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shoppingbags.jpgThis year Black Friday will have special meaning for high tech equipment. Some of the Black Friday prices have actually broken price barriers. A few years ago I would never even imagined that a full-fledged laptop would be selling for under $200, but that's what you'll find at Wal-Mart this year. It's an interesting phenomenon.

As I write this, the Wal-Mart ad for Black Friday has just appeared on the Internet. At 5am on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Wal-Mart will be selling an e-Machines laptop with a 15.6-inch screen for $198. This is without a doubt the cheapest laptop I've seen.

To those of us who remember paying $2,000 to $3,000 for a computer, this seems remarkably inexpensive. This is not the best laptop ever made. It has an Intel Celeron processor, which is not the speediest. However with a 250GB hard drive, 2GB of memory and Windows 7 Home premium, it is no slouch. While I wouldn't suggest using it for video editing or video game playing, it is a good computer for basic day-to-day activities like email, web surfing, and word processing. The really big deal about this is that the $200 price ceiling has been cracked. To put this in perspective, you only have to realize that a full version of Windows 7 Home Premium costs $186 at Wal-Mart. Now if I was selling this on television, I would say that it's like getting all the hardware for $12. While this is not strictly true, it does show the value of the proposition.

Of course that you will have to stand in line in the cold night air for hours to get this bargain. You will also have to be at the front of the line as there are a very limited number of computers offered at this price. Wal-Mart is also offering several other door-buster Black Friday deals: a Magnavox Blue-Ray disk player with built-in wireless for $69 and an HP All-in-One printer for $44. Best Buy is rumored to be selling a Toshiba Blue-Ray player for $59. Other retailers are expected to have Black Friday deals that are pretty spectacular, as well.

The point, however, is that these sale prices make you realize that the price of our everyday electronics is falling. Some of you will remember when handheld calculators first appeared in the early 70's. The initial offerings sold in the $300 to $500 range. Then, with advances in solid-state technology and the economic savings of large-scale manufacturing the prices started to quickly slide. Today you can buy a simple handheld calculator for $5 to $10.

Today's basic calculators, however, are very similar to the original calculators. It's a bit different for today's electronics. Computers, digital cameras, and even printers continue to evolve becoming better and better with every new version so prices will not drop as dramatically as they did with calculators. Yet that means that when you buy a new computer, camera, printer or other digital device you can expect that it will have more functionality than those sold a few years ago. That will keep us replacing our old equipment every few years.

While I hear a lot of complaints about having to buy a new computer every few years, when those complainers start using their new computer, they are generally thrilled by the speed, the  new designs and the new functionality. People who are now replacing their old digital camera with new one are finding that the new cameras have unbelievable added functionality like face-detection, anti-shake mechanisms, and smile-detection. Advances in camera chips and pixel technologies mean they also take better pictures.

The bottom line is that now is a good time to purchase most electronic equipment. Prices have already taken their initial tumble. Windows 7 is the best operating system that Microsoft ever produced. Most of today's computers are remarkably speedy. Cameras take outstanding pictures. You can bet that there will be better equipment in the next few years, but what's out there right now is really good. If there is room in your holiday budget for computers or other electronic gadgets and gizmos, this may be a good time to buy, especially if you can snag some Black Friday special pricing.

For those of you who don't want to get up at 2 in the morning to stand in line, many retailers will also have Black Friday pricing online and some Black Friday type sales will be available all the way to Christmas.

There is, however, something to be said for that early morning trek to the stores. It can be fun. I've done it for the past few years and I've met some great people while also getting a few bargains.