Catching Up With Today’s TechnologyIf you don’t keep up with the latest in PC hardware, will you get left behind? Or should you follow the maxim, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?
How to best decide when it’s time to replace your PC, or those in your office or company, is always tricky. Spending on computers can make you more productive, but it’s money you otherwise can’t spend, invest or save, and faster systems always await you in the future.
What is clear is that the computer industry really wants you to buy, and the computer publishing industry does too. In ads as well as articles, the emphasis is always on the latest and greatest. Healthy spending has fueled the PC revolution, but it may not necessarily be healthy for your bottom line.
Not everybody buys into the dictum that yesterday’s technology is a liability. Being on the cutting edge, in fact, can make you bleed. New technology is, and will always be, buggier than the tried and true.
Yet there are good reasons for spending on new computer hardware. It will let you run the latest software, which typically has more features and is easier to use than older programs, though this reason is less compelling than it used to be.
Most of today’s software is “mature,” with newer versions being only incrementally different from their predecessors, unlike in the past when software improved markedly with each new release. Brand new software, like new hardware, can also be buggy.
Sometimes it seems that the software and hardware industry are in cahoots with each other, conspiring against you and your budget. Software companies such as Microsoft typically limit or even stop their support for older software. If you want the latest protection against hackers, you’re forced to upgrade to the latest operating system, which in turn forces you to upgrade to the latest hardware.
Most people today hang on to personal computers longer than they have in the past, often for four years or longer. One tactic the PC industry uses is to try to convince buyers that desktop and laptop computers older than three years should be replaced because their components such as hard drives at that point will begin to fail with greater frequency. This makes sense if you’re not diligent about backing up your data, says Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group of San Jose, Calif. “Data is lifeblood. It can make the difference between whether you’re in business or out of business.”
But even fragile components such as hard drives have longer life expectancies than three years, and individual components such as hard drives, monitors and mice can be incrementally replaced. Upgrading on a piecemeal basis can be considerably less expensive than buying a spanking new system. It can also be fun to modernize an old clunker, particularly if you’re the type who likes to tinker.
On the other hand, opening up a PC and poking around its innards can strike
fear into all but the most technosavvy. Though they usually go smoothly, even seemingly simple upgrades can be fraught with time-devouring surprises.
What’s more, replacing individual components will usually leave you with a
system that’s slower than a new system in which all the components are matched with one another. A brand new system will also give you a brand new warranty.
One rule of thumb is that upgraded components should cost less than 40
percent of the price of a new system. If you have to pay more, it’s usually more cost-effective to sell your old system, or give it away and buy a new one.
One intangible benefit to a screaming new machine is bragging rights, though this lasts only until new PCs with the next new CPU hit the market. In an organizational setting, new computers can boost employee morale, along with the more tangible benefit of lowering IT support and maintenance costs.
When buying a new computer, it’s most cost-effective to opt for the “sweet
spot” — a CPU one to three notches down from the top of the line — unless you need the slightly increased performance of the very fastest chip for tasks such as video editing.
In deciding whether to buy a new PC, the ultimate question you need to answer is this: Will the new system let you or those you work with work more efficiently, or in the case of home systems used for entertainment, play more pleasurably, and is the price worth it? Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at [email protected] or <www.netaxs.com/~reidgold/column>.
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