It's back-to-school shopping time, which means a lot of pressure on parents. But if you think getting the fashions just right is tough, you should see the amount of tension around the computer-purchasing process.
While it's easy to, in theory, break down the decision by "simple computer for the young 'uns and more sophisticated machine for the older ones," the reality is that it depends on what your kids will be doing with their computers.
Have a good talk about what their interests are, what they might be expected to do on the computer for school work and how much heavy-duty gaming they plan to engage in and the like. It might turn out that if you already have a Wii or a Playstation 3 the kids love, they'll be doing a lot less gaming on the computer than their friends might on their own machines.
I strongly suggest taking them to an electronics store and having them play with the computers to get a feel for the features, the keyboard, the weight, color and other options before buying (in the store or online).
To save money, ask about bundling opportunities — what software can you get installed (and if you are buying a Windows machine, if you can get a free upgrade to Windows 7). Also ask about discounts on printers.
A couple of computers you might want to look at:
Apple MacBook Pro: an advanced, feature-packed machine with the less-virus-prone Mac operating system and a free iPod Touch. A student can get a 13-inch MacBook Pro and iPod touch combined for just $1,099 with Apple's everyday student discount (the MacBook Pro retails at $1,119 but the student discount means $199 off that that price, and an 8GB iPod touch is a $229 value). Apple is also offering a Back to School Printer Promotion: Purchase an Apple computer and a qualifying printer from the Apple Retail Store or the Apple Online Store between July 21 and Oct. 19, and receive a rebate up to $100. (This means select printers are available for free).
Del Mini 110: an ultra lightweight "netbook" that's great for doing your work around the house, at school or at a friend's place. $349 on dell.com.
Here are some good sites for finding deals:
- DealNews.com, "where every day is Black Friday," offers good deals by scouring the Web for you.
- FatWallet.com is an excellent deal-finding site.
- PriceGrabber.com offers quick comparison shopping.
- Shopper.com offers reviews and price comparisons.
- PriceProtectr.com allows you to track price drops on products you have already bought and, if the store has a price protection policy, you might be able to get a rebate on the difference.
Sree Sreenivasan is a technology expert and professor of digital media at the Columbia Journalism School. Send your feedback and suggestions to or connect with Sreenivasan via Twitter at .