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How to Get the Best Deals on Back-to-School Laptops

August is the best month for back-to-school laptop sales, and Best Buy is expected to once again offer the best Mac deals of the season.
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The digital generation will be heading back to school soon, and out of all the tech they'll be touting, no device will be as useful as the laptop. Whether they use it to write papers or stream video, laptops are still at the top of the list when it comes to productivity.

Fortunately, they're also the star of many back-to-school summer sales. But before you make any purchase, there are a few things you need to know.

Laptop Prices Are Already at Record Lows

First and foremost, consumers should know that laptop deals are already great. Since the start of the year, the best deals for a 15" laptop with a mainstream Intel processor, such as the Haswell Core i5, have averaged $385. Just last month we saw deals for these systems hit a new all-time price low of $330.

Likewise, deals for laptops with Intel's current-generation Core i5 Broadwell CPU have also been on a steady decline dropping from $579 at the start of the year to $350 in June. Remarkably, these already-low prices will continue to decrease in the coming weeks with the potential to drop an extra 8% to 25% in August and early September.

What Processor Should You Buy

While there are numerous processors on the market, shoppers should focus on Intel's Core i5 processor, which is the company's mainstream CPU, capable of handling anything from casual gaming to high-definition video streams. (And of course, school work.) Shoppers can opt for last year's Haswell Core i5 processor, or this year's newer Broadwell Core i5 CPU.

In terms of pricing, opting for the older CPU will generally save you money, but in the past few months we've seen the price difference between both processors diminish to the point where shoppers will only save $20 by opting for the older CPU. So if possible, check the price of the system you're looking at with both a Haswell and a Broadwell CPU to see if there's a notable price difference. Otherwise, in terms of performance, the newer CPU doesn't offer much of a speed boost, but instead extends your laptop's battery life.

Retailers With the Best Deals

Every major retailer that sells laptops will have a back-to-school sale this summer. However, not all sales are alike. Last year, for instance, the Microsoft Store accounted for 39% of all of our Editors' Choice laptop deals. It was followed by Best Buy, who took 25% of the share and Fry's, which took 21%.

Manufacturers will also hold sales of their own via their online stores. This includes the Apple Store, Lenovo, and Dell.

Save Some Money with a Trade-In

If you already have a laptop and are simply looking for a newer one, don't forget that you can always trade-in your older system and get store credit that you can use toward the purchase of a new one. Sites like Gazelle and Glyde can help you sell off your old machine. And with Windows 10 launching on July 29, it's possible the Microsoft Store will offer trade-in discounts if you upgrade to a newer machine.

The Best Deals Will Arrive in August

Although back-to-school season officially started in late June, the best deals won't arrive until August, with some deals bleeding into the month of September. Last year, the month of August had the greatest number of Editors' Choice laptop deals followed by July and September, which had 5% and 32% fewer Editors' Choice laptop deals, respectively. Discounts were also steeper in August.

For instance, Lenovo's back-to-school sale took 35% off select laptops in July and later took a more substantial 76% off in August. Likewise, HP kicked off its back-to-school sale with a 20% off discount in July and later offered a more aggressive discount of $450 off plus an extra $100 off via a stackable coupon.

Use Your Student Email to Snag the Best Deals

Students have an upper hand when it comes to shopping back-to-school sales. That's because oftentimes you'll see sales that require a valid .edu email address. Apple's back-to-school sale, for instance, requires the use of an active .edu-based email account in order to qualify for its specials. Select deals from the Microsoft Store, Best Buy, Dell Home, and Amazon also require a student email address.

In most cases the deal is worth the extra effort. Last year, for instance, some of Best Buy's biggest Apple sales required registering at Best Buy via a .edu e-mail address.

The Best Apple Deals Will Not Come From the Apple Store

Year after year we've found that the best Mac deals come from retailers and not the Apple Store. The same applies when it comes to back-to-school season.

Sure, Apple's back-to-school sale will bundle an Apple gift card with your Mac purchase, but you'll find lower prices on Apple laptops at other retailers like Best Buy and Amazon. Sometimes you'll even score a bundled gift card or freebie. Last year, we found multiple Best Buy deals that offered the 13" and 11" MacBook Air laptops at prices that were up to $200 cheaper than Apple's discounted prices.

Procrastinators Can Rely on Labor Day

If you didn't find the right laptop deal during the months of July and August, the first week of September could offer you a second chance. Although Labor Day is usually the best time of the year for summer clearance items such as BBQ grills, retailers tend to extend their back-to-school sales through Labor Day weekend.

Last year we saw Lenovo, HP, and Fry's extend their back-to-school sales through the holiday weekend. However, keep in mind that there won't be as many deals, and although you'll still see the occasional Editors' Choice deal, your safest bet is to shop in August.

Of course, the easiest way to keep up with the incoming deluge of laptop deals is to check out our weekly roundup, as well as our laptop home page.


Senior Features Writer

With over a decade of experience covering technology, Louis Ramirez has written for CNET, Laptop, Gizmodo, and various other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @louisramirez.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Unless marked as a "Sponsored Deal," the opinions expressed here are those of the author and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the companies mentioned. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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2 comments
ntabatabai
Also not mentioned is the site BLINQ dot COM that works with all of the major electronics retailers to resell their excess and returned inventory at the best prices on the web (guaranteed). I advise doing all of your research and then check out that site to see if the laptop you want is available before going to another store and paying more.
benj
Surprised there is no mention of the Intel next gen processor. Skylake is getting a lot of hype. Might be worth waiting for this to launch in September if is actually on time. It should also push down pricing on laptops using existing broadwell and haswell processors.