Beware Black Friday laptop deals
Like opening weekend box office numbers to Hollywood bean-counters, the weekend shopping extravaganza known as Black Friday is read as tea leaves for the rest of the holiday shopping season (even though these initial impressions are not as accurate as they used to be).
Besides door-busting deals on big-screen TVs and digital cameras, one of the most-watched categories is laptops, where eager bargain hunters are looking for a sub-$500 deal. While we generally say that most super-inexpensive laptops are too underpowered to be worthwhile, Black Friday gives us a chance to sample some more expensive systems at deep discounts--at least in theory.
In practice, what we're seeing this year is extremely low-end laptops discounted even more than usual. But a $500 turkey is still a turkey at $300. We'd rather see some more $999 systems lowered to $699 or so.
Best Buy will have a Toshiba Satellite A135 (including a printer) for $229 (20 per store). We looked at a $999 configuration of the A135 earlier this year, and liked it, but the configuration available at Best Buy is very different, and about as bottom of the barrel as possible (which makes this a good place to point out that PCs can be configured radically differently, even with the same name, so shop carefully).
Even for less than a Nintendo Wii, the Intel Celeron CPU is a deal breaker, although the 512MB of RAM, 80GB hard drive, and Vista Basic OS all seem acceptable for a budget machine.
Dell is offering a low-end laptop from its Vostro line of small business PCs for $399, about $100 less than its normal price. The Vostro 1000 is saddled with a 1.7GHz AMD X2 dual-core CPU, but at least has 1GB of RAM and a decent 120GB hard drive. Also, Vostro systems offer extra customer support services from Dell, always a plus.
Our main problem with recommending any of these low-end Black Friday deals is that with dated, underpowered components, most buyers will be left unsatisfied with their system's performance. Even if used for just running basic Web and productivity apps, a modern Windows Vista system requires a certain amount of computing horsepower overhead to run efficiently, and a shopper's expectations may not be in line with the laptop they're buying.
Our current favorite bargain laptop is perfect for those who just want to surf the Web and work on office documents. It's not part of any Black Friday deals, but the Linux-powered Asus Eee PC doesn't try and act like a full-priced laptop, and for $399 makes for a perfect secondary or backup system. And, if you're looking to spend a bit more, Michelle Thatcher just put together an in-depth shootout of $1,000 laptops that may be better bargains than some of these so-called deals.