Yes, companies are offering "free" PCs, but the strings attached are too odious. For example, www.peoplepc.com offers a "free" computer, but you have to agree to buy your Internet services from that unproven company at a steep $24.95 a month for at least 36 months, plus $48 to ship your computer. With free Internet access and e-mail now available from http://worldspy.com (see "E-Mail And Web sites"), PeoplePC's shrimpy hard-drive computer ain't no bargain. And don't try to sell me on Gateway's iMac-inspired PC for $799. It's not expandable and has a cripplingly small hard drive.
Here's the bargain: the Dell Dimension L with the plenty-fast-enough 433 MHz Intel processor. Its $899 price may--to a cheapskate--seem a bit painful compared to mass retailers' offerings, but Dell's quality, well-integrated components, freedom from strings attached and superior tech support justify the extra bucks, even for a miser like you. To ease the pain, in most states, there's no sales tax. Yet another balm: Dell usually throws in a free peripheral: a basic scanner, printer or WebCam, for example.
The only upgrades a cheapskate need add to the basic Dell:
· Increase the hard drive from the puny standard 4.3 gigs to a capacious 13.6 gigs for $68. Or if you're planning to store lots of graphics or music files, go all the way to 20 gigs for just $131.
· If you'll spend more than a couple of hours a day in front of your monitor, it's probably worth the $87 to upgrade to a high-quality 17-inch Trinitron monitor.
· Need an office software suite? Add the Professional Edition of Microsoft Office 2000, the gold standard. It's about $199 (street). Want an even lower price for more features? Sun Microsystems' Microsoft Office-compatible StarOffice 5.1, is downloadable at www.sun.com/staroffice . . . for free!