This summer, AOL and Orange raised the bar by offering a free laptop to customers in a calculated bid to lock them into long-term broadband contracts. We've investigated such deals, and give you the PC Advisor low down on the whys and wherefores of free laptop PCs offered in return for a long-term broadband contract.

In September, AOL, which is now part of the Carphone Warehouse group, began supplying free Dell laptops said to be worth £500 to any customers willing to sign up to its service for two years.

AOL’s move followed a more half-hearted offer from rival ISP Orange, which teamed up with PC World to offer a free £300 laptop or £350 off other models to customers who signed up to its broadband service for a minimum of 24 months. However PC World was forced to withdraw the offer just weeks into the promotion, claiming the offer was "a victim of its own success".

The AOL offer, however, is still very much alive. Customers who opt for a two-year contract for AOL’s broadband service receive a coupon for a free base-model Dell Inspiron laptop (click here for review) laptop. AOL Broadband costs £20 per month.

The deal includes broadband with connection speeds up to 8Mbps, a 40GB monthly usage allowance, a free Netgear wireless router and no connection charge. The laptop comes with an Intel Celeron 540 processor, 1GB RAM, an 80GB hard drive, Microsoft Vista Home Basic Edition, a 15.4in screen and an eight-speed DVD-RW optical drive. It’s also Wi-Fi-enabled.

You can upgrade the Inspiron with a 120GB hard drive (for an additional £50) or a 1520 Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB RAM (for an additional £150). Both upgraded models run Vista Home Premium.

Next page: the up sides and down sides of free laptop broadband deals


In this month's PC Advisor podcast, we discuss the emergence of 'free laptops', 'free broadband' and 'free software', and check out the best deals available to UK consumers. PLUS: find out why technology vendors are so keen to give their wares away, and learn how to avoid the pitfalls inherent in such freebie deals.