state of bewilderment over cables, wires and hooking things up.

Her needs are very basic.  She just needs a PC to connect to AOL and do her email.   I wanted to get her a printer as well, and preferred a system with wifi. Most importantly, I really wanted a system with at least a 15” screen size. Finally, I felt that getting at least a 1 year service plan would be prudent.

I was tasked with shopping for a PC and decided on Dell. 

That’s when things got interesting. You can find deals at Dell, but you have to really shop.  The advertised deals are never good enough.  You have to really dig.  And one trick is to play off the Small Business website against the Home Office website.  The results are surprising.

I created a basic spreadsheet, which roughly shows the differences:

Laptop Dept RAM WIFI? Screen Printer Price
Inspiron 1200 Home office 256 No 14 720 basic $587
Inspiron 1200 Small Bus 256 No 15 924 $712
Inspiron 6000 Small Bus 256 Yes 15.4 924 $739
Inspiron 2200 Small Bus 256 Yes 15 924 $781
Inspiron 6000 Home office 512 Yes 15.4 720 basic $838
Inspiron 2200 Home office 256 Yes 15 720 basic $874

These prices includes shipping, handling and tax and a one year service plan (I missed a few pennies here and there but nothing material).   One odd fact is that in Home Office, Recycling is free, but costs $25 for small business.

Now, note the differences.  An Inspiron 2200 in Small Business with a better printer (the 924) is over a $90 less than in Home Office.  An Inspiron 6000 with a better printer (but less RAM) is about $100 less in Small Business (the difference is about $50 if you equal the RAM). The other differences are there to see.

Lesson learned:  Dell is tricky in their pricing.  When shopping for a personal system, really work the website and you’ll be surprised as to how much you can save.  Or try the Dell Outlet — that’s what we use at the office.  We’ve found that the Outlet PCs are new or practically new and you can save some money there as well (but again, you have to shop and play it against the new systems).

And you also have to look for the freebies. I almost went right by a free upgrade to a CD/DVD burner on the Inspiron 6000 — it wasn’t pre-selected!

Alex Eckelberry