The Cost of a New Computer
Many people ask me how much a new computer should cost. Many people tell me that computers have gotten much less expensive; and, that they can get a new one for only $300. Usually they say this right after I give a repair estimate. The interesting thing is that they have been saying this, complete with the $300 price tag, for the last nine years. The average price of a new computer today is $650 (poll by ComputerTooSlow.com). What most people tend to overlook are the hidden costs of a new computer, not only in terms of dollars, but also in terms of time, labor, and aggravation. New computers, like new shoes, take time to break in. It is surely possible to go and buy a new computer; but, all else being equal, who wants the bother if their current computer does what they need? Let’s take a look at what’s involved.
(1) Product search
Nothing changes faster than the latest electronics offerings. The choices can seem endless. Most likely, the last computer you bought is no longer available (except from Ebay, used). You don’t necessarily want the first $300-computer that you find. How much did you spend on your last computer? Don’t you want something comparable or better? You shouldn’t spend a penny if the computer won’t fit your needs. Figure to spend at least a minimum of time researching and shopping around.
(2) Add-on costs
Computers “from $300” almost never figure in tax or shipping costs. Tax can be $30. Shipping could be $50. For a $300 computer, that can add 27% to the sticker price. In addition, many software licenses are not transferable to a new computer. That means that you’ll need to spend more for Microsoft Office, antivirus software, etc. You will surely need the software that enables you to do what you need to do on your computer.
(3) Physical setup & peripherals
Congratulations! Your new computer has arrived. Now it’s time to move the old computer out of the way and dispose of it properly, unpack the new computer, connect all the cables, and plug it in. Cross your fingers that your new computer has all right ports to plug things into that your old one did. Otherwise you may need some adapters. Also, let’s hope that your old monitor, printer, etc. are as happy with your new computer as they were with the old one. At the least, you’ll need updated drivers. This can be painless; but, it can also be anything but painless.
(4) First-time boot & data migration
You turn on the new computer. Chances are that things will look a little different than you’re used to. What happened to the Start Button? How do I connect to my wireless network? It will take some learning and some getting used to your new computer. The latest software may also look different. You may need to spend some time customizing to suit your personal taste. You may also want access to your old documents, pictures, etc. That’s doable; but, it still takes time and it still takes doing.
(5) Surprise! It’s time for a new computer
The new computer scenario looks and feels a lot different when your old computer dies on you. When people say that they want to “run their car into the ground”, they usually don’t mean that they want the car to give out on them when they’re out driving in the middle of nowhere. If your current computer dies, you’re going to be inconvenienced, to say the least. Your data may be gone. Retrieving the data from a broken computer is always more difficult; it may pricey; and, it may be impossible. You need to decide about repair or replacement. What could have been an enjoyable exercise in getting a nice new computer is now a matter of sink-or-swim as you scurry to find the best way out of your predicament.
Many say that computers have become a disposable item – part of our disposable culture. The fact is that repair is sometimes the better option. An even better option is to avoid the breakdown in the first place. It just makes good sense to take care of the things that you rely on – whether it be a car, a computer, or a screwdriver set.
What is USB 3.0?
USB 3.0 (aka SuperSpeed USB) is the latest version of the Universal Serial Bus specification. USB is the ubiquitous standard for connecting devices to computers (e.g. external hard drives, flash memory sticks, mice, printers, etc.) Most devices today are USB 2.0. The most dramatic improvement is an increase in data transfer speed capacity. USB 2.0 can deliver up to 48MB/sec. USB 3.0 can deliver up to 400MB/sec. For example, to transfer a 2-hour film would take (at least) 1.5 minutes using USB 2.0. It would take (at least) 12 seconds using USB 3.0.
(1) What was wrong with USB 2.0?
As devices become faster (e.g. solid-state hard drives (SSDs)), you need faster protocols for data transfer to drive those devices. USB 3.0 was designed to support high-definition video cameras, drive high-quality displays, support high-speed video editing, etc. Also, USB 3.0 increases the power available, allows simultaneous send and receive, and allows synchronization based on interrupts rather than polling.
(2) Where do I get USB 3.0?
Devices that utilize USB 3.0 have started to appear. The cabling is different; you’ll need a USB 3.0 cable. USB 2.0 cables won’t connect at the device end. New desktops and laptops now include USB 3.0 ports. If your computer motherboard includes a PCI-E slot, then there are USB 3.0 interface cards available. Windows 8 supposedly supports USB 3.0 natively. For Windows 7, you’ll probably need drivers from the device manufacturer.
USB 3.0 was designed to be compatible with USB 2.0. If your computer only includes USB 2.0 ports, then you can still use your new USB 3.0 device. Just don’t expect “super speed”.
Who's Afraid of Windows 8?
I asked at Staples last week whether they still sell any computers loaded Windows 7. Nope, they’re all Windows 8. It looks a lot different, but you can be sure that it’s still Windows underneath all the glitz. What’s still unknown is whether the mainstream computer user will adapt, learn, and enjoy the new computing experience. Microsoft has already bowed to public pressure to put back the “Start” button.
See the following article about the usability of Windows 8 for productive tasks (as opposed to just having fun).
Usability Expert Finds Windows 8 Confusing