There’s very little in the computer world that comes truly cheap. Traditionally, upgrading your system or building a custom rig of your own involves a lot of investigating to make sure you’ve got the right part for the right price.
This process has gotten a lot easier with the advent of the internet, and promises to continue getting easier with time. Retailers realize that more and more people are not going to blindly jump out there to buy a system or component without taking a look to see what the rest of the world has to say about it.
Some companies are using this inclination to draw in potential customers like never before. Little of this will be of much surprise to anyone who is familiar with system building or the IT industry at large, but for the amateur or casual foray into the arena, I offer some of the simplest ways to both inform and save you money and frustration:
1) Know thy retailers. Searching for the right piece of equipment to fit your needs is difficult enough without having to worry about finding the right place to buy it. The best names in the online arena are a little more obscure than those in the brick-and-mortar realms: NewEgg.com, TigerDirect.net, and Microcenter.com are three of the best. You can still find good pricing at BestBuy.com, though I have personally learned to be wary of their ratings and reviews. Also, while CompUSA.com and CircuitCity.com still retain online presences, and CompUSA has been revived in some areas of the country, they are actually owned by TigerDirect.com, and you’ll generally find few deals at those sites that you won’t find also at TigerDirect.com.
2) When you can deal with a human, it never hurts. I have long preached to my customers that shopping the web is a great way to educate yourself and find out exactly what you’re looking for, but when it comes time to make your high-dollar purchases, it never hurts to make a call. The best example of this I can offer is Dell.com – their website is fantastic for piecing together a system if you’re looking to build a complete system, and you can customize almost everything from a dizzying array of features and components. It will even help you avoid many of the pitfalls regarding incompatibilities as it spots them along the way. But when it comes time to make the purchase, employing a bit of social engineering almost never fails to save some money or at the very least gain you a perk along the way. The sales staff is privy to the most up-to-date incentives and deals that might not have been entered into the website, and since some or all of the sales staff makes a commission from their sales, they’re going to do everything they can to convince you to purchase on the phone. Prior successes I can share from my own customer base are free shipping, extra savings, or free upgrades and additions, such as bigger monitors, more memory, or even a free printer. Want to take the social engineering a step further? Try working with the opposite sex. It sounds silly, but it works. Men want to make women happy, and likewise for the fairer sex.
3) Bide your time. Nothing says sucker quite like rushing into a purchase. Desperation is your worst enemy. There’s unlikely to be too many sales that won’t be repeated in the future, and jumping on an unknown because it seems to be a great deal can burn you. Some of the earliest Solid State Drives (SSD’s) that hit the market had some major flaws that really prohibited their use as boot drives, which of course is the primary application for such devices. Many people got burned buying the earliest sales of some of these units because they were unwilling to wait for reviews and tests to confirm the flaws.
4) Find the sales. Every retailer, online and brick-and-mortar alike, will have sales. The trouble is in finding them – preferably before they start. There are lots of ways to get in on these. Newspaper flyers often hold nice values, particularly seasonally, if in limited quantities, but for online values, most of the time you have to do a little ground work and give a little yourself – namely, your email address. Newegg.com in particular offers a variety of daily specials that can save you substantial amounts on the component you might be looking for, with Shell Shocker and Guerrilla Alerts as well as 3 pages of daily deals. TigerDirect sends out email deals nearly daily that are hard to find elsewhere.
5) Auctions and Bargain sites. These avenues are sometimes riskier because you’re generally not dealing with traditional retailers. That said, prices on sites like Ebay.com tend to be much cheaper than what you might pay at just about any retailer unless an item is rare or in high demand. Just be careful: check for sellers with high ratings and lots of them, and don’t get sucked into paying more than what you can get it for from a retailer in some kind of price war. Woot.com is a great site that sometimes offers laptops and other gadgetry at fantastic prices, but it’s a first-come-first-serve deal, and there’s no warning. You have come look every day to see what’s being offered.
Nothing’s perfect, but with a little work and patience, there are great deals to be found out there. Have I missed anything? Please feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences.