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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Understanding PC Sources, Vendors and Prices | Researching Vendors and Prices ]

PC-Oriented Magazines and Magazine Ads

One of the best ways to really immerse yourself in the PC market and get a good handle on what's "out there" in terms of equipment, manufacturers and prices is to make use of some of the more popular PC-related magazines. The articles are usually informative, but in many ways, the ads in the magazines are of more use to the PC buyer. These ads show what is currently available in the field of hardware, and also what you should expect to pay for different systems and components.

There are dozens of PC-related magazines available today; some relate to computing as a whole, some are focused on a particular niche or market segment. The ones that focus on a specific area of computing can be useful if they correspond to an area that you have interest in. For example, there are several magazines focused on mobile PC use, and they tend to have primarily articles, reviews and ads related to notebook PCs. These are the magazines to check out if you are in the market for a notebook. Others are focused on gaming and deal with high-end hardware for that application, and so on.

I couldn't begin to list all the different magazines available, and there wouldn't be much point if I did. However, there's one publication that bears mentioning specifically, or at least, used to: Computer Shopper. For many years this was a gargantuan magazine containing literally hundreds of pages of large ads from thousands of different manufacturers and vendors. Unfortunately, it seems of late to have "gone on a diet", as it is not nearly the size it once was. It still is worth looking through if you want to see what the state of the market is.

Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping using magazine ads:

  • Prices Are Out Of Date: It takes time to publish an issue of a magazine, and the "copy" for ads must be ready 2 to 3 months in advance of when the magazine is printed. In the world of PC pricing, 2 to 3 months is an eternity. This means that pricing should be taken as approximate only. Always call for the latest pricing. (Some companies no longer bother to even list specific prices, for fear of scaring off customers with out of date pricing.)
  • Compare! One of the most useful aspects of these magazines is that you can easily flip between ads to compare components, features, policies and prices. Take advantage of it.
  • Ad Size and Company Size: The bigger companies generally tend to have the biggest ads (but not always). Certainly, the large direct-market vendors will have multiple-page spreads, and the smallest companies will have the smallest ads. Also, bigger companies usually have ads towards the front of the magazine, because those placements cost more. You can use this as a rough gauge of the size of the company. While "size isn't everything", it is certainly something. Buying from a tiny company not local to you that advertises in the back of the magazine is not recommended unless you check them out in advance.
  • Ads Are Limited: Companies pay a great deal for their ads, and so they try to use them for what they want: selling. You won't find a lot of the "boring details" in the magazine ads, nor will you find much on the limitations or restrictions of their products. Be sure to get the "whole story" on features, pricing, terms, service policies and warranties by visiting the company's web site or calling them on the phone when you are close to being ready to make your purchase.

As for the reviews in computer magazines, they can also help inform you about new technologies and products, but frankly, they often aren't as extensive or objective as the reviews available online from independent hardware review sites. You also have to understand that it's very difficult for these magazine publishers to really be neutral. If a big company makes a clunker of a new product, and the reviewer pans it, the magazine's editors risk losing potentially millions of dollars of ad revenues. As a result, you'll rarely see anything bad mentioned about any large companies in these magazines. If the reviewer acts "un-enthused", that's about as negative as things get in many cases.

Note: Many of the big computer magazines have online equivalents as well. They tend to be more convenient for the articles, but you won't be able to peruse the ads in the same way.

Tip: If you will be shopping extensively over a period of time, or if you just enjoy what the magazines have to offer, subscribe. You will normally save well over half the cost of buying the magazine one issue at a time, not to mention saving the hassle of having to make a purchase every few weeks.

Next: Online Independent Research Resources

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