Ruger had to be careful not to have their AR gut their Mini14 sales so had to jack up the price.
What? Where did you hear this? The SR556 / SR556E is an entirely different platform than the Mini14. There are still guys out there that love their M14's and wouldn't take an AR regardless. This is like saying they had to be careful with the LCP design so it didn't draw sales away from the Red Hawk revolvers. HAHA. As for price, I'm not aware of anyone selling a piston gun for $1100 like Ruger sells their 556E.
Chrome lined barrels are a funny subject. For some reason the AR community has been conditioned to think they need a chrome lined barrel. Think about this for a minute. WHY do you need one? Any leading bolt gun manufacturer has sold their rifles with steel barrels, no chrome lining for many, many years. All the custom target barrel manufacturers are button rifling regular steel barrels. Go to any of the matches, Camp Perry for example and you wont see a chrome lined barrel anywhere on the line. A chrome lined barrel doesn't last any longer than a regular steel barrel, doesn't run any cooler, and are not as accurate. I don't think anyone here is going to be sleeping in a swamp in in Vietnam, shooting yesterday's corrosive european NATO rounds with no access to a cleaning rod. It's fine if you like a chrome lined barrel, but don't think an AR automatically needs one....at this point it's a marketing point and that's all it is.
Anyway, I'm off topic. I was just mentioning that you can get a very nice piston driven AR in the SR556E for almost half of what the standard SR556 goes for, at least around here. The standard SR556 here is $1900 to $2100, the 556E is $1100 down to $950. The only difference between the two is the E come without a chrome lined barrel, none of the Troy crap, and 1 mag instead of 3. PMags are $14 so... Anyway, lots of great choices out there. Good luck to you and your son whichever way you choose to go.