Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Last Year's Hot Computer, This Year's Cool Price

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Last Year's Hot Computer, This Year's Cool Price

Article excerpt

In the race against time and technology when buying a computer, there are sprinters and there are joggers.

Sprinters rush to the leading-edge of technology, buy the latest, fastest computer, then use it until the machine is obsolete, which doesn't take long.

If they're really thrifty, and patient, they may wait five years before rushing to buy the next hot machine. Joggers, on the other hand, are content to lag behind. They buy older technology at big discounts. If they're really keen on keeping up with new software, they might upgrade every other year with a discontinued computer. Most computer buyers are sprinters. But a growing number are taking up jogging, saving megabytes of money in the process. Here's the reason. The typical new computer loses half its value in a year, industry retailers say. "The reality is that in a couple of years, they're going to be obsolete anyway," says John Hastings, president of American Computer Exchange, a used computer broker in Atlanta, Ga. "So the question is: How much money do you want to lose?" A new family desktop costs $1,500 to $2,000. Mr. Hastings' company sells used computers for an average of $500. True, they're less powerful and come with smaller hard drives and monitors. But for most families, and many businesses, his 486-class computers (the lightening-fast model from five years ago) can handle computing with little discernable difference from a Pentium-class computer (the current generation of hot machine) or a Pentium II-class computer (the next generation of scorchers). That's the first rule of used computer buying, says Tom Lee, vice president of marketing at Recompute Corp. "Figure out how much computer you really need." The Austin, Texas, company sells refurbished computers starting at $599. Buying a used computer not only saves money, it can be done so many different ways that the shopping itself can be fun. For example, every weekday at its Web site (www.onsale.com), Internet auctioneer Onsale unloads computers and other electronic goods. Notebook models costing thousands of dollars new hit the cyber-block with bids starting at $199. Registered users place their bids on-line in a format resembling a Yankee auction: If there are four machines available, the four highest bidders win. Since the Web site displays the current highest bids, users are encouraged to rebid. The site can even alert them by e-mail if they're outbid. The site attracts knowledgeable buyers, so it's hard to get a real steal. But a refurbished 15- inch, NEC monitor recently sold for $219. Other refurbishers sell it for $299. New, it would cost $350. Most used-computer companies, however, sell through mail-order. JEM's PC Factory Outlet (www.jem computers.com) includes a bargain basement where prices on unsold items fall by a certain percentage every week. …

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