Bargains and options abound for computer buyers

  • Article by: BRIER DUDLEY SEATTLE TIMES
  • Updated: August 21, 2013 - 4:48 PM

Millions of shoppers are looking for new computers. The good news? You can get a lot of bang for your buck.

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Buy button on the keyboard. from istock

 

There’s a silver lining in the struggles of the PC industry.

Bargains abound if you’re buying a computer for a student heading to school or if you’re finally upgrading that creaky old Windows XP machine.

Buyers also have more options. Backed into the corner by tablets, PC makers are fighting back with a variety of new designs and technologies available on even lower-priced models.

Touch-screen systems that work particularly well with Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating-system can be found for less than $500 while thin and light “Ultrabook” models can be found in the $600 range.

Touch screens are being pushed heavily by Microsoft and Intel, but there are other new technologies that have significantly improved the performance of PCs over the past year.

“We’ve got a bunch of nice innovations that are happening on the PC hardware side, but touch has become the red herring and the thing that people keep talking about,” said Bob O’Donnell, vice president at research firm IDC.

Battery life has leaped ahead on the latest models, with some running more than eight hours on a charge, and a good PC should now start up in well under a minute.

Faster ports and speedier Wi-Fi are also improving the experience of moving photos and files on and off a PC, with or without wires.

Better features, lower prices

Yet while PCs are improving, demand and prices have fallen. The average price of laptops — the most popular kind of PC — has fallen 4 percent over the past year, to $642, O’Donnell said.

That’s despite the efforts of Intel and PC makers to bring their machines upmarket with premium designs that emulate the style of Apple’s MacBook line.

People just aren’t buying as many PCs anymore. Instead of upgrading every few years, they’re getting by with older PCs and buying new phones and Web tablets.

Still, there are millions of students who will need a new computer this fall.

Also shopping for PCs soon will be the tens of millions of people who have been making do with Windows XP machines. They are under pressure to upgrade now that Microsoft is phasing out support of that operating system, which has been around since about 2001. It will stop providing security updates for XP in 2014.

Fortunately for them, the PC industry is over a barrel, offering deals and trying to move some pretty nice merchandise.

Shopping tips

Here’s my general advice if you’re shopping for a new laptop:

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