Two simple ways to always save money on laptops
#1. Buy used
Living in modern times means that machines that are one or two years old are still pretty good. Stores and many manufacturers themselves refurbish laptops to like-new specifications — often with warranties as good or better than the laptops had when they were sold new.
#2. Buy fewer laptops
This obvious but not-so-obvious tip depends on being able to do one thing: extend the upgrade cycle of your current computer. The extra upkeep, though it requires some extra time and effort, can have a big pay-off.
Here’s what you’ll need to do it.
Do routine maintenance of your *software*
Like any machine, a laptop benefits from routine maintenance. Friends often come to me when their computer is running slow and, they think, it will soon need to be replaced or that it has a virus that’s causing it to run slowly.
When I look into it, I’ll invariably discover dozens of programs running, many browser add-ons, and almost no free memory, thanks to a bloated browser cache or a download folder full of things he’ll never use. Each of these things slows down the performance of a computer. Luckily, each can be addressed using free software.
First, to prevent viruses and spyware, install one of the free security programs out there. I like Microsoft Security Essentials and Windows Defender because they are both free and update automatically and seamlessly alongside your other Windows Updates. And keeping up-to-date with definitions that track newly discovered malware is a huge factor in keeping your laptop running smoothly.
Next, you’ll want to want to keep an eye on your primary hard drive’s free space, because your operating system may use this space as virtual memory. Letting this get too low could hinder your experience. To keep my free space in check, I use the free CCleaner which scans your temporary Internet and system folders for stuff worth deleting then wipes them clean — provided that you confirm that’s what you want to do, of course. But even the very intelligent CCleaner can’t tell which of the literally hundreds of cat videos I saved are worth holding onto, so every now and then I get rid of those I’m not actually coming back to in order to free up even more space.
Also, since the most annoying times to be waiting for my computer to process are at cold boot and when opening my browser, I limit the number of background apps windows runs at startup and disable nearly all Chrome add-ons until I actually need them.
Disabling sounds and visual effects can also be helpful. And of course, the ultimate in software clean-up is formatting the whole of your laptop and re-installing your operating system and just the apps you know you’ll be using. And if even that leaves you wanting, you can even minimize how much operating system you’ve got by going with a lightweight Linux distro (More on that later).
Do routine maintenance of your *hardware*
It might sound anachronistic, but one of the best ways to keep an older laptop running smoothly — even with all the modern electronics stuffed into it — is to do something decidedly low-tech: dusting. When dust blocks vents and slows down fans, everything runs a little hotter and your Central Processing Unit, knowing what’s good for it, slows itself down out for the sake of self-preservation.
If that doesn’t do the job, I find that I can usually buy myself a little more time by adding more Random Access Memory (RAM) or swapping in a solid state drive, like these. RAM gets laughably inexpensive for slightly older laptops; and SSDs, while not being cheap, can very easily be transplanted to my next laptop, so I can continue to use them in the future.
Beyond that, I usually find that extras like the AC adapter go bad before the actual computer does so I take extra care with the connections on either end by stealing a spring from a ballpoint pen and encircling the terminals.
The best way to save money on laptops
The most important factor in saving money on a laptop comes well before you make the purchase.
Before you buy, be honest with yourself about how you actually use a computer and don’t buy more than you need.
I have long been on the cycle of replacing laptops every couple years and shooting for the most high-tech laptop within my budget each time. But a funny thing happened to me last year. I had given away a laptop to a sibling headed to college and had gone a year or two without replacing it, but finally decided it was time to do so.
This decision happened to coincide with my then-girlfriend taking months-long trip and leaving behind her ten-year-old laptop with the instructions that she was going to send it to the dump (she mentioned that “Windows XP is expiring”), but first wanted my help in copying over the old files. Then she left.
As expected, copying files to an external hard drive took all of half an hour. Now, it was just me and the machine for three months. It wasn’t long before I decided there was no harm in doing a little free experimentation on something headed for the trash heap anyway. I tried half a dozen free operating systems (mostly Linux) and found all of them to be too much for the aged hardware to handle. But in the end, I found a couple — Mint and Puppy– that were lightweight enough to work.
Of course, going with such a bare bones operating system meant that I couldn’t install anything terribly graphics intensive, nor could I install a full-fledged office suite. Being limited to the things I could do within a browser window seemed limiting at first, but I would quickly come to realize that this was pretty much all I needed. I was surprised to find just how much of my computer time was spent on just a few websites.
In the end, I decided that all I really needed in a laptop was portability and a long battery life — and just enough computing power to email, read the news, and write on blogs and social media.
I went with a $180 laptop with a processor better suited to a tablet and a hard drive with just 21 GB — a size most would consider laughable. And I couldn’t be happier with my choice.