Ever wonder how much money you could save on computing if you put your mind to it? PCs and Macs can be fabulously expensive if you want peak performance and bells and whistles. But a fairly modest investment is good enough for the basics of Internet and office applications.

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Ever wonder how much money you could save on computing if you put your mind to it? PCs and Macs can be fabulously expensive if you want peak performance and bells and whistles. But a fairly modest investment is good enough for the basics of Internet and office applications.

Because of the weak economy, I’ve put together some money-saving ideas.

Computer

We’re using laptops for this price comparison, mostly because we’re seeing a lot of buzz about cheap, sawed-off “netbooks,” which, as a group, have Linux 10-inch or smaller screens, versus the middle-of-the-road, 15-inch laptop that runs Windows. Netbooks are generally touted as much cheaper than standard laptops.

About the best you’ll do pricewise is the Asus Eee PC 2G Surf, with a 7-inch display and minuscule 2-gigabyte solid-state hard drive, for $250. Preloaded with Linux, its great charm (apart from price) is portability for surfing the Net.

The tiny drive is a deal breaker for many kinds of serious work.

For an all-purpose computer, you need to kick it up a notch. The Asus Eee PC 1000HA, considered a netbook, goes for $425, has a 10-inch screen, a 160-gigabyte hard drive and Windows XP.

A year ago, that price would have been considered stunningly cheap. But things have changed: Traditional laptop manufacturers are adjusting their prices to cope with the expected netbook onslaught.

So if you want a tiny, cheap computer, buy a netbook. If you want a cheap computer, you can do almost as well with a traditional notebook. Of course, computer manufacturers are more than happy to take thousands more off your hands for a top-of-the-line system.

Software

So how much can you save by using open-source software? As much as $450, and you’re not giving up that much.

For home users, OpenOffice.org is a more than adequate substitute for Microsoft Office. It seems sort of silly to spend $50 or so on a security suite when there are such fine freebies as Avast Home Edition, AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition, Ad-Aware 2008, Spybot Search-and-Destroy, and Malwarbytes’ Anti-Malware.

I’m partial to Adobe Photoshop Elements for image editing, but I’ve been using it for years. Version 7 is available at adobe.com/store. ($79.99 for upgrade, $99.99 full version.) Picasa is a fine program if you’re new to this stuff, and it’s free at picasa.google.com.

Both Dell and Asus have several identical netbook models equipped with either Windows XP or Linux. Check prices, but it appears you can save $40 to $50 with Linux.

Peripherals

Inkjet printers are a lousy idea. The cost of consumables — ink cartridges, for one — kills you.

Studies show that laser printers are as little as 2 cents a page for report-style printing versus up to 16 cents for inkjets. And since laser units like the Brother are only a little more expensive than inkjets — as well as fast and networkable — there’s no excuse not to use one for the bulk of your printing, even if you do have an inkjet for the occasional color splurge.

Printing photos, with 100 percent ink coverage, is even more expensive than printing reports. According to Consumer Reports, shipping pictures to Costco, Wal-Mart or any of the other services gets you snapshots for about 10 cents. Print them yourself and you’ll spend up to 50 cents.

These costs assume that the inkjet printer functions correctly. In fact, you’ll waste an incredible amount of ink on paper jams, poorly calibrated photo software and cartridges that dry out.

Speaking of outsourcing printing, another job worth shipping out is scanning. The price of scanning slides has fallen dramatically from over a dollar a slide to about a quarter a slide, since outfits like Scan Cafe (www.scancafe.com) have shipped production to the Third World.

For 1,000 slides or negatives, buying your own high-quality scanner, like the Epson Perfection, is a tad cheaper (about $200), but you’ll spend hundreds of hours of your own time on the job.

If your time has any value at all, it is pointless except for restoration hobbyists.

Internet services

Internet service is a surprisingly large part of a computing budget. The least you’re going to pay is about $20 per month for low-end DSL service, up to about one megabit. Cable modems kick in at around 5 megabits and $30 a month. Verizon fiber runs a little better than double that speed and $42 per month.

Various bundling options tend to confuse actual pricing, but short of getting rid of the Internet all together, you’re not going to save much by opting for the slowest service versus the next fastest.

And faster service opens up some cost-saving opportunities, for example, Internet telephony and video downloads.