Notes on the Cost of Computers

By Walton Dell
Last updated: June 25, 2006


 

Everybody knows that computers are getting faster all the time; likewise the cost of any particular computer model is continuously decreasing. If you are interested in buying a computer, there are different ways to look at this scenario. One person might say, "Buy the best so you're purchase will last longer." another might say, "Buy the cheapest so you have less to loose."  In this article, I intend to look at these ideas and add some others.

It does not make sense to never buy a computer simply because a newer one is always around the corner.  There will always be a newer one coming.   If you need a computer, buy one!  Think about what you're missing now, not what you will miss.

Typically, the price of computers doesn't really change much. It's what you get for your money that keeps changing. Rather than only look at models, I will look mainly at three price points...

 

"Get the best" (About $1500+)
If you absolutely need the best, you have no choice! But you will pay a premium to have the newest technology. As soon as there is a new model, the price of the previous will jump down significantly. Another thing to keep in mind is that the software included on the very latest computers can't be any later than what the software industry has produced. Since the software industry tries to sell to the widest market possible, a somewhat cheaper computer may also be sold with the most recent software (this depends on the retailer). 

Even if you buy a very expensive system, it will still suffer from what I call "value rot".  In fact, the newer a technology is, the faster the price will come down (and the value "rots").  Let's suppose you want to stay as modern as possible with $500 per year.  You could buy a $1500 computer once every three years, but I believe you will be better off if you buy a $750 computer every 18 months or a $500 computer every year.  Keep in mind that when you get a new system, you will probably want to transfer your old data to the new computer.  This can be done fairly simply, though, by networking the two computers.  Then you will also have an extra system to do with as you please.

 

"Compromise" (About $600)
This may make sense for many people.  Don't pay too much attention to the speed of the processor.  It does matter, but it is often better to settle for a system with a processor that is slightly slower and get one with better components instead.  The speed of the processor has the most effect on the cost of a system, but many components can give you more bang for your buck.

I recommend getting plenty of RAM and and LCD flat-panel display.  It is not difficult to add a second hard disk later if needed (and computer manufacturers often overprice their hard disk upgrade options).  DVD is no longer a luxury, so you should also get DVD with a "compromise" system.  Don't forget a printer.

 

"Buy the cheapest" (About $300)
Today you can get a very functional computer for about $300!  You can find multimedia, Internet capable systems with a monitor for that amount.   However, many cheap computers are built from very generic parts from who-knows-where.  These cheap parts can seem to work, but cause intermittent errors.  (Note: even the most expensive computers will still have software errors.)   This is not to say that you can't get a good computer for $300.

The most important thing is that you get a good warranty.  You will want to avoid generic parts.  Intel and AMD are both good brands for processors.  Check out www.tomshardware.com for comparisons of many CPUs.  Be careful about the other components, though.  One test I use to determine the quality of low-cost systems is to look for a brand name motherboard and chipset.  You definitely want to avoid the totally generic "VX Pro" and "TX Pro" motherboards, for example.

 

Some Popular Brands

Mail Order: Gateway, Dell, Micron.  I currently recommend Gateway.
At Retail: Compaq, Packard Bell
Retail Stores: Costco, Best Buy, CompUSA

Copyright 1998-2006 by Walton Dell

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