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Tips for PC buyers
Buying a new PC? Here's what to expect from manufacturers this season.
August 29, 2005: 4:58 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Personal computers are getting cheaper than ever -- but that doesn't necessarily mean you should go for the low-hanging fruit.

Analysts say consumers shopping for back-to-school PCs will benefit from improvements in microchip technology, which leads to faster, more efficient computers. The bottom line: If you're willing to spend a little more, you'll get a lot more bang for your buck.

"The consumer has options -- they can buy a cheap box, but unlike a year or two ago, they can also buy a much more capable machine where the 64 bit processor is the most important element," said Mark Stahlman, technology strategist at Caris & Co. "If they wish to spend a little more they can get a lot more -- there's a lot more choice."

Stahlman said consumers are starting to view 32 bit machines as obsolete.

"This upgrade to 64 bits, which begins with servers, workstations and high-end game machines, is going to ripple through the entire market place," said Stahlman. "A year from now, very few people are going to be looking for 32 bit notebooks. This is a very big change. All the new software being written is (for 64-bit processors), so the consumer has a real choice for the first time in maybe 10 years."

Bill Fearnley Jr., an analyst at FTN Midwest Securities, said that along with the decrease in price, the machines are also higher quality.

"The screens are better, particularly in the notebook space; notebooks are lighter, and more of them have wireless capability either added in or built in," he said. "They look good, they have good displays, and they're not as heavy as they were a year ago."

There are also more options than last year for notebook users. For instance, the standard screen size used to be 15 inches; now, there are more 14-inch displays, which are smaller and lighter, and 17-inch displays, which can act as desktop replacements.

But if price is your main concern, there are still plenty of options. Dell still sells an entry-level desktop PC for $299, while Apple just debuted its updated Mac mini PC, which does not include a keyboard or monitor, starting at $499.00.

If your heart is set on paying the least you possibly can for a new PC, be prepared to stick to your guns, as sales reps will probably try to get you to upgrade.

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For more on what falling PC prices mean to computer makers, click here.  Top of page

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