You might have seen a certain Microsoft ad on TV recently. It stars Cheryl, who is surprised to find a PC store in her living room when she gets home.
There is something very wrong with this commercial. Can you tell what it is? Here’s a hint: it’s not Cheryl’s acting. We’re told that “this is her four year old computer she doesn’t think she needs to update.” Four years? Are you kidding me?
I was lucky to have been introduced to the tech world when computers were still geeky, not trendy and a pivotal part of the market—back before it was commonplace to have an Internet hookup (or even a computer, for that matter) in every home. We would upgrade our PCs when it was necessary, i.e., they could no longer perform the tasks for which we used them. And even then, upgrading didn’t mean buying a whole new machine. It meant buying only the components you needed to make the computer faster, or more powerful, or to give it more storage space.
Today, computers are marketed a little differently. They are treated only as the aggregates of their components. It’s a false premise (likely the result of advertising), but it brings in more money, so that’s the way it is. New is good. New is fast. New is cool. If you want to keep up with the trends, it has to be new and cutting edge.
Running out of space for your photos and videos? This PC comes with 500 gigs of storage!
A hard drive upgrade is very simple. You replace your current drive with a bigger one, or add a second drive to your system. External/portable hard drives are also a handy option. The need for space alone doesn’t warrant a new PC.
Your computer isn’t fast enough? This one has four gigs of memory!
Memory, or RAM, will certainly affect how fast you can get things done on your computer. But like a hard drive, it can be easily added to an existing system, and it’s certainly less expensive than a new machine. Here’s a great article by Worth Godwin that explains the function of RAM using non-geek terminology.
Want the latest operating system? You’re in luck. This shiny new PC has Windows 7 pre-installed! (Along with a boat-load of useless junk.)
A new OS is often pushed because of its security, usability and speed, along with hosts of new widgets and baubles. But remember: an OS is software. You can buy it on its own and install it. All you have to do is make sure your PC meets the minimum requirements. However, since the cost of new OS software can sometimes run over a hundred (depending on whether it’s Home, Pro, etc.), this particular dilemma remains a judgement call on the part of the user. Some do prefer to shell out an extra few hundred for a new machine if they’ve got it to spare, but it’s not a necessity. Plus, installing an OS yourself will keep your PC free of bloatware (junk that PC manufacturers install, like free 30-day trials of software).
A couple of years ago I bought a new PC. My reason for the purchase was strictly portability. I wanted a laptop because I was moving around a lot. If it hadn’t been for that, I’d have kept my now eleven-year-old desktop computer. Why? Because as far as everyday computing tasks go, there was nothing wrong with it. Email, web browsing, watching movies, listening to music, banking, organizing digital photos—it could easily handle it all.
Let’s take a look at the operating system example. Imagine that I wanted to install Windows 7 on my eleven-year-old PC. The minimum requirements specified by Microsoft are as follows:
|1 GHz 32-bit||1.1 GHz 32-bit||Yes|
|1 GB RAM||512 MB RAM||No|
|16 GB space||220 GB space||Yes|
|DX 9 capable graphics w/ WDDM 1.0||DX 9 capable graphics||Yes*|
* WDDM is apparently only required for the Aero theme.
I could potentially run the latest Windows OS on my old PC and all it would cost me is about $25 to double my RAM, netting me a few hundred dollars in savings (hardware-wise) versus the cost of a completely new computer. If your computer is only four years old, like Cheryl’s, chances are it’s much more powerful than my beige, steam-powered antique PC.
There are those who do need to buy new computers more often, but they’re usually either hardcore gamers who need the fastest everything, or people who do resource-intensive audio/video work. You might also need a top-notch rig if you’re mining Bitcoins.
If you moved north where it’s snowy, would you buy a new car because it had snow tires on it? Or would you just buy the tires and have them installed on the car you already own? The notion of buying a car for the tires is, of course, ridiculous. So why is it any less ridiculous to completely replace your PC when only part of it may need upgrading?