Last year, Dell was the first major tech company to see its Black Friday ad leaked. That was on November 3. This year, Dell is again the first major tech company to see its ad surface online, but the leak has come two weeks earlier than in 2014. With the shopping "holiday" more than a month away, and Halloween still more than a week away, we already have a taste of the type of computer deals yet to come.
Dell's 2014 Black Friday sales were highlighted by laptops and desktops available for under $200. The specials in 2015 go even lower, as deal pundits have predicted. The lowest prices, as always, are "doorbusters" -- or, in this case, limited-time, limited-quantity deals online. You can interrupt your Thanksgiving dinner to grab an Inspiron 14 3000 laptop for $149.99 (or $80 less than normal) starting at 6 p.m. on Thursday. The Windows 10 notebook is modestly spec'd as you'd expect for the price, featuring a 14-inch screen, Intel Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of solid-state storage. Night owls can wait until midnight on Friday to grab a $99.99 Inspiron Micro desktop (also $80 off the current price), which includes the same specs as the Inspiron laptop (without the screen, of course) in a tiny form factor.
Another Thanksgiving doorbuster is a $199.99 Inspiron Small Desktop running Windows 8.1 and powered by an Intel Pentium CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 500GB hard drive. Doorbusters on Black Friday include a $299.99 Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 notebook with an Intel Core i3 Haswell chip, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, 11.6-inch touch display, and Windows 10; the $229.99 Inspiron 15 3000 laptop with similar components as the 2-in-1 but with a 15.6-inch screen and Nvidia GeForce 820M graphics card; a beefier Inspiron 15 3000 with Core i5 Broadwell CPU for $379.99; and a $499.99 bundle of Inspiron Desktop (Core i5 Haswell processor, 12GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive, and Windows 10) with a 24-inch LCD monitor.
If none of those deals seems worthwhile enough for you to schedule time in front of your computer, Dell will have other Windows 10 system sales that will continue from Thanksgiving at 6 p.m. through Black Friday. These are the Inspiron 15 5000 with Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and 15.6-inch touchscreen for $299.99; Inspiron Small Desktop with Core i3 Haswell, 4 gigs of RAM, and terabyte hard drive for $349.99; and Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 with Pentium CPU, 4GB of memory, and 500GB hard drive for $499.99. Even Dell's Alienware gaming arm gets a page of sales, including the Alienware 15 laptop with a new Skylake Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, terabyte hard drive, GeForce GTX 970M graphics card, and 15.6-inch 1080p HD display for $1,199.99 ($250 off the current price), and the X51 desktop with Skylake Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 2TB hard drive, and GeForce GTX 960 graphics, though at $1,249.99, it's just $50 less than the current price.
In a sign of the times, Dell is promoting only one special on a tablet that isn't part of a 2-in-1 device. A doorbuster at 2 p.m. Friday offers the 10.1-inch Venue 10 5000 Android slate with Intel Atom processor for $149, which is nearly half off the current price for the base model. A small blurb on the last page of the ad mentions that select tablets will be up to 65 percent off, but Dell doesn't even bother to detail which tablets those are.
Dell's ad highlights one of the nifty little tricks retailers try to play on deal-hunting buyers on Black Friday. Lifting a tactic that it uses on its website, Dell lists a "market value" price from which it bases its "total savings." It derives that figure from "industry data including published and as-sold prices for same or comparable products in most recent survey of major online and/or offline retailers." However, since Dell is selling its own products, it really establishes the value for its products. For instance, the Inspiron 15 5000 being sold for $299.99 is touted as having a market value of $499.99, but is currently sold for $329.99 -- so the $200 in savings is really just a $30 discount.
That's not to say that Dell isn't offering meaningful discounts on its computers on Black Friday. It does mean that you should take the savings it touts in its ad with a big grain of salt, and focus on how the Black Friday prices compare to the current ones on the Dell website. It's a refrain we'll be repeating again and again over the next few weeks, but by establishing pole position in the Black Friday leaks, Dell just gets the warning applied to its deals first.