I have a very definite philosophy for buying computers. I tell it to anyone I meet who is planning a purchase, they all agree that it makes complete sense, and then none of them ever actually do it.
Computers drop in value quickly as we call know. They’re right up there with cars (except worse) in that you buy it and it starts depreciating quickly and immediately. This isn’t going to change in the near (or arguably far) future (I can post arguments backing this up if you want, but just Google Moore’s Law and you’ll get the basic gist if you don’t believe it).
Based on this, my philosophy has always been to buy the cheapest computer that will meet my CURRENT needs, and give myself permission to upgrade once I run in to ANYTHING I want to run that the computer can’t handle. Even if its fairly frivolous (such as watching videos with cutting edge video encoding or playing a new game). You will have to upgrade more often following this approach, but if you’re buying $1000 machines instead of $3000 machines the math still works out.
Say a cutting edge machine costs $2500. Six months from now, it’ll be the “budget beast” they’re selling for $600. Buying the high end machine will give your computer an added lifespan of 6 months. I usually get 3 years out of the low end machines I buy, so I’m paying ($600 / 36 = $16.67 / month). With the higher end machine, lasting the extra 6 months, you’d be paying ($2500 / 42 = $59.52 / month).
So clearly (even if you want to quibble about the numbers) we’ve disproved that paying more for a computer “so it will last longer” is a good strategy. Related to this is the idea “if I pay more for a computer, it’ll be higher quality”. It won’t. Computers are made with commodity hardware (it all pretty well functions the same way), and more expensive is usually just newer, not higher quality (some exceptions to this, but you can actually buy lower performance higher quality parts cheaper than higher performance lower quality parts).
The second argument people make for buying an expensive new machine is “it will let me do XYZ which the cheaper one won’t”. Often XYZ is something the cheap one WILL do (you can’t purchase a computer that isn’t powerful enough to surf, playing music and write e-mails). Unless you’re going to be doing video editing or playing the latest first person shooter game (3D games where you run around blowing other people up), you probably don’t need the latest and greatest machine. If you think you *MAY* want to do one of these processor intensive activities, get the cheap machine, find an older version of the software, and if you do use it and like it, then buy the more expensive machine (most peoples’ intentions are never followed through on, so paying lots of money to have a machine powerful enough to run software that you’ll never use is a waste).
I’m a computer nerd, work in the field, do a fair bit of programming and whatnot, and I’m using a 3 year old notebook (notebooks are less powerful dollar-for-dollar than desktops). A low-end new computer is more hardware than I need (although if its cheap enough I’ll take it), how many people are out that that honestly need more horsepower than I do?
The third argument, which no one ever says out loud, is that a new computer has bragging rights. Your friends come over to a dinner party and are interested in seeing the new Vista. Computer nerds will help fix your computer so you can send an e-mail, and admire how fast it runs. Bragging rights are great and all that (hell, how many expensive cars would be sold if not for bragging rights), but is it really worth an extra $2K to try to make people envious?
Next time you’re going to buy a computer, look at the one you would have bought, buy a cheap one instead, put the difference in a PC Financial bank account ear-marked as your “new computer fund”. When you run into something your old computer can’t handle, buy a new one out of that fund. I can guarantee you that the same amount of money will last you FAR, FAR longer than buying top-of-the-line would have, and after the first computer, you’ll be running a more powerful machine too (the second cheap one will be way better then the first expensive one would have been).