Times may be tough, but there are good deals on computers out there if you know where to look.
Take Apple's MacBook Air, for example. These nice-looking, thin laptops start at US$1,799 with a 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 13.3-inch screen, 120GB hard disk, and 2GB of RAM. That would be expensive in a good economy, but there's a cheaper option that's available.
Apple also sells refurbished models of the MacBook Air for $999 with a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo processor, an 80GB hard disk, and 2GB of RAM.
The refurbished laptops are units that have been returned to Apple, which then replaces any problem parts, cleans them up, and tests them before offering them for resale. Unlike other PC makers that offer limited warranties on refurbished computers, the refurbished MacBook Air comes with Apple's standard one-year laptop warranty that can be extended for up to three years with the $249 AppleCare Protection Plan.
Another good option for thrifty shoppers are the crop of small laptops based on Intel's Atom processor.
The Atom chips aren't as good with heavy multimedia tasks, but they have more than enough power for Web surfing and e-mail. Prices on these machines, called netbooks, can range from a few hundred dollars to nearly $1,000, depending on how they're equipped. Resist the urge to go for the more expensive models, and look for models with more basic specifications.
Some of the best netbook deals can be found on Amazon.com, where you can buy a basic version of Acer's Aspire One, arguably the nicest of the netbook crop, for $259.
At that price, you get a 1.6GHz Atom N270 processor, 1GB of RAM, an 8GB solid-state drive, 9-inch screen, a 3-cell battery, and Windows XP Home Edition. The laptop also comes with an 8GB removable SD (secure digital) memory card to boost the laptop's total storage capacity to 16GB.
If you're looking for a laptop for the kids, Amazon.com also sells CTL's 2goPC for $257. These laptops are the consumer version of Intel's second-generation Classmate PC, produced under contract for the chip maker and shipped to smaller computer sellers, like CTL, to be sold under their brand names.
Like all Classmate PCs, the 2goPC was designed for kids and has a chunky design that can withstand being dropped or drinks spilled on the keyboard. They have a 9-inch screen and a keyboard that most adults will find too small, but the smaller keys suit kids just fine. The laptops have a 900MHz Celeron-M processor, a 40GB hard disk, 512MB of RAM, a 4-cell battery, and run Windows XP -- more than enough power for basic computer tasks.