How To Shop At Dell

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As we pointed out yesterday, Dell is putting up ads saying they want the customers that BB now finds demonic.

Actually, in the last couple years, Dell has indeed contributed more than its share to the type of sales and deals that bargain hunters want.

There’s a price to pay, though. Yes, you can find great deals sometimes, but you often have to work at it, because things can get quite confusing, and as you’ll see, it’s not wise to make assumptions.

Sometimes a few websites like TechBargains.com will make this a painless experience and tell you exactly what to do (plus offer you additional savings codes), and forums like this place, that place, or another place will give you assistance, but sometimes, you have to dig.

You may wonder why someone from a place called Overclockers.com would want to talk about buying computers that are non-overclockable. There’s two reasons for that:

  • Overclockers can certainly buy components from Dell which they can stick into their overclocked machines.
  • More importantly, for the Joe Sixpacks in their lives, especially the light users, overclockers can recommend machines from Dell that are cheaper than anything they can put together, and as we first pointed out a few years ago, telling the Joe Sixpacks to buy Dell gets the Sixpacks off your back to at least some degree.

    Since that time, I’ve recommended a number of Dell machines to various friends of mine, and they’ve worked out OK.

    Yes, I know Dell doesn’t sell AMD computers. I’m not so sure I’d recommend a Dell machine now to someone due to the possibility of x86-64 taking off sooner or later, but Dell has been rather convenient the last couple years.

    Should you decide to buy from Dell, here’s some tips to make your purchase most advantageous to you:

    Find Out What A Hot Sale Is Sometimes Dell has hot deals. Sometimes their “hot deals” aren’t. If you’re showing up for the first time, you’re not going to know whether this one is the one or not.

    The best way to get up to speed is to do a search at one or more of the forums linked above to see what kind of sales Dell has had in the past for the item you want. If what you want cost less in some sale a month ago, odds are you’ll see something similiar again, and the best thing to do is wait.

    The best deals will tend to come towards the end of a fiscal quarter. Dell has a fiscal year ending at the end of January, so its fiscal quarters end at the end of January, April, July and October.

    If The Equipment Isn’t Hot, The Deal Isn’t Find out everything you can about what is right and wrong with the computer or part you want to buy before you buy it. Don’t assume items you have are going to work, for instance, if you find yourself buying a server at a rock-bottom price, you may find the PCI slots won’t accommodate some of your PCI cards.

    To some degree, the forums listed above will help a bit in answering these questions, but besides that, you ought to also look at other places, like Dell support forums. There are also newsgroups dedicated to Dell, and a web search will probably find you some sites that can provide additional help for particular platforms.

    While most Dell equipment is usually OK, sometimes they come up a lemon. While some people would complain about paradise, if you see a large percentage of people complaining about the same thing, that’s a pretty good bet there’s something wrong with that thing, and you should take what they say as a warning.

    Don’t Assume The Low-End Is The Only Place For Bargains A common error people make is looking at the minimum platform they’ll accept, and look for deals just there. This is often a mistake. Sometimes, a higher-end platform configured identically to a lower-end platform will cost the same or less. For instance, a computer in the Dell Dimension 8000 series can cost around the same or even less than a computer in the Dimension 4000, with higher-end equipment.

    It pays to look.

    Barebones Is Best (Except When It Isn’t) Most of the time, the minimal configuration is the best bargain. Usually, the minimal configuration really isn’t enough, but most times you’ll find that buying the upgrade elsewhere will cost rather less than having Dell do it.

    Of course, you have to add in the cost of the upgrade to the total cost of the system, and sometimes when you add that up, the deal isn’t such a deal anymore, so it’s important to figure out what else you need upfront, and factor that into your cost. Yes, you can often buy a low-end server for less than $300, but once you upgrade the processor and provide an OS and add a lot of memory and a serious hard drive, your $300 server is now $700 or more. It may still be well worth it, but $700 is the true cost of the box.

    Sometimes it does pay to have Dell do the upgrade. This is often the case with CPUs. Occasionally, you’ll find that getting a video card or additional memory can be a bargain (or at least no worse than buying elsewhere). The only way you’ll know, though, is to price the items you want elsewhere, then compare them to what Dell will charge you.

    Don’t Ignore The Warranty A good chunk of the price of a Dell machine is its warranty. Minimal warranty, minimal price, but of course if something breaks, you pay full price on the replacement, and if it’s something like a notebook LCD screen a kid just put his foot through, replacement will be a financially draining proposition.

    There’s two rules to follow on this issue:

  • How much will it hurt to fix/replace it, and how likely is it to happen and
  • How much hell will you get if it breaks big time?

    The answer to the first depends on who is going to use the machine. If the machine is only going to be used by a little old lady checking email and looking at a few websites, odds are the machine isn’t going to break for a long time. If the real users are a bunch of kids gunning the hell out of the machine all the time inbetween bouts of beating each other up, warranties start looking really good.

    It’s also safe to say that desktops are probably more reliable than notebooks, if for no other reason than they stay stationary while notebooks don’t.

    Whatever gets decided, the one cardinal rule you ought to follow, under all circumstances, is to let the future owner make the decision on the warranty, and you ought to lean towards being pro-warranty if asked. CYA on this. If you don’t, and it breaks after the minimal period is over, more likely than not, you’re going to be the one who is going to get blamed, and quite possibly, you’re going to be expected to make things right. At the least, it’s an unpleasant situation, so avoid it.

    If The Deal Is Too Good, Look For The Catch If you see an outrageous price from Dell, one much lower than one normally sees, that’s usually due to one of two reasons:

  • The configuration is grossly underpowered (i.e., it may use a low-end Celeron). That’s easy enough to identify.
  • For parts, generally a Dell sales price will end up a little better than the competition’s. If it’s a lot better, check the fine print. The warranty may be much less than the norm, that happened on a hard drive sale a while back, the drive only had a one year warranty when the norm even for an OEM drive was three years.

    Conclusion

    If you’re willing to be a smart shopper, work a bit, and have some patience, you can get some excellent buys at Dell. If you’re not, stay away.

    Dell tosses up new sales on a three-four day cycle, with different items and configurations changing prices constantly, with relatively little repetition. Items like saving codes often are only good for rather limited periods of time, so you have to be on top of things to catch the best buys.

    If what they have fits your bill, though, and you’re willing to put some time and effort into stalking the beast, you’ll eventually be rewarded, quite possibly with a good buy, more likely with the reduced pain of your Sixpack buddy telling you to fix your machine.

    And that can be priceless. 🙂

    Ed

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