We often get asked questions from customers about what to look for, or more specifically how to evaluate and buy technology. Many people understand that they need a new smartphone or a new laptop because of obsolescence and/or age, but they don’t really have a good understanding of how to determine what to replace their equipment with and equally important, when to do it.
There will be many opinions on this topic and some folks will disagree, however this is what we’ve found from our experience. In this article we’ll avoid talking about obvious hardware problems that prompt replacement. For example: I accidentally left my laptop on the roof of the car and drove off.
Generally (with some exceptions), any equipment more than 5 years old and that was top of the line (important) when it was purchased, is now going to perform like the cheapest currently new device. An example: your 5 year old premium computer will perform like a new budget computer today. Therefore if you purchase technology and want it to last, do not purchase cheaply. As a rule a premium technology item (computer, tablet, phone) will have greater longevity than a budget one.
But you knew all of that already right?
First up in our journey of how to buy technology is your Smartphone or Tablet. Lets dive right in.
Many people replace their smartphones when their service plan comes up and their cellular provider offers them a “great” deal. Some of these deals may be very good, but… yes there is a gotcha!
Usually new smartphones require a plan “upgrade” which often means paying more monthly from your cellular carrier. So the question is whether the plan upgrade combined with the financing is worth doing to get the latest phone. Is it a good idea to pull the trigger when your contract is up on an otherwise good phone? Another way to look at this scenario: would you replace your car because it’s warranty is up? I didn’t think so. We do not recommend pulling the trigger on replacing your phone when your contract is up. As with all situations however, that would depend on the deal offered.
Our recommendation of when to replace your smartphone/tablet:
- When it’s damaged and the repair is going to cost more than the device is worth. Or perhaps it’s worth it to repair the device, but it’s repair is a significant portion of the money required to purchase a new one.
- When a battery needs replacing and the phone is 3+ years old (cost to replace the battery is greater than replacement value)
- When the manufacturer ceases to offer security updates and OS upgrades
- When (after having a professional look at the device) the device is sluggish and performing poorly for your needs
How to buy your new smartphone
- As mentioned above, I’d avoid the major carriers because they will want to lock you into a new contract. If you can afford to, we recommend purchasing phones outright and not on monthly plans. This allows you to keep your monthly costs fixed. Plan prices rarely drop and once your monthly plan cost goes up it’ll stay up forever.
- Consider and research refurbished devices. Often you can pick up a phone in excellent condition just out of contract for a really good value. These phones often have at least a year or more left on their manufacturer software support. Many articles are posted online about how long manufacturers will support their phones, so do a bit of searching and visit the manufacturers website. According to Samsung, they will offer 4 years of security updates, and 3 major OS upgrades on their flagship phones. A refurbished 2 year old Samsung phone (as of launch date) will be supported for an additional 2 years.
- New phones can also be found online through the manufacturer directly, or marketplace sites like Amazon, Walmart or Bestbuy (we are not affiliated with them in any way). And as mentioned above, purchasing phones outright ensures that you’re monthly plan charges won’t increase due to the replacement.
- Consider a Chromebook when you need a new mobile device with a keyboard in a laptop configuration
TIP: Once you’ve bought your new phone and transferred your data don’t hang on to the old one unless you have a legitimate second use for it. Phones do not hold their value very long. If it’s in good shape wipe the data on it, remove your microSD card and put it online for sale on a site like facebook marketplace. This can help you recover some of the replacement costs of a new device.
PC or Laptop or Chromebook
Many of the same considerations with the smartphone will be similar in the PC or laptop conversation as well. When do you replace your computer? What do you replace it with? How long should my computer last? Next up in our how to buy technology guide is your PC/Laptop/Chromebook. Lets tackle these questions now.
Aside from a major hardware problem (motherboard or processor), computers are designed in a modular way and are serviceable (yes even many Apple computers!). Most damaged parts and hardware failures can be corrected without doing a full replacement.
If the computer repair is going to be more affordable than the replacement and the computer is not more than 5 years old, we recommend repairing them in almost all situations.
Replace your computer when:
- It no longer performs fast enough for your new software. One qualitative way to measure this: the computer doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with you. You’ll notice this in time to boot and tasks like switching between programs and opening new programs and browser tabs.
- Your worried about the computer failing and want to proactively replace it (5+ year old systems)
- It doesn’t have hardware support for things you wish to do or the programs you are installing. For example screen recording in Windows 10 using the built in xbox live tools has a hardware video requirement. If your computer does not meet this requirement, you’ll not be able to do this with that software. Often you’ll be able to install the new component and continue on without fully replacing your system, but in some cases a system replacement may be more cost effective.
- Operating System obsolescence is also a reason to consider upgrading. Recently during the Windows 7 end of life, many people bought new computers instead of upgrading to Windows 10 on old equipment. They knew their 5 year old Windows 7 computer wasn’t going to perform well with Windows 10. Coupled with Windows 7 end of life and it meant that they really didn’t have much of a choice but to upgrade. People did this because Windows 7 was no longer going to be secure and would not get any security updates from Microsoft.
- Windows 11 is going to be released in October 2021 (best estimate as of the date of this article). It has some significant hardware requirements that may not be met by your current computer. Read more here.
TIP: just because your computer is old and you are upgrading don’t recycle it until you’ve considered re-purposing it. Take a look at our post about installing NAS software as one example of something you can do with it.
How to buy your new computer
When considering purchasing a new computer, always take the time to determine what you’ll use it for. In addition, tasks that you performed in the past with it may be better suited, more convenient or have better software that runs on your smartphone or tablet. A good example of this is social media like Instagram. The smartphone apps are better than the desktop experience for these sites. Do you write a lot of emails? online banking/stock trading? watch video or multimedia? photo edit? All of these are considerations, and all of these tasks have mobile apps today. Take the opportunity to evaluate whether you need a desktop model or a laptop, or whether a tablet or Chromebook can do all of these functions instead.
Choose a Chromebook when:
- You primarily use mobile applications, but you need a keyboard
- You have a conservative budget
- You’re hard on your equipment
- You have conservative requirements such as emailing, word processing and web browsing only
Choose a laptop when:
- You’ve historically never upgraded any of your previous computers. Past use of equipment is a good “guideline” as to what you’ll do in the future. All laptops can be set up like desktops with external screens, keyboards, mice etc. But there are no desktop systems that are capable of being mobile like a laptop.
- Laptops are not flexible when it comes to upgrading (although you can upgrade specific models). However, they give you flexibility on the different ways you can use them.
- Laptops generally do not perform as fast as desktop models. They often don’t have the latest processors, the most memory, RAID arrays, discrete video etc.
- General purpose laptops are suitable for most people’s daily personal and business requirements.
Choose a desktop when:
- You’ve opened the case of your PC and have upgraded it in the past.
- You need a system with higher performance for your job or entertainment (cad/design, photography, videography, design and layout, gaming, software development etc.)
- You have a dedicated workspace
- You’d like your computer to last as long as possible. Due to upgradablity desktop computers often outlast their laptop counterparts.
- You have a multi-screen requirement
- You don’t want your computer to grow legs and walk away! IE: Its an office computer that needs to stay in the office.
- A laptop isn’t suitable because it doesn’t have the number and types of connectors you need for your equipment. IE: CNC machine that requires an RS232 serial port.
Once you’ve decided on a laptop or a desktop based on how you are going to use it, look at all the major brands for something you like. Companies like Acer, Lenovo, Dell, HP and Asus are good places to start. Don’t overlook MSI or even some of the custom brands. As a general rule: you can’t go wrong with a new computer if it is replacing one more than 5 years old. Just about anything on the market will be better than what you have, even budget machines.
How to pick a processor
Once again, the overall rule is that the newer the processor, the better performing it will be.
Intel and AMD have also made it very easy to figure out the generation (and therefore the technology age) of a processor by using numbers behind the model. The thousands number behind the processor class or line represents the generation of processor. For example: Intel i5-4500 is a 4th generation i5 processor. Current generation is 11th and a generation is released about once per year. So that Intel i5-4500 is approximately 7 years old!
We recommend choosing the highest class and then the most current generation processor you can afford. An example of this is pick last years i5 if it’s the same price as this years i3. Overall the i5 is a better performer even though it’s a year older. Same goes for i5 vs i7 and i7 vs i9.
How to choose storage
Storage is relatively straight forward for home computers. Always equip your computer with an SSD instead of a mechanical hard drive. As of the writing of this article, mechanical HDD’s are only really useful as data storage devices and only the most entry level computers still have them as their primary storage device.
Once you’ve determined how much storage you need, choose a computer that has either a M.2 or SATA (or both) interface for the storage device. Mechanical drives will always be SATA, whereas SSD can be M.2 or SATA. SATA is an old standard, and most new computers will offer both. We recommend choosing the M.2 interface and therefore M.2 storage device for primary storage as it’s a higher performing interface. When buying your computer ask whether the system drive is an M.2 drive or SATA.
Outside of those major considerations, the last major option is whether to get dedicated or built in video. I always recommend the former if your budget allows even in laptops. Discrete/dedicated video is often much faster, reduces and eliminates general CPU load and doesn’t use shared system memory. If you are a gamer or are doing anything with video or photo editing you’ll want a dedicated GPU.
Nowadays for general purpose computers and laptops, integrated/built in video work very well and can save you some money. In addition processor manufacturers are offloading some or all of the video tasks to dedicated parts of the general purpose processor specifically designed for video. This means that the system processor is capable of video processing without impacting the performance of the computer.
Hopefully this has provided you some guidance on how to buy technology and on your next PC or Smartphone purchase. If you like what you’ve read please share and comment.
Check out more of our How-To’s for additional great tips like this one.