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Pay-as-you-go computing may not have taken off, but it is still a viable consumer choice available to mobile users.
Whilst it may be difficult to rent a laptop for a year, it could be far cheaper overall to rent software provided by your academic department or school to use over the year, instead of buying it flat out.
Also, remember your student discount. In some cases, you can slash the price of Windows and Office by over 50% and even more. If you have a student card or email address, this can be used to prove you are a student at an eligible institution and cut the price of expensive software and hardware.
If you take advantage of free software, it doesn't usually take much work to convert it to a fully working product.
To read more on this, head over to the iGeneration blog.