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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Designing and Specifying PC Systems and Components | Component Specification Issues ]

"Free" Components With Systems

System manufacturers sell PCs using all sorts of sales and marketing techniques. One that I frequently see is the addition of "free" components to system packages to make the buyer think he or she is getting a great deal. The manufacturer describes a particular configuration of hardware, states a specific cost, and then says the system includes a "free" printer, or scanner, or some other hardware (or software).

I have a one-word response to this sort of marketing routine: TANSTAAFL. There's no such thing as a "free" anything when you are buying a package deal, the company has simply chosen to portray the sale that way. Why should the speakers be considered part of the "cost" part of a system but the printer "free"? Neither is particularly essential to a PC's operation. It's just an arbitrary decision made by marketing people to paint the system in a particular light. Ignore this stuff: look at everything included in the package and the bottom-line cost. You pay for every component in the system you buy.

Beyond the marketing games, you need to watch out for "free" hardware for another reason: it's often junk. A "free" printer is not likely to be a very good one, but rather the cheapest one the manufacturer can find while still meeting basic specifications. If you get a "free" printer that produces output so poor that you end up buying a better one anyway, you lose. That printer wasn't free, and now it's going to sit unused.

Another problem is that sometimes the "free" hardware is an add-on peripheral that really isn't all that valuable or useful to most users. Most shoppers get very interested when they hear the word "free", which is why system makers love to advertise in this way. And certainly, most people will make use of a "free" printer, but sometimes the included "freebies" are of very marginal usefulness. Some buyers will convince themselves of the great benefits of the "free" component they will get with the system. Yet a month or two later some "free" hardware ends up on a shelf.

You should also watch out for components that are sold in this similar but slightly different fashion: two or three devices sold as a package using "buy this or that, get this other thing free". Again, you aren't getting anything for free. Usually, the company will skimp and cut corners wherever possible to keep the total cost down. For example, you may see a "buy this CPU and get a motherboard free" offer: how good do you think that motherboard is going to be? Don't put it in my system! :^)

Tip: If buying a packaged PC, see if you can get some included components you don't need removed from the deal for credit; some manufacturers will do this. (Some will do it but give you a very poor credit back for it, so you may be better off selling the part instead.)

Next: Component Lifetimes and Budget Priorities

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