I do not actively survey PC prices, but it is my impression that prices are up a bit. I think this rebound had to happen, as the profit margins on PC products are, and have traditionally always been, very thin. There is no real change in the hardware itself going on - hardware platforms have been very stable. Manufacturers just seem to be taking a bit more profit. Also, some of the rebates offered are getting smaller or harder to find.
I often recommend Dell products but Dell prices seem to be up a fair amount. Dell has also made things a bit more difficult by broadening out its product line. Dell Dimension PCs used to be available in basically three main categories - the 2x00 brand that was the low end, the 4x00 that was the midrange (and the one I recommended most) and the 8x00, which was the high end of that product line. Substitute the 'x' for the current product line - i.e. 2300 went to 2350, now to 2400; the current 4x00 is the 4700 and the current 8x00 is the 8400. And so on.
It was fairly common in the past for Dell to offer the older model at a discount when introducing a newer product. This seems to be the case in the 4700, while the 4600 is still being sold. However, new product lines seem to have been introduced - the 3000 series and the XPS Gen 3 series. Counting the 4600C reduced size unit, that is seven products in the Dimension line alone. Add to that confusion, Dell also markets other product lines - the OptiPlex and the Precision lines. Whew! And not only is it getting harder to choose, the prices in general seem to be higher.
Complicating your ordering at Dell is the fact that they now seem to have offshored product sales, with the attendant language problems. Not only is the product line now more confusing, but also it's going to be harder to get someone who can explain it to you.
I see similar trends in other manufacturers. Gateway now has three main desktop products (the 310, 510, and 710), but add two more (game PCs and integrated PCs) to that list. But for business, they also have the E- line.
The next tier of smaller PC vendors seems to be continuing the "boutique" trend by aiming their products at specific markets, primarily the game playing market. Gamer PCs have become very specialized, with enhanced performance, cooling, and small packaging. It's becoming increasingly more difficult to order just a plain vanilla PC from one of these vendors. You have to accept a case that looks like an alien, has windows that show the glowing and flickering innards, and lots of noisy fans.
I also didn't see much in the way of "back to school" specials this year - again, the trend is to keep PC prices up. Throwing a free printer into the deal seems to be the extent of back to school offers that I have seen this year.
So, certainly buy a new PC if you need one, but you may get a bit of sticker shock. I can't read the tea leaves as to whether this trend will continue or not.
Changing the subject a bit to ant-virus software, I have recently installed the Computer Associates eTrust EZ Armor package for some of my clients. For Road Runner users, this package is available for free for the first year and can be downloaded from the main Road Runner website at www.rr.com. Although I still favor the Symantec Norton package, the EZ Trust seems to be a very competent package and includes anti-virus, firewall, and spam blocking software. If you are looking for a lower cost alternative to Norton, you might want to check this out.
(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport / Oak Island area. You can visit his website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org).