Faster! Better! More this! Bigger that! Shinier everything! All new! Yes, but what difference does it actually make? Do you really need a new computer, or is the old one good enough?
For the last twenty years, consumers have been locked into a perpetual upgrade cycle. When they buy a computer, they hope it’s going to last five years. Manufacturers, on the other hand, reckon that it’ll need replacing after 18 months. Usually, most of us compromise on somewhere about three years. That’s because computers have been continually improving at an incredible rate. As a rule of thumb, they double in power every 18 months – which works out to about ten times the power every five years. And of course, software developers like to take advantage of all that extra power, so they develop more complicated, more powerful programs which demand more memory, more disk space, and more processing power. As a result, your five-year old computer just couldn’t run modern programs, and you’d be forced to get a new one. And if it broke, then you probably couldn’t get the parts, so you’d have to get a whole new one anyway.
However, as technology journalist Simon Bisson points out in this article, that’s all starting to change. These days, your old computer is probably good enough, and that’s all you need. Bisson identifies several reasons why this has happened.
Old-ish computers mostly work just fine
First, we’ve reached a point where computers aren’t really getting much faster. Technically, they can do more processing, but this requires programmers to write code that takes advantage of multiple processors. That’s hard and requires a whole new approach to computing. It would mean ditching years of development and millions of lines of code and starting over with designs specifically for the new architecture, which most software companies aren’t willing to do. Instead, they’re just carrying on making improvements to their existing code, which means they’re not using the new computers to their best advantage.
More to the point, modern computers have more than enough power to do pretty much anything we need as fast as we need it. If all you’re doing is writing documents, sending emails, chatting, playing music, or watching videos, you don’t actually need much processing power. Any extra speed simply won’t make any noticeable difference as far as the user is concerned. It’s like you have a 200mph supercar which you only ever use to drive through the neighborhood at 25mph – why would you want to ditch it and buy a 250mph supercar? You’ll never get to use that extra speed.
New operating systems and technologies have also made older computers more efficient. You’ll notice an immediate performance increase if you upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8. If you then start doing more of your regular tasks on the cloud, via a browser, or using modern lightweight apps, you won’t be asking much of your computer at all. That’s what enables a simple phone or tablet to do exactly the same things as a top-end desktop.
Finally, computers are simply more reliable. They last a lot longer than they used to, and when something does break, it’s easier to find a replacement part. If you need to add more disk space, you just plug in an external drive or sign up for cloud storage.
So even though the salesman or the ads will show you higher specs and bigger numbers on that new computer, you have to ask yourself whether for all practical purposes, they’ll make any difference. A 7200 rpm drive is faster than a 6400 rpm drive, sure, but how important is it to load your Word document 0.1 seconds faster?
So I don’t need a new computer?
Yes, there are cases where you probably do need to upgrade. If you’re doing a lot of computer-heavy work, such as video processing, highly complex graphics (and not just editing your holiday snaps), or 3D gaming, then you may well benefit from the extra power. Those programs are generally written to take advantage of modern computer design, and often they will push even a top-end computer to its limits.
However, for most office or home use, you will very likely find that a four or five year old desktop or laptop is perfectly good enough for all the things you usually do. It may need a little care and attention to get it back to its best performance, but that’s no reason to throw it out and get a new one. If it’s good enough, then why not simply carry on using it?
How do I get my old computer up to speed?
There are plenty of things you can do if you have an older computer.
- Update the operating system. A newer operating system will run faster, and speed up everything you do.
- Give it a tune-up. Get rid of useless files, clean up the registry, defrag the disk, and give it a good clean to remove dust.
- Replace the battery if it’s a laptop. Batteries only have a limited life. Even if the battery’s dead, the rest of the computer is probably fine.
- Add more memory or disk space. A few minor enhancements can make a big difference for a fraction of the cost of replacing the machine.
- Update or change your applications. Look into different ways of working – there may be more efficient ways of doing the same things.
If you need help, we can do all of these for you at PRR. Give us a call, and we’ll give you an honest opinion on whether your existing computer is good enough and whether you’d be better off refurbishing it or buying a new one.