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How to Get a 'Free' Computer

Contrary to what the email messages in your spam folder say, no one is going to hand you a spiffy new 10-inch netbook, but it is possible to essentially get one for free (no bogus surveys required).

Recently, it's become apparent that my 5-year-old laptop is getting tired.

Over the years, I've upgraded the RAM to the max, and it's seen a couple of complete OS overhauls, as well as a hard drive replacement. But a lot of the peripheral hardware, like the card reader and DVD drive, as well as a couple of the USB ports have died, and at its age it's not worth it to replace them.

At the time I bought it, I shopped hard, and this computer owes me nothing.

In its day it was top-of-the-line, and it's still pretty decent, compared to some of the less expensive laptops out there. When it's retired, the plan is to mostly use it to play music and video--at least for as long as that last USB port holds out, which is why it's become time to get a new laptop. With my job being virtual, my paycheck hangs by an ever more delicate data cable connection.

I may not like having to adjust to a new tool for my trade, but when that time comes, I've never been one to skimp. In fact, it is because I hate that break-in period that I always make sure I get something that's far enough ahead of the technology curve that it will be around for a while.

So in shopping, I found myself eying up a very pretty quad-core with harman/kardon speakers.

I never said my taste matched my paycheck.

Still, I've found over the years that if you are diligent, the “price” is not always the price. One can almost always do better.

But in this case, I thought I'd still probably have to wait a little--this machine was several hundred dollars more than I wanted to pay. In all likelihood, it would take a few months at least for the price to fall into the range I was looking for.

Meanwhile, in shopping, I came up with the notion that acquiring a mini-netbook would be a useful thing, and also would serve as a temporary backup, in case my computer lost its last tenuous link with the outside world.

Not just any one would do, however. Again, if I'm going to spend the money and have to get used to using it, it's got to be a decent one.

The one I decided on is current, runs Windows 7, and runs about $300 to $350.

Still more than I wanted to spend, I decided to play a game. I would buy it on the spot if I could find it for $200 or less.

(“But that's not a free netbook,” you're thinking. Bear with me. All those emails and ads, if they're legit at all, require you to complete offers and buy stuff. I didn't say I didn't spend any money. But I didn't get myself on any spam lists or give information to anyone in Nigeria, either.)

So I did a search on my netbook with the price of $200, and lo, I found a site that specializes in refurbs. There was my computer, as a “scratch and dent,” with a warranty that is six months longer than the manufacturer's, for $192 shipped. The only catch was, the only available color at that price was purple. I decided I could easily live with that.

It arrived in less than 72 hours, beautifully packed, with a charged battery. It did indeed have one small scratch, about an inch long, on the lid, which you can see if you hold it tilted correctly to the light.

I was more than satisfied, but the matter of the quad-core still needed attention, though I was fairly certain the computer I was looking at wouldn't fall in price until around October, just after the school rush, but before Christmas.

So I continued to price watch...and after another week went by, it turned up on Amazon under the “used” category, for $85 less than the $500 I was prepared to shell out.

This computer is a current Toshiba A665 model, and retails for more than $800. Shop hard, and you can get it down to around $725.

Despite my penchant for a bargain, buying “used” wasn't on my list--I wanted at least some kind of warranty--but still, I clicked just to look.

Good thing.

Apparently, goods returned to Amazon, even if not defective, are considered “used” and go to Amazon Warehouse Deals. They carry the original manufacturer's warranty in most cases, and get sold for a deep discount.

The machine I was looking at was considered to be 'very good,' that is, in an open box, with the possibility of a minor scratch or other flaw. If I didn't like it it was fully returnable. And it was available with free shipping.

Hmmm. Having just bought the mini, I really didn't plan on spending the money on the second computer, but at this price...

I didn't hesitate long, and I'm glad. It arrived less than 48 hours later, and other than the fact that the seal was cracked on the box, looked to be untouched. There wasn't so much as a fingerprint on it.

Definitely, on both counts, I'm a happy camper.

Did I really get a free mini laptop, no spam required? It depends on how you look at it.

If I hadn't decided to play that little game of “I want this for this ridiculously low price--I know it's out there and I'm going to find it,” and been diligent for a few days on the netbook hunt, I wouldn't have hit on the killer quad-core laptop at 45 percent off.

In the end, I paid just over $600 for the two laptops together, shipped—$200 less than the usual cost for just one of them.

Perhaps it's not exactly 'free,' but more of a two-for-one deal from the universe. And best of all, there was absolutely no spam required.

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