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By Louis Ramirez, dealnews Senior Feature Writer
Laptop sales are in the dumps. Windows 8 was supposed to give them a jump-start, but Redmond's new operating system turned out to be worse than Vista. In fact, analysts are now blaming Windows 8 for the lull in sales, which in turn is giving tablet sales such an upper hand that they're expected to surpass notebook shipments later this year. Even the mighty Intel can't save the laptop industry.
While this all may sound like a nightmare scenario for retailers, it's a blessing for consumers: this summer you'll be able to score some extraordinary laptop deals at Black Friday-like prices. And with new back-to-school sales surfacing each week, laptop deals are bound to break records. So forget about the summer BBQ. Here's why now is the perfect time to shop for a new laptop.
Despite all the fanfare, Windows 8 failed to live up to the hype. Yes, Microsoft sold over 100 million licenses of its shiny new OS, but Windows 8 didn't ignite sales. It also received an unprecedented amount of negative feedback, and it simply didn't sit well with consumers. Sales were so bad that Microsoft cut licensing costs for its partners. And while Microsoft's forthcoming OS update is expected to address many concerns, it's still unlikely that it will give laptop sales the extra boost they need. That means Microsoft, big-box retailers, and manufacturers are all on the mend, desperately trying to get consumers back in stores, preferably buying new systems. And what better way to lure customers than with low prices.
dealnews data has consistently shown that the summer is the second-best time of year to buy a new laptop. (For the best laptop deals, no time of year beats Black Friday, although recent deals have come remarkably close.) Last summer we found a particularly high number of laptop bundles that combined a mainstream 15" notebook with a gaming console, a gift card, or even an inkjet printer. And contrary to popular belief, these combos don't always require purchasers to be students. The months of August and September tend to see the best deals with bundles that include everything from an Xbox 360 to a $100 Amazon gift card. Because PC sales are particularly bad this year, we wouldn't be surprised to see solid bundles throughout the summer, so if you want to get the most value from your purchase, we recommend waiting for the right back-to-school bundle.
Intel's new Haswell chips, which offer better battery life and video performance than Intel's 2012 Ivy Bridge processors, will soon take over the market. That means we can expect to see some deep discounts on laptops that use Intel's older chips. As of June, prices were already in the $350 range for a mainstream 15" Ivy Bridge notebook (with a Core i5 CPU, 4GB RAM, and at least 500GB of storage), which is the second-lowest price of the year. While there are some benefits to having a newer CPU under your laptop's hood, the performance increase isn't dramatic. For everyday computing, high-def media streaming, and even light gaming, an Ivy Bridge-based laptop still offers more than enough horsepower.
So how can you tell if the laptop you're looking at has an Ivy Bridge processor inside? Look at the string of numbers that appears after the processor name. For instance, the "4" in Core i7-4650U signifies a 4th generation Haswell chip, whereas the "3" in Core i7-3537U signifies last year's Ivy Bridge chip.
In addition to competing with its own previous-generation processors, Intel must also compete with AMD's new processors, which debuted this month. Codenamed Temash, Kabini, and Richland, AMD's new chips were designed for tablets/hybrids, mainstream systems, and premium laptops, respectively. Although they haven't been officially tested, the editors at Notebook Review were impressed by the new processors' battery life during their initial evaluation. Intel has a comfortable lead over AMD when it comes to processor market share, but with laptop shipments down and competition lurking around every corner, every bit counts. So competition from AMD, albeit far from threatening, will help keep laptop prices low.
Apple introduced its first iPad back in April of 2010, and here we are three years later with tablet shipments poised to surpass laptop sales for the first time in history. By 2017, tablets will actually outsell notebooks six to one. Needless to say, tablets have decimated the laptop industry leading to the worst PC sales ever, which in turn has led to some of the best laptop deals ever. As tablets continue to push laptops out of the market and Intel continues looking for new form factors, you can expect the cheap laptop prices to continue.
So whether you need a new laptop for school or are looking for a secondary laptop for the home, there's never been a better time to make a purchase. As stated earlier, prices are currently in the $350 range (and have gone as low as $299) for an Ivy Bridge 15" Core i5-based system with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. So anything you find at or below $299 is an Editors' Choice-worthy deal.