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Budget shopping tips: LCD computer monitors

Senior Associate Editor Eric Franklin shares some general tips on shopping for computer monitors on a budget.

The ViewSonic VX1962wm is currently the lowest priced monitor I've reviewed. Currently...

For some, finding the lowest price for a computer monitor trumps all other factors, including features, size, and brand. For those "some" of you, this is the blog you've been waiting for.

Here, I'll outline what I think are the best techniques for finding monitors that are priced the lowest.

Go small
The smaller your monitor's screen size, the less work it takes to illuminate. Thus, the less expensive it is. Simple math, really. Obviously, you'll buy per your needs, but if funds are an issue, go as small as you can stand. I recommend bottoming out at 17 inches, however.

Buy off-brand
Name brands have a premium attached to them, but off brands don't bear the same burden. While a mainstream 21.5-incher like the Dell SX2210 or Lenovo 215p will cost you at least $250, you can find the lesser-known brand HannsG 221HPB from Newegg for $180. Keep in mind though that you get what you pay for and you should not expect the quality level on off-brands to match those of name brands. A brand name may save you on peace of mind, but it usually won't save you cash.

Skimp on features
Like everyone else, if you want two HDMI ports, DVI, component, DisplayPort, built-in speakers, a beer holder, a mini pizza oven, a holographic projector that projects an image of Megan Fox in a bikini that says you're the strangest boy she's ever met attached to your monitor, you're gonna have to pay for it.

Think about exactly what you'll need from your monitor. What exactly you'll be using it for. Then, when it comes time to choose your monitor, stick to your needs and remember that any extra frills will be, well, extra.

Seasonal discounts
After Christmas, late winter/early spring is the best time to take advantage of sales, as stores try to sell off their previous season's stock. Also, most retailers--especially e-tailers--have big promotions on Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Memorial Day weekends. If you're looking to buy and it's approaching one of those weekends, it may pay off to wait a few days to see what deals you can get.

Shop around
If finding the lowest possible price is paramount, then you'll need to put in the time to do so. Check all the majors like Amazon, Newegg, and Best Buy. Then check out some of the price aggregators like Google Product Search and Nextag. Those will point you to lesser-known e-tailers, so use caution when choosing who to buy from.

Buy used
Craigslist and eBay are great resources for finding used monitors in good condition. Just be sure that the eBay users have lots of positive feedback and that you actually try before you buy when using Craigslist.

That about covers all your legal choices. I'll be back next week to focus the best illegal ways to find the cheapest monitor (I won't actually be doing this).

Check out our low-price LCD monitors comparison to get an idea of lowest prices for LCDs that got at least 3.5 stars in our reviews. Then take a look at our comparison of budget LCDs, regardless of rating comparison. There would have been some overlap between the two lists, but the criteria for the two comparisons was that a monitor that appears in one list couldn't appear in the other.

Enjoy, happy hunting, keep your eyes peeled, and stay frosty. And like that, (whoosh!) he's gone.