Retailers Push Windows 7 PCs for Pre-Order

Microsoft's Windows 7 won't be released until Thursday, but that isn't stopping online retailers from selling desktops, laptops, and netbooks loaded with the new OS today, at prices as low as $350 a PC. Best Buy, for example, is selling more than 40 different Windows 7 laptop configurations you can buy right now. But there are a couple of catches. The PC won't show up at your doorstep until October 22, when Windows 7 officially goes on sale. Also, you need to put your order in by October 21 at 11 a.m. to get the PC on Thursday.

If you want to be sure to be one of the first on your block with a Windows 7 PC, you need to be cautious in your buying decisions. Lots of other retailers are also taking pre-orders, but Best Buy seems to be alone -- at least among the big guys -- in guaranteeing delivery to your doorstep on the very same day as the Windows 7 launch. Best Buy also stands out on the basis of offering free overnight shipping.

Much like Best Buy, online retailers such as Dell and CompUSA are also heavily promoting pre-orders of Windows 7 machines on their Web sites. Dell, for instance, specifically advertises four notebook and four desktop models that can be pre-ordered with Windows 7.

But it's important to read the fine print on the promo offers, and you might need to place a phone call to clarify. On its home page, Dell has been proclaiming, "Be the first. Select systems now shipping with Windows 7 starting at $499 after instant savings."

Free shipping is also included in the Dell deals, but it's three-to-five day shipping, as opposed to Best Buy's free overnight shipping, according to info on the Dell site. Dell adds that, "Offers end 10/22 at 6 a.m. CT."

Nowhere on its Web site, however, does Dell provide a guaranteed delivery date. When I called Dell's sales department on Monday night, I was told that Microsoft is not allowing Dell to start shipping any Windows 7 PCs until October 22.

Other online retailers, such as Hewlett-Packard, are taking a low-key approach to selling Windows 7 models. I searched HP's Web site this morning for "Windows 7", and no PCs turned up in the results, even though HP announced plans to ship Windows 7 on "select models" back in June.

When I contacted an HP sales guy today, though, I got a similar story as the one from Dell's sales department. Microsoft is not permitting HP to load Windows 7 on to PCs until October 21, or to ship PCs with the new OS until October 22, I was told. But HP is also accepting pre-orders, giving October 29 at the moment as the "outside window" for shipment, said the HP rep. When asked how Best Buy is able to actually ship the new PCs on October 21, the HP sales guy replied, "I have no idea."

Even Best Buy's Windows 7 offer demands a bit of scrutiny. This morning, Best Buy advertised a total of 67 Windows 7 laptops on its Web site, in comparison to 64 Windows 7 laptops on Monday night. Yet about 25 of these 67 weren't available as of Tuesday morning, meaning that just 42 of them were genuinely pre-orderable.

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