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Tech deals abound for bargain-hunting students

Thursday, July 30, 2009 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 12:42 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 30, 2009
A computer tower waits to be worked on at the Columbia Computer Center on 1122 Lakeview Ave.

Students going back to school these days need more than books, pens and paper.  

For many, a laptop has become an essential piece of equipment for college. Not only can you use it to write and edit your papers, it can double up a music and DVD player, serve as a phone and connect you to the outside world. 

But the cost of these high-tech gadgets might seem a little hard to bear on top of the many other expenses of college. In these tighter economic times, students and their parents should keep a constant lookout for bargains.  

What electronics will you need?  

First, be clear on what equipment you will need for college. At MU, a book called "Let Your Major Be Your Guide" handily collates and lists the technology requirements for each academic department.  

Some departments favor Apple systems for computers, and others favor Windows.  Students should check the guide to make certain they end up with a laptop compatible with the software and hardware used by a department.  

For example, most engineering students are required to have a 3D computer-assisted drafting program installed on their laptops, and a machine with Windows is recommended.  

Meanwhile, the majority of journalism students are encouraged to purchase a MacBook or MacBook Pro as well as an iPhone or a iPod Touch for classroom use.  

The Division of IT recommends the following minimum hardware requirements:

  • Processor: Pentium IV or Celeron 3.0+ GHz for on Windows OR Intel Core 2 Duo for Apple
  • Memory: 1 GB RAM
  • Hard drive space: 80GB
  • Network capability: NIC (10/100 BASE-T Ethernet) OR wireless NIC (802.11 b/g)
  • CD-ROM/CD-RW OR DVD-ROM/DVD±RW drive.  
  • USB drive with at least 1 GB capacity.  

Other electronic items such as MP3 players and cameras are not required for college, but you might want to take them with you to college to record your time away from home and keep you occupied around campus.

A hard copy of  "Let Your Major Be Your Guide" is available from TigerTech in the MU Bookstore, or you can read it online at mubookstore.com/lymbyg_index.asp.

Do your research

It always pays to do the fact-finding before you buy. That way, you know not only what model and brand is most suitable, but also where you can find it and what you should expect to pay.

Here is a brief overview of options MU students should consider when buying college electronics.  

TigerTech

TigerTech in Brady Student Commons is the most convenient location to buy electronics once a student arrives on campus.  

Tracy Pfieffer, a journalism major, said she bought her Apple MacBook from TigerTech. She ordered it online and had it shipped to her home in the summer before she started at MU.  

Located on the bottom level of the MU Bookstore, TigerTech calls itself the place for “service, sales and support” for information technology.  It offers comprehensive knowledge of the systems and requirements for technology that MU students require, and can help ensure the electronics are “MU ready.”  

TigerTech also provides technology bundles, which include bonus software, bag, accessories and warranty with a computer purchase.  

“It was good to have the warranty through TigerTech,” as any problems with the computer could be dealt with from campus, Pfieffer said.

TigerTech, however, only sells certain brands of laptops — Apple MacBooks and MacBook Pros, certain Dell series, and some HP computers. 

Paul Musket, assistant director of academic resources, defended this limited range, stating that they focus on stocking whatever the academic departments recommend in "Let Your Major Be Your Guide."

While TigerTech offers educational discounts on its store items, it is possible to find cheaper prices if you shop around.  

TigerTech has a student-purchase plan that helps students buy computers without needing pay the full amount up front. The full cost is split into four payments, with the first charged to a MU student account within 30 days of receiving the computer. The remaining payments are split over the following three semesters, with a single administrative charge of 7.8 percent of the total cost.  

Large retail chains (Walmart, Best Buy, etc.)

Large retail chain stores might have a larger range of brands in stock. They often have discounts and specials, and most are willing to ship the item for free to a store of your choice for pickup. 

The brands and specifications of the electronics, however, might not be those required by MU departments, and it might cost extra to have the necessary hardware and software installed.

Direct from manufacturer (Dell, Apple, etc.)

Some students prefer to buy electronics direct from the manufacturer, often through an online catalog.  

Nathan Holt said he bought his Dell laptop this way when he first started at MU.  He found it a convenient and satisfactory way, so when it came time to replace his computer three years later, he used the Web site again.  

A major benefit of using manufacturer sites online is the ability to customize specifications to exactly what you require and want from your computer. 

However, customizations often cost extra, so the bargains offered are rarely true bargains after you have fine-tuned your purchase.  

eBay

Items bought on eBay are often much cheaper than they would be in retail stores.  Because of its international presence, there's a good chance the item you want is for sale or on auction.  

The site has security measures to keep the buying and selling process as honest and trustworthy as possible. Pay attention to the feedback scores awarded to the seller of the item you are buying or bidding on, and read the comments to make sure the seller is someone who consistently and promptly provides good-quality items that are exactly as described.

However, remember there is no guarantee of stock availability. And even if the item you want is on sale, there is always the chance that you will be outbid by another zealous buyer. 

Craigslist

Like eBay, Craigslist has plenty of bargains available — if you are lucky and strike at the right time.  Also, as with eBay, there is greater risk involved in buying your electronics this way. 

There is no solid guarantee of availability or quality or even of a successful transaction. You also need to factor in shipping costs or the possibility of picking up the item in person from your seller.

Why it pays to shop around

With the convenience of online stores that deliver direct to you, and with TigerTech almost on your doorstep, why bother shopping around?  Because there are hidden bargains to be found just by doing a little homework.

For example, a Dell Latitude E6500 with the specifications given in the "Technology Resources @ Mizzou 2009" booklet would cost $1601.46 plus shipping from the Dell Web site, even with the 7 percent Mizzou member discount applied. TigerTech offers the same computer, with the same specifications, for $1,413.95. It even comes bundled with an Ethernet cable, a bag, a 4GB flash drive, a surge protector and a notebook lock. That’s a savings of more than $200 when the accessories are factored in.

However, buying a MacBook 2.13 GHz according to the specifications in the "Technology Resources @ Mizzou 2009" booklet from the Apple Education store costs only $949 with free shipping. TigerTech has a bundle similar to the Dell package above — the Apple laptop with all the accessories thrown in — but it costs $1296.95. The accessories do not add up to the $250 difference.  

Below is a table comparing the cost of a 16GB Apple iPod Touch, as an indication of how costs fluctuate across different outlets.

  Apple iPod Touch 16GB (2nd gen)
TigerTech* $299 + flat rate shipping $40 within US, or pick-up at TigerTech
Wal-mart  $274.95 (free shipping to closest store)
Best Buy $299 (free shipping to closest store)
Apple.com* $299 (free shipping and free engraving)
Ebay (new) $239.95 (Buy It Now, with free shipping)
Ebay (used) $190 (auction, in mint condition, with free shipping)
Craigslist** $200 + shipping (new)

prices correct as of July 12, 2009.

* From May 27 to Sept. 8., purchasing a qualifying Mac and iPod from these sellers entitles you to an online rebate of the cost of the iPod up to $229.  

** Craigslist St. Louis bulletins posted between July 5-12.

With some preparatory research and depending on your luck, it is possible to buy electronics at a savings of more than $100.

Not ready to buy?

The student unwilling to commit before the semester begins has another chance.

MU has more than 60 computing sites scattered around campus for student use. Only a PawPrint and personal password are needed to log in to the workstations. There are a range of software and hardware available.  Go to doit.missouri.edu/sites/ for a full list of sites and for more information.  

You can also checkout laptops from the reserve desk at Ellis Library for two hours' use. Laptops are also available from the Engineering Library and Technology Commons, the Geology Library, the Journalism Library and the front desk of the Memorial Union. 

You can’t take them away from the building, but you can renew your loan one hour after you first checked it out.  If you return the laptop late, it will cost you $2 per hour.


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