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Being a frugal nerd in tough economic times – Part 2

Posted by paradisio on May 12, 2009

Not really the next full segment, this is more of a slight continuation of the previous, once again talking about consumer electronics and entertainment. This time the focus on portable music and personal computing.

First thing is I wanted to offer a piece of advice on the HDTV antennae I talked about last time. I ordered one for myself, and it worked great, but there is one thing you should know before you order an antennae. Unless your TV supports input of both Cable and Antennae, you’ll have to manually switch back and forth, which is a huge pain. So if you are planning on ordering an HDTV Antennae and want to use your basic cable, make sure your TV has dual coaxial cable input (the standard cable… cable). Sorry that I did not include this in the last post, and I hope you didn’t get burned like I did.

Second, I missed two big categories last time: Portable Music and Computers.

Portable Music:

If you’re looking for a good MP3 player without a lot of money upfront the best advice I can offer you is is an audio book subscription service which typically costs $15 a month (cheaper the first three months). Now you’re asking yourself? Uh, why are you talking about a subscription service? Simply, if you subscribe with them, you get $100 off audible compatible devices at Amazon. Of course, you do have to subscribe for 12 months to get this deal, so it will cost you in the long run, but it least it has no credit checks. Additionally, you can get a GPS with this deal as well since many are now compatible with MP3.

Don’t think you’re going to get shafted with a piece of junk either, almost all the major MP3 player lines are available under this deal, including iPod of course. Really, audible is a great service anyway and I recommend it. Even if you aren’t a big reader you may find listening to audio books very enjoyable, I know I do.

If you don’t want to get a subscription to anything, there are still plenty of affordable MP3 players. Apple themselves sells plenty of decent low cost MP3 players (shuffle), as does Sandisk (the Sansa) and other companies. In general, Apple makes very good quality MP3 players, just stay away from buying music on iTunes as much as possible due to the DRM they put on it that makes the music you buy there incompatible with other devices. I recommend you buy your music from Amazon MP3 instead, it’s cheaper, even if the interface is harder to use.

If you’re looking for MP3 player reviews and information check out, obviously they are a tad biased against Apple products though.


My first advice is about buying a laptop and why you shouldn’t. Many gamers look towards a gaming laptop to have the best of both worlds, but I have some words of experience, the opposite is true. I completely advise against a gaming laptop unless you are serious about mobile gaming. By buying a portable laptop you’re spending a ton of money for something a lot weaker than a comparably priced desktop, and to top it off, most gaming laptops have both poor battery life and portability. It’s really hard to lug around a 17″ gaming laptop and the cabling because the battery last an hour. The other big downside is, apart from RAM, it’s extremely hard, if not impossible to upgrade a laptop. Simply, you’ll get more power and longevity out of a desktop, trust me, I learned the hard way.

If you don’t want to heed my advice, my personal recommendation for laptops is Dell; shop around, customize them and use promo codes to get a good deal. Otherwise, some of the major retailers actually have fairly good laptops if you shop around and wait for sales. Unfortunately, I can’t really offer any concrete recommendations for current models based on my current experience.

If you do heed my advice, but still want a portable device for checking e-mail and what not, you can either get a smartphone or you can get a netbook, I recommend the later for a more fulfilling experience. A netbook is basically a small laptop with (typically) excellent battery life and wireless networking built in, but lacks an optical drive to save on size and power. They are designed for light activities such as e-mail and surfing and are usually quite affordable. My personal favorite netbook currently is the Asus 1000he which can be had for about $400. Don’t expect to be doing any real gaming, but it’s good for the ancient games of yore.

For Desktops, it’s a different story. First, you should look around and ask, what do I really need? You probably already have some computer components lying around, and they can save you a fair chunk of cash, especially if you already have a monitor (or perhaps an HDTV with an SVGA input). As far as what to buy, the common misconception now is that buying pre-builts is cheaper, this is simply untrue for 99% of desktop computers, you can potentially save hundreds of dollars by building your computer yourself, and it’s really not as hard as it seems or sounds. The place for computer components is undoubtedly, but if you want to buy a prebuilt eCollegePC has pretty good prices.

As far as shopping for components goes, just make sure all your components are compatible, read up online and ask for advice if you’re having some trouble. The downside of custom builds is obviously the effort required and the fact that you have nothing but the manufacturer’s limited warranty on the parts. But I think it’s very fulfilling to build your own computer. As an upside, you can get a free operating system since Windows 7 is now in open beta.

For software, you have a lot of solutions, you don’t have to buy the standard expensive office package, Open Office is a great free alternative. Just look around, most pay software these days has a free (and legal) alternative if you don’t mind the program begging you for donations.

Games are in a different league obviously, my personal recommendation for budget gamers is to buy old titles, you can usually get them at significantly discounted rates, but for newer titles I prefer the Steam service by Valve, and they frequently have good deals.


One Response to “Being a frugal nerd in tough economic times – Part 2”

  1. Boo said

    In response to parts about computer components. It is good to build your own computer due to the fact that you have a better understanding on how they work and are able to customize it more freely. But you don’t have to limit your shopping to online only. If you have at least on electronics store in your city (Fry’s Electronics, Circuit City, Microcenter) It is possible to save even more on some of these items. I work at one of these stores and every now and then I will see a sale for a laptop, CPU and RAM for about $200 compared to ~$450 when they aren’t on sale. So just by checking the local paper daily, you could potentially save hundreds

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