Ten reasons not to buy a new computer

It’s Christmastime again, and that wasn’t my decision — the department store across from my office already has Christmas decorations on it. Since corporations are willing to dedicate two months out of the year to taking your money, I feel it’s time I remind you that a new computer should not be on your shopping list.

Why? Well I’m glad you asked that.

  1. Financial downturn. Considering how poorly the world markets are doing these days, you might do better saving all that money for something important, like food.

    Yes, it’s a sad fact that most of the American financial sector was grossly mismanaged and ridiculously inflated, and now it appears that the average consumer — worldwide — is going to suffer for it. Without deviating too far from the focus of this blog, let’s just say that by summertime, you might wish you still had that US$2000, instead of having dumped it into a new computer. I know some people think this hiccup is just that — a hiccup — and I’ll only say that I hope they’re right. For everyone’s sake.

    Regardless of your personal prognosis for the world state of economic affairs, US$2000 in your pocket is going to look a lot better than a shiny new computer on your desk, come June.

  2. Financial burden. So long as we’re talking financial repercussions, most of the new computers I see in my local electronics shops are quite expensive really. Even the average, middle-market PC is easily more than US$1200, and anything with considerable power to it is going to creep quickly up to US$2000.

    Unless you’re a teenager, that’s a lot of money. (Most of the teenagers I work with have a hard time assigning real value to quantities of money.) Think of all the other things you could do with US$2000, if you were willing to scrap the idea of buying a new machine. What other improvements could you make in your life, if you don’t spend the money on a computer? What else could benefit from your financial largesse?

  3. Instantaneous depreciation. And so long as we’re talking about the actual, tangible price of a new computer, remember that the instant you press the “Purchase” button, your computer is no longer worth the price you paid. New machines, upon arrival at their destination, are immediately worth about a quarter less than the buying price — sometimes as much as a third less — as soon as the tape on the box is cut.

    Why? Because there’s always something newer out there, and as soon as you take possession, your machine is used, and loses it’s value. I’m speaking from experience here, many times over. And you probably know what I’m talking about: Not even vehicles depreciate as fast as electronics.

    What’s the corollary to this statement? That buying a computer on credit is, without a doubt, the worst thing you could ever do with your money. Not only will the total payments exceed the original list price, but by the time you finish making those payments, the machine you own will be worth only a fraction of it’s price. It’s a sad moment when someone realizes their US$2000 computer is only worth about US$300 — I’ve watched those faces fall. You don’t want that to happen to you. Always pay cash for electronics. Period.

  4. Environmental implications. For every new machine you buy, Mother Nature takes a hit. Now I don’t necessarily categorize myself as a tree-hugger, but you have to ask yourself, what’s happening to all these leftover computers? Where do they all go?

    Sure, some get “recycled,” in a manner of speaking. But computers have been in mass production for what, two decades? three decades? A lot longer than the computer “recycling” efforts have. And these machines are not exactly biodegradable. I owned probably a grand total of three C64′s between August 1982 and late 1990-something, as well as an SX-64 at one time. Where are they now? I mean, where are the actual metal-and-plastic husks? Probably in a landfill, or worse, carted off to a developing nation, sold as garbage and lying in a heap in the sun.

    This might not concern you either, if your sense of environmental or cultural morality isn’t attuned to it. But it should. Buying a new computer isn’t a two-year adventure in technological gimmickry, it’s a 30-year debit against the environment and your children’s environment. Check out Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff,” if my argument isn’t strong enough to make you think about it.

  5. Rampant materialism. Reality check: If you think you need a new computer — or for that matter, a new iPod, or a new cell phone, or a new car, or a new house, or a new wardrobe … guess what? You’re being played. Advertising and marketing aren’t just college majors, they’re exercises in human conditioning, and you’re the test subject for an entire science focused on making you buy. And Christmas is the worst time for this.

    And that “urge” you feel to pick up a newer, “faster” computer is probably — no, definitely tied to the advertisements you see, the images that are fed to you and the status that marketers and ad campaigns attach to new products. That quad-core laptop you’re drooling over, the one with the blinking LEDs and 30-inch widescreen LCD? Well, you’re drooling over it because corporations want you to drool over it. Don’t doubt that for a second.

    This isn’t anything new, and it’s not confined to the technology sector; people have been the subject of greed campaigns by their fellow humans for quite some time. Sad, but true. So stand up for yourself, shake off the psychological weight of marketing ploys, and realize that “new” does not equal “necessary.”

  6. Stuff does not equal love. I know some people think a new computer is a great gift, and it in most cases it is. I will admit to having bought new computers for family members, and I don’t regret it. But Christmas is when corporations rely on your benevolence to make money, and it’s unfortunate that a soulless entity like a company can hold so much sway over what you might call affection for a loved one.

    Again, without deviating too far from the focus of this site, a new computer isn’t going to prove you love your wife or your kids or your dog any more than a hug. If you aren’t willing to take my word for it, at least listen once to the gospel according to Reverend Billy.

  7. You don’t need it. In all reality, do you really need a new computer? or do you just want one, because your “old” one is “slow?”

    Chances are, it’s the latter. Most of the computers I run across — short of actual, physical damage or failure at the component level — aren’t broken, they’re just poorly tended. Most of the “problems” people have with their computers (and I’m speaking to the Windows crowd right now) can be solved with a fresh installation and a conservative software setup. Even “slow” computers often come back to life once they’re wiped, reinstalled and the personal files restored.

    Of course, if you use Linux, like me, you’re probably getting a lot more speed out of your computer than Microsoft or Intel ever anticipated you’d get. Or wanted you to get, for that matter.

  8. Upgrades are cheaper. Admit it: It’s just the hard drive you want. Or a new graphics card. And even just an improvement over your existing video card is probably enough. Pick up a secondhand graphics card — take advantage of some poor sucker who bought it new — and enjoy the improvement. How much cheaper than a new laptop is a new laptop battery? The money you spend is a fraction of the cost of a new rig, and believe it or not, might even improve the value of the machine you have. Because …
  9. Increasing long-range value. I already told you that the value of a computer falls like a rock as soon as you cut the tape on the box. That’s true. But what I neglected to mention was that, in the long run, a well-kept, well-tended computer will actually increase in value, sometimes to well over what it originally cost.

    Remember those Commodore 64s I mentioned? Any one of those, if it was still in good shape and if I had taken care of it, and kept it in working condition, would have fetched an amazing price on eBay. A complete system is worth even more. A system with accessories is astronomical. And that SX-64 I had, in its original box? It’s worth it’s weight in gold. (Okay, maybe not its weight — those things were heavy.)

    A decade after you buy a computer — when you can probably, legitimately think about getting a new one — you can expect the price of your machine to creep up, and up, and up. The machines I have now are all at least eight years old, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised when I check the going rates on eBay. Parted out I could easily recoup any and all of the money I put into them. As a whole, they’re worth almost as much. I expect the value to increase even further in the next few years. Not that I would part with them, of course, because …

  10. Emotional attachment. After years of using them, and finding all the quirks and solving all the problems and making all the upgrades, I’m not inclined to get rid of them. I enjoy using them, and I’m quite satisfied with the way they do the job. There might come a time when a part fails, or something doesn’t work right, but my attachment to the machine makes repairing it more attractive than replacing it.

    This isn’t peculiar behavior, if you use cars as an analogy again. Think about all the automobile fanatics who polish and buff their 1973 Ford Galaxie 500s until they glow, then cruise slowly around town with a self-satisfied look on their faces. You won’t ever sell those people a new car, because they love their old ones too much.

    Believe it or not, you can become that attached to your old computer, to the point where a new one isn’t an option. You have to learn about it, learn to love it, learn to take care of it, and eventually cherish it. It’s not unreasonable to think that any possession can endear you to it. A computer shouldn’t be any different.

To borrow some famous words … and so, this is Christmas. It’s you against the marketers, the corporations, your own perceptions and misconceptions. I’m not telling you a new computer wouldn’t be fun, or exciting, or a good gift. But I am telling you that there are some solid reasons you shouldn’t dump your money into a new computer.

And if you’re one of those lucky people, and you simply must spend the money and you don’t care how, do something worthwhile with it. I, for one, will thank you. :D

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35 Responses to “Ten reasons not to buy a new computer”


  1. 1 Sam Weston 2008/10/28 at 8:23 AM

    Agreed. However I had no choice but to buy a new laptop a couple of months ago due to needing long battery life for university lectures and lab sessions (no plug sockets in lecture theatres :(). However I bought a Dell XPS M1330 with Ubuntu so it’s not quite as bad as it could have been :P.

    I do however intend on keeping my desktop and laptop for a very long time now, they’re both good quality systems and I built the desktop so should have no problem repairing it if it starts dying in the future :)

    I’m also in the process of finding homes for a pile of Pentium 3 – Early pentium 4 boxes I have in my room at home. Which unfortunately is proving rather difficult :(. The words “Can I run Windows Vista on it?” are rather common…

  2. 2 K.Mandla 2008/10/28 at 8:28 AM

    Wow, that was fast. Were you waiting for me to press the “publish” button? :lol:

  3. 3 aaron.brown 2008/10/28 at 8:36 AM

    Great advice. Even so, I’ve unfortuantly found myself in a situation where my old hardware is either too broken or not able to do what I need it to. Sad.

    The Silicon Graphics workstation has a dead power supply and I can’t find one for under a few hundred bucks that aren’t guaranteed to work. I don’t buy something that expensive as-is with a strangers promise that “sure, buddy, it’ll work just fine”.

    The sad one is my Mac Mini. I bought it because I wanted to get away from Windows. I did and it served me well, but since it’s a PowerPC, it’s dying the death of a thousand paper cuts as first the few proprietary programs I had for it no longer update for it and even now some of the FOSS softwares are going away from PPC for Mac. Plus, it can’t run OS10.5 let alone 10.6 next year which is supposed to be dropping all PPC support. I plan on tossing some linux on it and use it as a file server, but right now it’s failing as my main box.

    So, I’m on the hunt for a new compy. Still won’t buy a new one though. Must be my Dutch grandparents. :D

    ab

  4. 4 Binny V A 2008/10/28 at 10:38 AM

    If your old system is really slow, you still have an option to just buy a RAM – you don’t have to upgrade the whole system.

  5. 5 todd 2008/10/28 at 11:02 AM

    Another way to look at it might be that the Fed’s strategy to stem the economic problems by increasing credit and the money supply will only continue to destroy the floundering dollar. So, in 6 months, your 2 grand probably won’t be worth anything anyway, so why not get a shiny new toy while you can? :D

  6. 6 zmjjmz 2008/10/28 at 12:29 PM

    I’d invest that 2000$ in large buckets of canned food.
    And a shotgun.
    And some propane tanks.
    And a few solar panels to give you electricity.

    (Just kidding, the economic crisis won’t be _that_ bad.)

    Anyways, I think there’s a flaw with point 9.
    Back in the day each computer had unique properties that made them special. While I might gladly buy a dual core in ten years because it’s old and I want to install Linux on it, most people will just not care, and the sheer lack of demand on eBay.

    In the 80s most computers were radically different from each other and were very interesting learning machines, whereas nowadays most computers use the same off the shelf parts and are too complex to really learn much from them (at the base level of course), so they have less collector’s value.

    • 7 bgbraithwaite 2010/08/27 at 4:52 AM

      I agree with zmjjmz — most computers these days just don’t really stand out as far as having a mythos or personality about them. The upside of that is that most machines out there are various clones of the original IBM PC architecture, so it’s easy to support them (or find standardized spare parts) — but the downside is that there’s nothing really special about modern machines (e.g., the C64 SID chip is a legend unto itself — is there anything remotely comparable in a modern PC-clone?).

  7. 8 James 2008/10/28 at 12:35 PM

    $1200 for a midrange computer? Really? If you know what you’re doing, you can get a machine capable of running Crysis between five or six hundred dollars. (In the US, anyway. Might be different overseas.)

    Hit up black friday sales every year and sell old componants, and you can even keep up a top of the line gaming machine for the price of about $150 a year.

    But yes, unless you’re a gamer, developer, artist, or scientist, any old PC will probably do fine. Even then, it’s amazing what can be done with an old box. I’ve got a pile of parts in the corner just waiting to get the new version of Xubuntu when it comes out in a few days.

  8. 9 dannybuntu 2008/10/28 at 5:09 PM

    But But But, I have been planning for this since 5 years ago. BTW my PC is about 10 years old. I got it in 1999. Really. The only thing I have not changed are the cables and the processor, which is a pentium 3. So while everybody is waving around their laptops. I am stuck here with ole Mr. Sticky Keys (its not really sticky – characters appear on the screen late…) So crisis or not I AM GOING TO BUY A PC. Hmpf. :)

  9. 10 mentallaxative 2008/10/28 at 7:11 PM

    My friends find my emotional attachment to my laptop weird. My dad suggested I replace my 3 year old Compaq with a new Dell Inspiron, but I don’t really want to part with all my customised settings (ie. Arch). I’d feel kinda bad for wiping Vista off a new machine so quickly….

    Instead, I’m planning to get the ram upgraded.

  10. 11 Josh Miller 2008/10/28 at 9:10 PM

    As much as I love computers, I’ve only ever bought one computer. Back in like 1998, it was a Pentium 2 450 Mhz with all the bells and whistles. It costs like 1700 bucks and I’m pretty sure at the time it was “top of the line” at least without going out and special ordering all the parts yourself. And technically that was a gift from my parents for starting college.

    All of my other computers have been the result of picking up older PCs second hand or using parts left over from upgrades to build a PC. In fact, 5-6 years later, after finally upgrading the case and power supply on my first PC, I pulled out all of my parts and put that original P2 back together and turned it into a server.

    Truth be told, the hardware I run tends to be out dated but I like to keep it maintained and clean enough hat it runs more than effectively. Hell I get less slack from my home PC than my tricked out Dual Core work PC when I run Team Fortress 2 and my work PC out classes my home PC in ever area that counts (Processor, RAM, Graphics Card Memory).

  11. 12 Onyros 2008/10/29 at 12:48 AM

    That’s pretty much the same reasoning I’ve been trying to endorse regarding buying a new netbook.

    I gave the missus an EEEPC 701, which she barely uses. I have an IBM Thinkpad X31 which is the perfect netbook… before netbook was even a word. By I keep looking at those beautiful 9 inchers out there and I’ve been trying not to buy, especially when my X31 still outperforms each and every one of those.

    My desktop is irreplaceable, though. I just upgraded the CPU to a Pentium M 745, and the thing is incredibly silent. I have a graphics card which I only install when I’m on gaming mode, because it makes the little cube noisy.

    I leave the computer on at all times – it nibbles power at a 25W rate when idle and it’s mostly the motherboard’s fault – and sometimes I have to touch the keyboard to make sure it’s still on.

    I really don’t need a new one… but those stupid netbooks… those dreadful netbooks…

  12. 13 Colin Zheng 2008/10/29 at 11:19 AM

    I believe the same can be said about cell phones.
    While I’m all for Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, I couldn’t resist buying an LCD TV as computer monitor. Meanwhile I spent $30 on a used PIII PC and $5 on a used cellphone.

    I guess, for me at least, it’s more of a matter of valuation (as opposed to environmental conscience), otherwise I wouldn’t have bought the LCD TV.

  13. 14 Ashish (ashmew2 @ UF) 2008/10/30 at 8:27 PM

    K.Mandla … You are gifted with the fine arts of writing! Nice Article. And i can really confirm the point # 10. When i sold my old P4 machine about 3 years ago…I literally cried myself to sleep…But Life is about moving on….. :)

  14. 15 Jim Robert 2008/11/03 at 5:08 AM

    I disagree… so much! Not with everything, but you can definately do some combo of upgrade and ‘buy-a-new-one’ where you end up with a screaming fast, basically new computer for about $500 (use the old case, hard drive, removable media, power supply, monitor, mouse, keyboard).

    The only parts that REALLY impact the speed of a computer are the Motherboard, CPU, RAM, and Graphics Card (Hard drive has much less impact than you’d think)

    Love your blog!

  15. 16 polygon89 2008/11/18 at 4:13 AM

    i also kinda disagree. With some points at least.

    I bought basically a very high end computer for only 900 dollars, including shipping. intel core 2 duo 3 ghz, 4 gb ram, 640 gb hard drive, nvidia 9800 gtx, asus p5q motherboard and some wireless card. around 895 dollars.

    I bought a new computer cause my old one was getting kinda slow for games i play, and i had my previous ones for about 6.5 years.

    so if you think that a good computer costs 1000-2000, then you wrong =) newegg is your friend

    • 17 Jash 2010/06/18 at 1:32 AM

      Less than a year after you I built a more powerful rig (Phenom II X4 Quad Core, Radeon HD 4870, 4GB Ram, 750GB HD…) for a grand total of only $800, 1080p monitor included! Newegg is your friend but it is true that the price of parts depreciates greatly over time.

  16. 18 tel93 2008/11/18 at 10:08 AM

    Some people have to buy new computers because of parental pressure. My K6-2 366 is dead, and I want to buy a HP PIII 700 that I’ve been looking at. However, my dad is trying to make me buy a new computer, even though I like old ones better.

  17. 19 BlackStar 2008/12/12 at 11:58 PM

    If you really have an itch to upgrade something, do yourself a favour and get a good monitor, mouse and keyboard. If you already have those, spend a few bucks to make your system silent.

    It’s not the video card or CPU that matters when using a computer. It’s the stuff that you interact with that make all the difference in the world. If you’ve never used a well-built setup (silent, good monitor and lighting, comfortable desk and input devices), you don’t know what you are missing.

  18. 20 kludge 2009/01/18 at 2:51 AM

    if you really have to ditch some old hardware, or you want someone else to do the collecting of parts and building for you–all while teaching valuable skills and getting computers into the hands of folks who wouldn’t get one otherwise, check out:

    http://www.freegeek.org

    and to find one near you (yes, there are a bunch of us):

    http://freegeek.org/family.php

  19. 21 ikaruga 2009/01/22 at 4:22 AM

    I’m gonna have to disagree with you K…

    It’s called a netbook. For the majority of people (including myself) an “under-powered” netbook is all you need. I say “under-powered” because most of them are more powerful than the 8 year-old laptop I’m currently using :-) And my old laptop is quite capable of surfing the web, watching videos, word processing… all the stuff most people do. Netbooks are also dirt cheap. I think even in this economic downturn, most people can afford $350.

    #4 – Not everyone throws away their old computers. Some turn them into servers, like @Josh@. Others give them to charities. Problem solved.

    #9 & #10 – is the equivalent of collecting comic books. This doesn’t apply to most people.

    • 22 K.Mandla 2009/01/22 at 8:15 AM

      I’m going to argue your main point (on netbooks) elsewhere. Watch this space. :)

      But your other notes are perfectly valid. Every person is different, but for people who form attachments to machines or objects they learn to appreciate and care for, those three are still viable.

  20. 23 ikaruga 2009/01/23 at 3:36 AM

    Thanks for the gracious reply!

  21. 24 Taila 2009/05/31 at 10:12 PM

    I know at this point is very late to answer the blog made last year, but… Yes there is a but, you see I agree with K in a lot of his points. I leave in Cape Town and here computer hardware is expensive. So it makes no sense to get rid of your old pc when it still works (this excludes gamers) and am no serious gamer. I always have a problem when I’ve finally decided to go buy something. When I arrive at the store I find that I have doubt on whether I am really doing the right thing buying what I went there to buy, because suddenly the thuth always dawn on me that I am just waisting money.

    But I must disagree on a point about growing value of old PCs, not here my friend no. They get cheaper and continue to get so over the years to a point where it becomes difficult to sell your machine.

    Great piece of writing though K.

  22. 25 Cameron 2010/12/09 at 3:35 PM

    Agree with you on all of them, but especially the emotional attachment one. I’m typing this on a 6-year-old VAIO laptop, with an upgraded graphics card, extra RAM and an improved battery. With all of my upgrades, I’ve got it to run Windows 7 like a charm. I’d really do anything for my VAIO :), so I got the Ultimate version. It came with XP, then to Vista (ugh), Ubuntu, Debian, Slackware and even Mac OS X for a few days before making it to 7. My days with OS X, however, convinced me that I need a change. The computer is beyond environmentally friendly as it is my main computer and is being used for 3/4 of the time I spend awake :). So I ordered myself a MacBook Air. Waiting for delivery, but I already know what I’ll do with this VAIO: it’s gonna be my 3rd home server. And I will never, ever, press the little button that reads “Shut Down”. Not until it dies, which I will do my best to prevent. If it does, I should frame a picture of it on the wall :D


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