Posted: October 23, 2017

Why should I buy your recommended Dell laptop when I found this 9” laptop for only $9.99?!?! Because the $9.99 unit is a Lite Brite Magic Screen. And, the $99.99 laptop deal sounds like a bargain until you actually explore the value instead of just the cost.

We frequently get requests to help our faculty and staff with purchasing computer equipment. Often the question comes up: why not buy this cheap computer that's on sale at Best Buy or Amazon, etc, instead of spending more to buy a Dell? Hopefully this article will explain the rationale behind Ag IT's position on this. As always, when thinking about purchasing a computer, we ask that you work with your area's IT Consultant to go over your needs and find something that will work for both you and for IT. You can reach your Consultant by submitting a ticket to the Ag IT Help Desk at

PC manufacturers like Dell and HP generally split their non-server computers into two basic categories: home and business. Home machines, such as the Dell Inspiron and Dell Dimension, are targeted at regular consumers - home users and students - who are generally buying only one machine at a time. They often will use more cutting-edge components, and the life-cycle of any particular model is quite short. Because of this, there are often sales to get rid of old inventory and make way for a newer model. This shortened life-cycle also means that in some cases the window of time when the manufacturer will support the machine with new updates to drivers and firmware is shortened. Our setup process can't support these constantly changing computer models, so the initial set up, rebuilding and some maintenance to the machine must be done manually, requiring much more downtime for you and much more time for the IT department.

Business or enterprise class machines are handled differently. The life cycle is generally much longer, sometimes years, with small incremental upgrades to the available options during that time (for example, they may offer a faster speed of processor over time, but the basic design of the machine remains unchanged). This stable platform allows IT infrastructure to be built around supporting a particular model as it will remain viable for a longer period of time. We leverage tools to set up new computers, rebuild computers that have problems, and manage certain BIOS settings, that are only available to machines supported by this infrastructure. For example, Dell provides periodic driver bundles for its enterprise machines, which we can deploy remotely to Optiplex, Precisions and Latitudes in our College. These may provide performance boosts, compatibility with newer software, or in many instances, security fixes. Dell continues to provide updates for their enterprise machines for several years after release.

Another difference which can have a huge impact on users is the warranty. Many home machines will have a warranty that ranges from 90 days to 1 year. Making use of the warranty often requires that they ship an empty box to you, you then ship the computer back in it, and then wait for a period of time (sometimes weeks) until it is returned.

In contrast, Dell's service contract with Penn State gives us Next-Business Day support, with most machines having 3 or 4 years of coverage. Dell has contracted with staff that live in State College and are solely responsible for supporting Penn State, as well as throughout the state serving all counties. This allows a quick turnaround when there are hardware problems with either a technician appearing the next day with replacement parts, or in some cases an entire replacement device. This is just another major reason we recommend Dell machines for college business.

So while you may save a few dollars up front purchasing a discount machine, purchasing a more standardized machine will save both you and the college time and money through the lifespan of the device.

NOTE: An exception to this would be Macintosh computers, and Surface Pro tablets, which are non-Dell machines for which we do have some level of support.

- Scott Irvin, IT Consultant

Information Technologies


401 Ag Administration Building
State College, PA 16802