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October 31, 2005

Review: “Solid $500 Laptops”

Tom Spring at PC World:

Is the idea of getting a capable notebook from a major vendor for just $500 too good to be true? Not if your needs are modest. Although such deals involve definite catches, our tests revealed that new bargain-basement models work well if you want a machine that handles e-mail, Web surfing, word processing, and other run-of-the-mill productivity chores.

We tested laptops from Acer, Dell, and HP’s Compaq line; each company sells basic models for around $500 (after rebates). Gateway and IBM are also getting into the act: As we went to press, both were advertising units starting in the $500 range after rebates.

These ultralow-priced systems challenge the adage that even the most inexpensive laptops are costlier than the lowest-priced desktops.

Thanks to strong sales of budget notebooks, in August 2005 more laptops than desktops sold at retail stores for the first time ever. Notebooks represented 52 percent of retail PC sales, according to NPD. The rise in sales corresponds to a fall in prices: The average cost of a notebook during August 2004 was $1350; in August of this year, it was $1100, NPD says.

Hit the link for the full reviews of the Acer Aspire 3003LCi, HP’s Compaq Presario M2000, and Dell Inspiron 1200. Note that for each of them you have to check the rebates and special offers carefully to make sure the total comes in under $500. Beyond that, they all seemed fairly capable although you have to watch the features included. For instance, I’m picky about Wi-Fi and only the Acer has that built in. The Acer also has a faster processor and more hard disk storage, but much worse battery life. PC World rated it the winner but only by a hair.

So where’s this all going?

How low can laptop prices go? Lower than $500, say a number of PC vendors.

The cheapest notebooks could sink to the $400 range by the end of this year and may even drop as low as $300 by late 2006, according to various computer vendors, chip experts, and PC industry observers. In fact, as we went to press CompUSA was selling a Compaq laptop for $425 after $300 in various rebates.

“It used to be notebooks would sell for close to $600 only as a stunt,” says Mark Margevicius, an analyst with Gartner Research. But now some laptops have sold for that price consistently, he says.

Due to increases in production, some expensive notebook components have dropped in price, explains Roger Kay, analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates. That in turn drives system prices down.

That certainly happens at one end of the spectrum. At the other end, they start piling on features.

Posted at 8:37 am. Filed under Acer, Companies, Dell, HP, Notebook

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