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Geekonomics 101

By Kenneth Hess (Send Email)
Posted Apr 8, 2009


Ken Hess
Did you ever notice how computer geeks always have the coolest gadgets, leading-edge electronics and mini data centers in their basements? Do you wonder where all that money comes from to buy that stuff? Well, they aren't withdrawing their 401k funds to do it. They know where and how to shop. Learn how to shop and save like a geek. Clean your glasses, tie up your ponytail, groom your Van Dyke, turn on your digital voice recorder and slip on your ninja suit* for a trip into geekdom through this crash course: Geekonomics 101.

Computers: Desktops and Servers

Cover Your Assets: Think like a geek. Buy like a geek. Save like a geek.

It might surprise you to know that geeks hit the big name computer brands first because they know that there are some nearly unbeatable deals lurking just beneath the home page. Geeks check out clearance items, special sales and refurbished units — that's right, refurbished. Don't be afraid of refurbished units because often refurbished means that someone opened the box and returned the unit without ever powering it on. The manufacturer can't put it up for sale as new so it becomes part of the refurbished list. Even if refurbished literally means refurbished, you'll still receive a full or near full warranty on the product at significant savings.

Cover Your Assets
More tips on how to Cover Your Assets

When you're looking for those special deals, tune-in to the synonyms for inexpensive, such as refurbished, recertified, remanufactured, returned and "pulls." Always look for exceptions, warranty information and language related to the sale for any non-new product. "All Sales Final" and "All returns subject to a 15% restocking fee" exist to protect the seller, and you should proceed with caution under these circumstances. Any vendor worth dealing with will honor returns on dead on arrival (DOA) devices, components and systems.

Some vendors prefer to work through online auction sites. Most of the time these vendors are reputable but you should check out their feedback and their overall ratings. Look for positive feedback above 95 percent and a seller status of "Power Seller" or similar.

Software

When it comes to software, don't fall for deals that you know are too good to be true. These so-called "gray market" deals put you at a great deal of financial risk. Gray market software is legitimate software sold to a company, licensed to that company and now resold without the original corresponding hardware. Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) software products fall into this gray market area. Computers shipped directly from manufacturers arrive pre-installed with an operating system and possibly other software. Software purchased for an existing system is "Retail." While there's generally no difference in the two products, their respective licensing is very different — an OEM license is attached to a specific piece of hardware and retail is attached to the consumer.

Deal with reputable online or local software vendors. Good deals are out there; great deals are out there. Unfortunately, illegal and unsavory deals are also out there. There's plenty of free software available too: Linux, OpenOffice.org, GIMP, Evolution, KDE and GNOME. True geeks know that free software beats the alternatives at any price.

Electronics and Gadgetry

Every geek knows where to find hot deals on electronics and gadgetry. I'm not just referring to fancy phones and MP3 players when I say electronics and gadgetry, although you'll find an abundance of those things on any good geek site. I'm talking about routers, switches, portable external hard drives, flash drives as well as the more esoteric devices such as GPSs, weather stations and game consoles.

A note of caution concerning electronics: Watch those shipping costs. Particularly on auction sites, shipping costs are a major source of problems for buyers. You bid on, and win, a refurbished router for $300 and the shipping and processing fees can cost you upward of $100. I've seen $25 items incur $50 shipping costs. Call or em-ail the vendor before purchasing. Geeks occasionally get taken by not reading the fine print in their excitement to land a deal.

Where to Look

Here's what you've waited for — the "go to" places for geeks in search of techno-goodies. This list is by no means exhaustive but it'll start you off in the right direction.

  • AlienWare - Hot, High-end Desktops and Laptops
  • CDW - Computer Hardware and Software
  • CostCo - Everything
  • Dell - Desktops, Laptops and Servers
  • DirectDeals - Software, Electronics, Desktops, Servers
  • Hot Deals - They Don't Sell Anything, Just Links!
  • Hewlett-Packard - Desktops, Laptops and Servers
  • IBM - Desktops, Laptops and Servers
  • NewEgg - Software, Electronics, Desktops, Servers
  • PriceWatch - Software, Electronics, Desktops, Servers
  • System 76 - Linux Desktops, Laptops and Servers
  • TigerDirect - Software, Electronics, Desktops, Servers
  • Woot - One Killer Deal per Day

It's a misconception that geeks have some sort of underground economy where the patrons speak in binary code or some TLA**-infested language that sounds like Klingon. In fact, just the opposite is true. Sure, geeks love their technobabble, but when it comes to the buying and selling of electronic gear, there is a universal tongue: Money. If you want to put your Geekonomics 101 course to practical use, the next time you're in a super store, point to an item and say, "I can get that cheaper at < insert geeky website name here >" and wait for the negotiations to begin.

Write back and tell me about your best geek deals and where to buy them.

* Real ninja suits don't come in XXL and larger.
** TLA is a Three-Letter Acronym for Three Letter Acronym.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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