Spotted at 39th and 7th: $99 Laptop

On my daily walk from the subway to my office in Times Square, I pass a handful of electronic kiosks. The hoards of cell phones in the window usually catch my eye, but not enough to make me venture into the shady stores to check them out. But one store on 39th Street and 7th Avenue with a neon-orange, marker scribbled sign reading “Laptop Sale from $99.95″ gave me a kick in the butt to open the door to a pushy salesman today. Some will say that my love for cheap laptops has gone too far. I say nonsense. What will $99.95 buy you at the small electronics store at West 39th Street and 7th Avenue? A used laptop and we aren’t talking a used OLPC XO or Eee PC. The extremely pushy salesman pulled out an eight year old Dell Latitude LM. The laptop, which is as thick as a Harry Potter book, to my surprise actually booted up without an AC adapter. When we asked what operating system it ran, all we got from our salesman, who we will call Sketch, was “It has Microsoft Office inside!” And he was absolutely right. When the Windows 2000 Professional desktop displayed we found a Microsoft Office suite under Programs. Not too shabby. He wouldn’t let us check the system properties but he told us it had 12GB of space. The CD-ROM drive on the right side of the machine miraculously opened with a splash of dust. We suspect it had less than 1GB of RAM. To sweeten the deal Sketch offered a laptop case which he said would “make the laptop feel like nothing.” It all got me thinking about buying a secondary or a cheap, knock around laptop. Are hand-me down laptops for $100 the way to go until we hit the $100 laptop price point? Do they beat buying a brand new MSI Wind for $499  or Eee PC 701 for as low as $299 which will only compliment your every day PC for short trips and surfing on the couch? Recently Bob O’Donnel, vice president of IDC said that, “Despite its potential, the cheap laptop will not be adopted by consumers worldwide. The price difference with an average laptop is just too marginal. The consumer is probably going to pay that small amount of extra money to purchase a traditional laptop.” But not a used $99 laptop.  That is the price of a monthly cell phone bill for most. And then there is the case for educational computing. Used laptops that are actually $100 are bound to be less money than a handful of XO computers or Classmates. We could load Sugar on this old Dell LM and it would probably run quite smoothly. So we ask you readers, should we shell out $100 on this laptop? If we do, what should we do with it? Maybe we can even save it by loading on a flavor of Linux. We did leave a 50 cent deposit. And if Sketch is to be trusted, he is holding it for us until tomorrow.

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  1. Nova Says:

    It’s selling for $99 because nobody wants it.

    If it was such a great deal, it would’ve sold long ago.

    Looks ugly, big and heavy, and is horribly outdated – even compared to a netbook. The Wind is worth the extra $400 compared to that. The one big advantage of that ancient $99 Dell is that you can actually buy it right now, unlike the Wind or most other new netbooks that were supposed to be available by now.

  2. LAptop guy Says:

    I think you should buy it, if it sucks, than you can easily upgrade it, i always say “even if this laptop is bad compared to somebody that doesn’t even have a laptop, go buy it, and please tell us how it goes, thanks and good luck…

  3. Jon Gl Says:

    That’s what I did a few weeks ago. Actually, I bought an even _older_ Dell–the Latitude CPi, dating from the last years of the last century (1999 or 2000). I know it must be older than my main computer, a 2000 model Apple Powerbook (PIsmo), which is still going strong. In any case, this Dell of mine has a 366mhz processor, and 160 meg of ram. I threw my own hard drive in it (30 gig) and have installed both Puppy Linux and Xubuntu running either icewm or LXDE (depending on my mood).

    What do I use this guy for? It’s my beater laptop. I don’t want to carry all my valuable data on my bike, so when I ride my bike, I use this laptop. It’s also great for experimenting with, oh, and its battery is still good for about 45min-1hr, so I use it in the living room, back yard, etc. Wireless works great with a PC card.

    Is it slow? Yup–depending on whether I overload the processor or not. If I’m running Puppy, it screams. Xubuntu in the above-mentioned windows managers also is quite fast–you don’t notice its age most of the time. Just don’t overload it.

    If you want a computer you can experiment with and just bang around, then this beats a Wind any day! :-)


  4. Laptop guy Says:

    yep i agree with you, Jon… this is what i meant..

  5. Andrew Says:

    I love old dell laptops. I got an old Latitude c800 at home. I have given it a hard run but it still works. I now use it with a usb wifi adapter and turned it into a wireless print server.

  6. Mike Cane Says:

    Joanna Stern The Brave! You didn’t shake hands with Sketch, did you? Check if you still have all your fingers!

  7. Mark Regan Says:

    I did even better than that. I bought a Dell Latitude CP for $50 from the original owner! The cursor was locked up because she had NEVER defraged it. I did a defrag, which unlocked the cursor, checked the 2 gig hard drive and found the computer had been sold with Windows 95, she had installed Windows 98, then Windows 2000 and then XP home on it. It also had a full load of Microsoft 2000 suite programs, and a recent Quick Books version.

    I added Windows XP Pro, which used up the balance of the free space, slimmed it down by deleting files not used by me, defragged it again, then replaced the drive with a four gig used drive obtained from a friend for $10, cloned everything onto the 4 gig drive, then spent about $40 on 4 gigs of USB memory sticks on which I loaded all my videos and word processing and photos. So for less than a hundred bucks, I’ve got a laptop with a good battery with XP pro and pretty recent yet reliable software that has had all the bugs worked out of it.

    Eventually I got rid of most of the Microsoft products except the XP Pro and replaced them with Sun Microsystems and Google and Mozilla and VLC Media Player, which offer comparable programs taking up half the space of the MS dinosaurs which either have to be constantly upgraded or become unsupported. Sometimes my laptop outperforms new computers with all the modern space and time consuming programs.

    Lesson: nearly any old computer can be speeded up by deleting unncessary and cumbersome MS files, and by replacing bulky MS programs with faster, smaller free programs which are usually better. USB flash memories and online storage eliminate problems relating to small hard drives. Unless you are into gaming, the older computers work fine for most word processing and internet research activities.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    use it in the bathroom or kitchen

  9. jason Says:

    A little late but maby some help, I have that very same notebook. First thing first, it will max out at 72 mb ram. some say less but I have proven that at least 72mb will work. the bios can only handle a little over 8gig hard drive. there are ways around that but…… the processor is a p133. Now that you know its potential you know that win 2000 CAN run on it but 98se or better yet 95 is better. no usb, no Ethernet. Ohh and it will not boot from the cd. try and get the floppy drive that interchanges with the cd drive. If not no big deal cause they are on ebay all day long for less than 20$. I paid 20$ for my laptop and its like new. got 64 mb ram 15.98 with shipping. It has 8mb on board for the 72mb. I have no had fun getting high speed on this machine so far. 16 bit cardbus :( . any way, send me an email if you need to know more or if you have figured anything I dont know.

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