I subscribe to several hobby-related email lists and frequently visit a number of Web-based bulletin boards. Although none of these lists or bulletin boards is computer-related, given the nature of the communications medium, computing questions are common. When the question is, "Where do I get the best deal on a new computer?" one common (and often inappropriate) response is, "Build your own."

Five or six years ago, that answer would have been reasonable because most participants in these discussion groups were computer professionals and hobbyists. But now these online communities host large numbers of nontechnical users who consider computers simply a tool, and although you might be able to convince these people that building their own computers is a good idea, they probably won't thank you when they need technical support for their home-built problems.

However, sending these users out to buy a computer at full retail price isn't likely to be the answer they're looking for, either. These people want the best deal on the most appropriate system for their needs, so I generally recommend one of two options: local dealers and refurbished computers. If the person asking the questions is local to me, I recommend a few reputable computer dealers. I know these dealers will provide good value for the money and decent technical support. The other option is a refurbished computer from a major computer vendor. Most all first- and second-tier PC makers have Web sites where you can purchase refurbished or remanufactured computers that come with full warranties and technical support at a steep discount over new computers.

Often, vendors offer refurbished computers from their current production lines, so buying outdated or obsolete technology isn't typically a problem. Even if a refurbished computer doesn't have the absolute latest technology, I doubt that most users will notice the performance difference between a 1.4GHz or 1.7GHz Pentium III processor.

Refurbished computers are often ideal solutions for users who want the most for their money but don't have the technical skills to build or maintain a home-built system. The following links will help them get started.

Refurbished IBM Computers
Refurbished Dell Computers
Refurbished Compaq Computers
Remanufactured Gateway Computers

In addition to remanufactured deals, many vendors offer online coupons and specials that save buyers additional money. The following sites offer links to online discounts:

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