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How to get Black Friday specials without camping out before the crack of dawn

So, tomorrow’s the biggest shopping day of the year, with deals like 2-gig SD cards for digital cameras for $25; Sony Playstation 3s for, well, regular price while they last; 1-gig USB disks for $13, select CDs and DVDs for $9.99 and under, laptops for under $300, and so on.

Did you know you can get some of that stuff without leaving home?Right now I’m buying a USB disk and an SD card for a digital camera from OfficeMax’s web site. They’re actually offering the specials today. Some sites don’t offer the specials until the stroke of midnight. But if you don’t want to fight the crowds and camp out in parking lots, or if you’re like me and–ahem–have to be at work tomorrow (I was going to say “have to work,” but we all know how productive tomorrow’s going to be), it’s still possible to get the deals.

So, hit the newspaper or your favorite Black Friday site (blackfriday.info isn’t a bad place to start), find what you’re after, then start hitting the web. Maybe you’ll have to stay up until midnight tonight, but that’s a lot easier than getting up at 4.

I won’t keep you.

Beware the “flat screen” scam

I was just pricing out some parts for the pending Compaq Presario upgrade when I remembered the latest scam–well, it’s not technically a scam, but it’s definitely deceptive advertising. Many stores offer a bundle with a low-end PC and a 17-inch “flat screen” for an unbelievable deal, like $499. Chances are, if you read this site, some relative of yours is going to be asking about that, if they haven’t started asking already. And I’m pretty sure you know that right now $399 is a pretty good deal for a 17-inch LCD flat panel alone.
Needless to say, that 17-inch “flat screen” isn’t an LCD. It’s a CRT. Sometimes they even use camera tricks in the picture to try to make the CRT look like an LCD.

In all truthfulness, that 17-inch monitor being advertised as a bargain flat screen probably does have a flatter screen than whatever your relative is using right now. And CRTs continue to improve steadily. But it’s still a CRT, and it’s probably not what your relative is looking for.

Tell your relatives to read the fine print and look for an LCD. And tell them to keep in mind nobody’s giving away LCDs right now, because LCDs are one of the very few things in the computer field that have held steady demand for the past couple of years. At least one consumer electronics chain used a 14-inch Mag Innovision LCD as a Black Friday special, pricing it at $99 after rebates the day after Thanksgiving. I expect that deal will reappear once or twice in the coming year, but a 14-inch LCD gives the same screen real estate as a 15-inch CRT. It’d be great for a second computer–I’ll eventually buy one to keep in my study, where a small and quiet computer is ideal–but it’s probably not what LCD bargain hunters are looking for either.

Oh, and speaking of the Presario, if you’re looking for a replacement power supply for it on the cheap either for a motherboard upgrade or because one has failed, the product you want is the Foxconn Allied ATX200SFX, priced at $19 at Newegg.com. It’ll also fit an eMachine and the small-form Gateway and HP PCs. The trick to recognizing an SFX power supply is to look at how it’s bolted into the chasis. If it’s held in by three screws, with two on one side and a third on the other side towards the middle, it’s probably an SFX form factor. A lot of smaller ATX power supplies use four screws. So ask your vendor lots of questions, and buy as much wattage as you can get in whatever size you’re stuck with.