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Free laptops with broadband: what you need to know

Grab a free PC without selling your soul to an ISP

Up sides and down sides

If you’re after a hard-core gaming machine, you should look elsewhere. But if all you need is a broadband-enabled Vista laptop for word processing and browsing the web, you could do a lot worse than this deal (see previous page).

With the £15 laptop delivery charge, you’re forking out a total of £495 over the 24-month period for the AOL Broadband deal. That’s just £5 shy of the laptop’s claimed value, but you’re getting broadband access as well. These hardware-driven deals are good value – and they’re likely to prove popular. Blink and you might miss them.

The down sides are as follows: you’re tied into a broadband contract for two years as opposed to one. It’s a bit like signing up for a fixed-rate mortgage: if you sign up for a monthly subscription today, you may find prices go down over the course of a year and you’re unable to extract yourself from your contract. For most people, however, this is hardly a major hardship.

Another danger is that broadband providers might get a too little clever for their own good. As ISPs and retailers vie for an increased share of the UK’s broadband customer base, we could see another Hoover debacle. The company’s ‘free flights’ offer in 1992 famously resulted in a level of demand that rose far beyond the company’s expectations. The resulting £50m in financial losses eventually led to the sale of the British division to Italian manufacturer Candy.

A spokesman for AOL was keen to point out that the company had stockpiled 100,000 Dell laptops in anticipation of demand. Smaller, less well-funded companies, however, could come a cropper – potentially leaving the customer out of pocket. Bear this in mind when considering deals.

PCA PODCAST: GET LAPTOPS & BROADBAND FOR FREE

In this month's PC Advisor podcast, we discuss the emergence of 'free laptops', 'free broadband' and 'free software', and check out the best deals available to UK consumers. PLUS: find out why technology vendors are so keen to give their wares away, and learn how to avoid the pitfalls inherent in such freebie deals.


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