A Fruitful Search for a Frugal Computer

I’ve been meaning to buy a new laptop for a while now, but I’m as hesitant as anyone else is to throw down thousands of dollars on something that might be outdated in a year or two. I’ve already considered tablets and in my case, only a laptop will do. In my search for the perfect laptop, I arrived at an epiphany: there is no perfect laptop. But there are cost-effective laptops—laptops that will serve a purpose, are devoid of the kind of glitches that attack a lot of the (apparently) most-heralded and innovative technology, and aren’t going to break my bank. In other words, I need to find a computer that will function, here and now, and won’t force me to lose too much money if it does, indeed, become less relevant in the tech world in two or three years. Here’s where Dell comes in.

Dell doesn’t just carry an extensive inventory of laptops and desktop computers. In addition, it provides a wide array of computer software and accessories, the latter of which includes batteries, cameras and laptop bags. When you’re browsing Dell’s website, you can even find a great selection of printers and home theater equipment. If you’re unlike me, and you’ve already found yourself with your ideal laptop, then you can still find a frugal accessory or two to supplement the computer.

To be honest, I don’t need a lot of the extras that I encounter on their site. Instead, I’m leaning toward purchasing the Inspiron 15R. This innovative laptop features 2nd Gen Intel Core processing, and comes replete with a switch lid, which allows you to dress your computer according to mood and style preference. The laptop can be purchased in its 14”, 15” and 17” incarnations, but the 15” seems to be the perfect size for me. It’s also quite helpful to check out Dell computer reviews from resources like consumer reports, amazon, and other shopping sites with helpful advice.

I’ll be purchasing my Inspiron 15R for just $549.99, even though its market price is listed at $837.99. For a product that consistently receives 4 out of 5 stars in its reviews, I consider that a steal. Also, there’s a promotion on the site that promises the first 500 people to buy the Inspiron 15R will get an extra $50 off by utilizing a coupon code. I’m not sure how long that deal will last, but, at the very least, it’s a signature of Dell’s generosity, and it’ll keep me returning to their store in the future.

I can’t tell you what the perfect computer is, and I certainly can’t tell you what’s ideal for you and your family. But I’m not interested in a lot of extra functions being featured on my laptop. I simply want technology that will help me get by without cutting into my budget too deeply. If you’re in the same frugal boat, I suggest checking into Dell and their Inspiron line.


  1. Normally I agree with your conclusions, but, as a computer tech, I cannot agree that this is a frugal choice. Inspiron computers are fine for occasional usage, but for anything beyond that, you want a business machine like a Latitude E5520. One of these can be purchased from Dell’s refurbished site, with the original 3 year warranty, 4gb ram, and an i5 processor for under $400 if you wait for the 20% off coupon that gets sent out every month from Dell.

    This is a frugal, and durable machine. The Inspiron is not.

  2. Disappointing post. “Here’s where Dell comes in.” Where is that? You don’t compare or contrast Dell with any other manufacturer or reseller. You don’t say what makes the Dell more or less frugal than any other option. The only requirement you mention at all is that the machine have a 15 inch display. You do no price comparisons of like equipment, and the only measure of value you mention is a nebulous “market price listed.” Does that mean Dell’s own MSRP on its own web site?

    This looks like an advertisement, and one particularly lean on any useful information.

    • I agree, I don’t see the point of even blogging this. I thought this was a site for helping people make thoughtful and frugal decisions, not off hand recommendations that border on advertised endorsements.

      Frugality in this case doesn’t mean having abstract needs and defaulting to a middle of the road computer advertised in a way to make you think you got a good deal. Frugality means knowing exactly what you need and finding a product that fulfills those needs at the best price possible.

  3. This sounds more like a Dell commercial than a blog post.

    When I read the blog title, I expected a discussion of what features you were looking for in a laptop, what the average user might need, and a search for one that doesn’t pad its price with unwanted extras.

    All in all, not that helpful.

  4. I’ve enjoyed this blog and am disappointed to see such canned writing and lack of transparency about a sponsored post. I support bloggers in monetizing their websites, but most do so via products they seem to know something about, and are upfront about their financial ties.

  5. Yeah…agreeing with the others on this one. Was this a sponsored post?

    We recently purchased a desktop tower. It was a refurbished model and we got it on eBay. We’re also selling our old laptops on eBay so the net cost out of pocket will probably be $100 or so.

    The tower was $300 and the monitor was $100ish.

  6. Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention! This is indeed a guest post and I posted before reading carefully (I’ve been so busy with the giveaway and holiday planning) .

    Thank you all again for reading and I can assure you can continue to expect only quality posts from here on out.

    • If this is a guest post, then why is it not clearly labeled as such some five days later? In fact, as of 9:20 am CST on 12/13/11, it still carries your name in the byline with no mention that this is a sponsored post. As far as we know, it was copied and pasted straight from an email sent by a Dell-employed propagandist. Just curious as making this change would have probably taken about as much time as it did for you to type that reply.

    • I appreciate your owning up to it, as I was about to remove you from my reading rotation after seeing this article. However, I will continue to read with caution. I do think that you should remove the article though, and as others have mentioned, guest posts should be clearly identified.

    • So this was a guest post? But it still says it was written by you? I was referred to this blog by one of your infographic links, and was considering subscribing until I saw this post. No thanks.

  7. It seems like a decent choice, but you do miss out one of the major factors to consider when buying anything – how long will it last?

    My experience has been that a lot of cheaper, non-business class machines begin to die after two years of portable use (hinges breaking, damaged casing, faulty keyboards, faulty internal components). Sure, they might be cheaper, but because they don’t last as long you end up replacing them more often and spending more per year on your computing.

    I’d suggest looking at an Lenovo T series, HP Elite Book, Apple Macbook Air / Macbook Pro or Dell Latitude. Find one on special, refurbished, or second hand that has a 3 year warranty and it will last you for a solid three years and beyond.

    If your notebook is going to be a glorified desktop – IE, live on your desk at home and only be moved on the rare occasion – then the quality of the machine doesn’t matter as much, and you can go for a cheaper consumer level machine.

    • Totally agree about getting business class laptops. I got a used Dell Latitude d620 that is so old it shouldn’t even work anymore. But it just takes a beating and is the perfect laptop for email, internet, and organizing photos. I installed Ubuntu on it and will certainly look to buy another $300 used Latitude when I need another. I also have a 6 year old Macbook that continues to work like a champ too. I got it and my new MacBook Pro refurbished direct from Apple. I plan to sell my old Macbook and expect to get around $400 for it. Nice that Apple laptops hold their value.

  8. Even guest posts should be vetted and it doesn’t take a lot of time to read this and see that it reads like an ad for Dell. Very surprising, and disappointing, to see this post which aside from reading like an ad isn’t very accurate (as anyone who has done any research on laptops can tell you).

    As someone with a highly limited budget who needed a new laptop this year, I suggest checking out various models from Toshiba and Asus. I’m on my fourth Toshiba (purchased this year on black friday for $299 with specs that match comparable machines priced, on sale, at around $600 to $700. ).

    Most of my toshibas, which are used almost 24/7, lasted a minimum of five years. THat’s pretty good for any laptop. I contrast that to a well-featured Sony Vaio that I purchased a mere two years ago that, while great looking, has been problematic from day one (granted, some issues are software oriented).

    I got my unit from staples and nothing before or since Cyber Monday came close in price in terms of the features this year, as I’ve been watching for a friend who also needs a laptop.

    The key is really knowing what features you need and how much you will use your machine. And also the rep of the company (you can search online for the top machines in terms of overall performance and not needing servicing.) Then, sign up to receive the various newsletters from Tiger Direct, newegg.com, staples, etc. to keep an eye on prices.

    dealnews.com does a daily summary that includes laptops and desktops.

    When you see something that meets your needs and your budget, jump on it. Because you can be sure everyone else will.

  9. Hmm… As someone who is currently STILL WAITING for Dell Support to actually come through and fix my laptop which is still under extended warranty and the two year long battle with Dell to actually get them to get this machine to work, I would suggest that this is a sadly misguided choice. Just google “Dell Hell” and see the number of hits which come up. Although our business has exclusively used Dells for years, and we also use them at home, our current machines are the last from them as, truly, I am in “Dell Hell”.

    They simply have let their quality fall apart while growing too fast to keep up with putting their machines together in ways that actually work.

    Agree with other posters that this was CLEARLY an advertisement disguised as a post…

    My next machine will be an IBM or Lenovo.

  10. Very useful information. I need to buy a new laptop for my parents who only need a basic but reliable laptop. The simpler the better for them as they are into their 70’s.

  11. Only buy a laptop if you need portability. Orherwise, a desktop is far a better value than laptop. I purchased a used Hp business desktop for $50 with licensed xp pro on it. 4gb of ram, dual 2.16, 160gb hard drive. The 19 inch was another $40. I won’t be moving this anytime soon but if I needed a laptop, I’d buy a business laptop for $300 or less.

  12. Nice post, not a massive fan of Dell but that’s another conversation. Here are my thoughts on buying a computer: Set a budget based on what you can afford then find the best computer for that price. Don’t be up sold, most PC’s today will suit you needs unless your a heavy gamer or need them for business

  13. Thanks Jason. I have a father who has smoked for years. It concerns me to this day.

    I would love to know if science has found any alternative solutions to the problem. Where are we along the development path on:
    – creating a tasty harmless cigarette?
    – developing a chemically focused effective quitting pill/patch?
    – improving the negative side effects of smoking through medication?

    These ideas are a bit counter intuitive. I just wonder if people have focused on different ways of solving the problem and if there has been any success.

    Nevertheless, the central points of your article are spot on.

  14. If Dell produces as shady products as some of the comments here suggest, then it’s no wonder it’s sponsoring “editorial” blog posts like this one. I enjoy reading Frugal Dad but now I’ll be reading with a bit more suspicion. The problem with blogs is an inherent lack of credibility. We don’t know who the blogger really is or what the blogger’s credentials really are. And even if the blogger told us, can we really believe it? (Rule One taught in journalism school: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. But how many bloggers actually went to journalism school?) And now, we have more reason to wonder about the Frugal Dad site. I don’t suspect you’ll lose a tremendous amount of traffic over one advertisement passed off as your own writing but clearly your credibility has taken a hit. At least it has with me.

  15. I had a Dell Inspiron for many years, and it was my primary work computer. I am self-employed, so my laptop is my main computer and needs to be 100% reliable. If I added up all my (potentially billable) hours I spent “system restoring” and otherwise monkeying around with it, I’d have had enough in hand to purchase 100 such computers. Not to mention hiring IT professionals to fix it.

    For me, my i-Mac and MacBook Air are worth every single penny I have spent on them. I’ve never had a problem with them, never spent a moment’s trouble on them, except for some trouble linking my all-in-one printer. They are the workhorses of my business.

    I would not buy another Dell. Heck, I wouldn’t use one if you gave it to me free. I probably wouldn’t buy ANY Windows-based machine in future. But Dell – that was a handful of aggravation.

  16. I think you completely misunderstand what most people are saying. I’m not saying “buy the business class machine because it’s faster and has fancy bells and whistles”. I’m saying “buy the business class machine because it’s tougher, better built, and will last longer (even if it’s *slower* than the consumer machine)”

    For example, if I had to buy a laptop now for my Girl friend (uses it infrequently, doesn’t need a powerful machine) I would buy her a business class HP, Dell, Lenovo or Macbook either second hand or refurbished or on special. It wouldn’t be a faster machine than the equivalently priced consumer machine – infact, it would probably be slower! But, it will have a much better build quality, and it will survive being moved / used a lot better.

    Of course, as I said before, if your laptop is a glorified desktop, then the build quality is less of an issue.

  17. Wow. There is a ton of vitriol here for this post. While the entire methodology used to purchase a laptop might not be expounded on, I eventually came to the same conclusion, the Dell Inspiron 15r. I was looking for laptops for the last 6 months and finally pulled the trigger. I wanted a sandy bridge i7, the possibility of buying a 9-cell battery, RAM is cheap so I did not care, I did not care about the HDD space, but I wanted discrete graphics memory (128MB), USB 3.0, and SATA III which are all included in this system. I wanted something that would work now, but was rather next generation so that it can be future proofed for the foreseeable future. I found it for 499 on amazon, and it even had a free $50 gift card.

    Yes I could have gone “used” but I hate used computers as you never know what people have done to them and for $100 bucks you can get a better, new, warrantied one. I use a laptop a lot, a LOT. I have used HP, Dell, IBM (new Levono), Toshiba, etc. I don’t care the brand. To me the software is what makes the difference. This is not a holy war, just a machine to do a task. As long as it has the specs required, and will meet your needs, you should be happy with it. No manufacturer sets out to make a bad product, and everyone that comes off the line is expected to last 3-5 years (the MTBF for the individual parts). If they don’t, it is a statistical anomaly, and not some evil grand scheme that they “suck”.

    Have fun with your new laptop and hope it works for what you need. I think it is a great buy of the modern sandy bridge crop.

  18. I have a dell insperon 15″ laptop and love it. Paid 317 bucks for it including shipping. My spouse gave me grief after the initial warranty ran out for letting the guy from India sell me on a 4 year extended warranty for another 247 bucks. Since then she dropped it twice and they sent us a new hard drive to fix it. So we are on #4 hard drive not counting the one that was replaced shortly after we got it.

  19. I bought the Dell XPS 15 and it the best value for money laptop I have ever bought! I have owned it for over a year now and never had a single problem with it. I agree I think that value for money Dell are definitely the best. I would advise a money saving tip however and wait until after christmas for the sales.

    • Sometimes Christmas is a good time. The best time actually is “back to school”. Lots of people are buying laptops for their kids, so there is a lot of competition for them. Christmas, yes, but not so much… I don’t think new laptops are necessarily the best value. You can buy one or two generations back. If you know the specs, you buy a superior machine for less money.