Get A Brand New Computer For Less
Tired of paying over-the-odds for a computer? Here's a line-up of best buys that won't break the bank.
What do you look for when choosing a new computer? Pukka performance? Ultra portability? Or just a great price?
How about a computer that gives you all of these - dirt cheap?
Those who have considered an ultra-portable computer may already be familiar with the Sony TZ laptop series, or Toshiba's Portégé R500 range. However, these babies will set you back upwards of £1,000 if you go for the best models, which is a stretch for most budgets.
However, there is a new kid in town and it's making waves wherever it goes.
Intel recently launched its new `Atom processor', designed to power basic mobile computers (sometimes known as `Netbooks') and give basic performance at affordable prices.
With this and other mobile processors set to become more commonplace, gone are the days when ultra portable meant ultra expensive. You can now get a nifty little number for around £200 or less.
Here's how a few of the cheapest models size up alongside their more traditional low-cost counterparts:
Intel Celeron Mobile
0.9kg, wireless connectivity, Three USB ports, 2GB solid state memory
1kg, wireless, webcam, three USB ports, 8GB solid state memory
1.2kg, wireless connectivity, bluetooth, 120GB hard drive
1.1kg, wireless, webcam, bluetooth, 80GB hard drive
Vista Home Basic
Intel Celeron M
Wireless, three USB ports, 80GB hard drive
Vista Home Premium
Intel Dual Core Processor
Wireless connectivity, faster processor, 120GB hard drive
*Prices correct at time of publication
The Asus Eee is the cheapest model in this range and was also one of the pioneers in this market. First found lingering in the aisles of Toys R Us and PC World, it was marketed at children and students for easy internet-based application use.
Surprisingly, however, this innovative little number quickly became popular with businessmen and women looking for a portable and affordable computer. Weighing less than a bag of sugar, it can be placed easily in your bag and taken wherever you go. What's more, you can get one for just over £150.
The basic model went on sale last October and was built round a Linux operating system (OS), with flash memory storage as opposed to a hard drive (Asus has now expanded the range to include a Windows XP machine and models with greater storage).
Linux? What's that?
Perplexed as to what `Linux' actually is? You're not alone. On my part, when I first came across Linux on my friend's computer at university, my exact response was, `Who's that?'
Put simply, Linux is a free operating system that can be used as an alternative to Windows on your PC. But how easy is Linux to use as an OS? The answer depends on:
a.) what you use your computer for
b.) how proficient you are with computers.
I had a long conversation with one of our tech guys before writing this article, and even he was a bit put off by Linux. If you are only using a few basic applications, then I don't want to deter you (using Linux isn't like learning a new language) and besides, a Linux operating system such as Ubuntu will make your experience a much more user friendly one (Read Kit Out A PC For Free! for more on Ubuntu).
However, getting familiar with Linux is a learning process, rather like using a Mac for the first time. Applications are named differently, things are in different places, but most importantly: there is little support for when things go wrong.
If you do become stuck while using Linux, although there are undoubtedly countless forums with tailor-made solutions to your problem, finding them isn't as easy, and you could be left more than a little frustrated.
And, of course there is the other problem that if you're a die-hard iPod fan like me, you won't be able to put your iTunes library onto your laptop, as it is not compatible with Linux.
For my money, unless you know what you're doing, I think it's worth paying that little bit more to get an OS you are familiar with. For about £50 to £60 more you can now usually buy the same PC with Windows instead of Linux, including the models listed in the table above.
New kids on the block
Since the Eee was launched, a number of rival models have been brought out to try to oust it from the budget top spot. In truth, the Eee doesnt exactly represent the essence of modern chic, and the keyboard is slightly cramped, but what do you expect for less than £200?
Still, a better model in my opinion is Acer's Aspire One. At just £20 more, it not only has a slightly larger screen, it is equipped with a webcam.There are also generous storage options, enabling you to keep files on your computer for easy access.
Or, for Vista haters, you could go retro and opt for the Advent 4211 instead. At a resonable £279.99, the computer comes with a nifty 10 inch screen, wireless connectivity and Windows XP Home.
One very important point to remember is that none of these 'new wave' computers includes an optical drive, meaning you won't be able to watch your favourite DVDs without buying an external drive to link to your computer.
Still, the Macbook Air took the biscuit with that one, and with it costing at least £1,199 with no optical drive, these budget models are far from the worst offenders.
If you prefer to stick with tradition, or would like to have something with a decent sized screen to watch films without being constantly hunched over your computer, there are a number of entry level laptops that will give you decent performance without burning a hole in your wallet.
Budget favourite Dell's Inspiron 1525 comes in a range of striking colours and is equipped with a generous 15.4 inch screen for just £329 for the basic model. It also comes with the usual mod-cons, such as wireless connectivity and Windows Vista Premium.
On the other hand, Acer's Aspire 5315 may be right up your street, with this model costing just £279.99, you also get a 15.4 inch screen and Windows Vista.
Alternatively, Ei System's 1201 laptop also retails at £279.99, has a slightly smaller 13.3 inch screen, but also comes equipped with wireless connectivity, an Intel Pentium Dual Core Processor and Windows Vista.
When all is said and done, if you need an all purpose, all-powerful computer, or you plan on doing heavy duty office work, gaming or running processor-intensive multimedia options, then perhaps these options aren't for you.
But if you're looking to invest in a basic laptop, or want something portable that won't break the bank, then hopefully these should give you a taster of what's out there.