I can definatly admit that your system has a better cost:performance ratio, but I would not consider his $2400 system a waste of money by any means. The specs you listed look like the specs that are put on a compter at a retail store. They are the kind that grab the normal comsumers eyes, but don't really say that much about how good the system really is.
512MB memory: That is what Windows XP requires, so that is plenty, right? Well, depending on what your child does, the performance increase from 512 to 1024 can be huge. Also, don't forget that Windows Vista is only a few months away, and 512 will not be good for Vista. Also, your 512 is made up of 2 256 DIMMs, so you can't double your memory by buying just buying a new 512 stick since you would have to take one of you existing 256 out.
80GB hard drive: yes your laptop has 80% capacity of his, so it looks like it is not that different. But yours is only 4200 rpm vs his 7200 rpm. That will make a huge difference in performance.
The rest of the things you listed are pretty standard on laptops now days.
Besides those features you listed here are some other things to compare.:
Graphics Card: His graphics card will allow him to play games with MUCH better performance than yours. Although you card lists 128 MB for the card, that is 128 MB shared memory. Which means if it is using 128 MB, your laptop only has 384 MB for everything else.
TV Tuner: His laptop can be used as a TV. It can also act as a PVR and record TV. Yours can't.
Sound: I'm not sure about how good your sound card is, but his should give him much cleaner sound quality. This makes his laptop a much better choice to be used as a multimedia hub.
Warrenty: This is the biggest advantage his system has over yours. Laptops break. It is a fact of life. Dell's in home service is incredible. I have had motherboards die on my laptops and Dell has been there next day and replaced them. Being at school, this is HUGE. And most of the time it happens after you have had it a while. His laptop will last him 4 years for sure with that warrenty. Your son may be glad he saved $2000 since he may have to spend quite a bit on replacemt parts or a whole new laptop after that first year.
This may sound like I am knocking your kid's new laptop, but I am really not. All I am saying is that you get what you pay for. Just because someone doesn't go the cheap route, doesn't mean he is going overboard. Besides, a person with a 40 GB hard drive and a mobile Sempron could say that your kid has gone overboard too.
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