Score a Deal on a PC
Computer buyers find bright new vistas as retailers offer discounts before Microsoft's new system arrives
The holidays usually mean good deals on personal computers, as notebooks and desktops vie with other electronics for consumer dollars. But pushing prices down harder this year is the looming arrival of Windows Vista, Microsoft's new operating system. Scheduled for retail release in late January, Vista has forced more discounting as PC makers want consumers to spend now instead of waiting for the new operating system.
The result is great deals on computers for you, if you can resist the siren call of Vista. "There is no doubt that this is a good time to buy a computer," says Steve Kleynhans, a market analyst at Gartner. "You're going to get a lot of machine for your buck."
The deals are the best that the market has seen and that you are likely to see in the months after Vista's release, says Samir Bhavnani, a market analyst at Current Analysis. Manufacturers use pent-up demand for PCs with upgraded WindowsVista is the first major update since the release of Windows XP in 2001to boost prices for at least a while. "You'll get a better deal on a system now," Bhavnani says.
The discounts are particularly steep on notebook computers, the first choice of most consumers. Average prices on the portable PCs are falling past $850, or about 20 percent below last year's holiday season, Bhavnani says. Basic notebooks, which pack plenty of power for everyday tasks like E-mail and Web surfing, can be found for $400 or less, making them competitive with similarly powered desktops.
Freebies. And a new system doesn't necessarily mean doing without the Windows update. Many "Vista capable" systems from Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell, among others, are selling today with free upgrades to the new softwareand sometimes with free shipping, too. The coupons amount to an added discount on the cost of today's systems, considering that Microsoft will be charging at least $100 for a Vista upgrade sold separately.
In advertising next year, Microsoft will try hard to make the new Windows seem a must-have, highlighting its tighter security, updated look, and better handling of media like music and photos. PC makers hope Vista will push consumers to replace aging hardware and help keep the $200 billion market for PCs growing. "We've got to keep feeding this monster we've created," says Bruce Greenwood, a marketing director at HP.
It's easiest to get Vista on a new machine. But upgrading should go smoothly on a recent PC, such as one bought in the month or two leading up to Vista's release. "You probably will not have screwed it up too much," says Gartner's Kleynhans. Also, if the PC isn't a gift, waiting until just after Christmas to buy it might bring the best deals.
But truth is, bargain buyers can do just fine with Windows XP for the next year or two, particularly when it's fortified with add-on software, such as antivirus programs that can be had at little or no cost. "I have never told people they should wait for Vista," says Greenwood. Now, for this holiday season, you really don't have to.
This story appears in the December 11, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.