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The Almighty Buck Hardware IT Idle Technology

The Rules of Thumb For Tech Purchasing 401

Posted by timothy
from the kevin-kelly-always-has-brain-candy dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Sam Grobart writes in the NYT that buying gadgets can sometimes be like buying a car; it requires sorting through options because the reality is that most of us are usually dealing with a finite amount of money to spend, and that means making trade-offs. Grobart puts forward his set of rules for getting the most for your tech dollar when buying computers, cameras, cellphones, data plans, and service contracts. For example, Rule No. 1: pay for PC memory, not speed. 'When buying and configuring a new computer, companies often give the option of upgrading the processor and adding more memory, or RAM. If it is an either/or proposition, go for the RAM,' writes Grobart. 'Processors are usually fast enough for most people; it is the RAM that can be the bottleneck.' Other rules include 'Pay for the messaging, not the minutes,' 'Pay for the components, not the cables,' 'Pay for the sensor size, not the megapixels,' and 'Pay for the TV size, not the refresh rate.' Kevin Kelly expands on Grobart's rules of thumb with 'Pay for the glass, not the shutters,' 'Pay for reliability, not mileage,' and 'Pay for comfort, not for weight.' Any others?"
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The Rules of Thumb For Tech Purchasing

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  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Haedrian (1676506) on Sunday May 15, 2011 @08:30AM (#36132510)

    "Decide what you want to do with it, then buy exactly what you need"

    It sounds stupid, but you have no idea how many people buy a laptop or something without knowing whether they want to run high-end games or just use it for browsing the internet and then they end up with something overly expensive with traits they don't need.

  • Silly advice (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 15, 2011 @08:33AM (#36132516)

    Most high end brand name desktops already come with "too much" RAM as standard, often 6 or 8GB.

    As long as Windows applications are almost universally 32bit, this is pointless. As long as the system has 4GB, the rest is "nice to have for future", nothing more.

    Right about CPUs tho, in desktops they range from very fast to ridiculously fast. Laptops, on the other hand, are another story. Cheapest laptop CPUs are pretty puny...

  • Re:Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Haedrian (1676506) on Sunday May 15, 2011 @08:41AM (#36132552)

    To give two real life stories to explain my point.

    A person I know turned up at a shop and demanded that she wanted "The Best". Aside from telling the salesman that you're a mug, she basically got the most expensive laptop in the shop, and now she runs Word, IE 8 and a ton of Spyware on a high end machine.

    Another story involves the missus trying to choose between two laptops, one of which was an i3 with a large screen, and another which was an i5 with a smaller screen. I asked her what she was planning on doing with it, she told me she wanted to use it for watching videos and the like, so she got the i3. For myself, given I don't really need the screen real-estate and could use the cycles for my developing, picked up the i5.

    So before you ask anything, find out what you're planning on doing with it. There's no such thing as 'the best'. An i7 tower with a demon of a graphics card is great for gameplay, but you try taking that on a train or to take lecture notes on. Similarly, a 'netbook' is great if you need a ton of battery life and the ability to carry it around without snapping your back, but sucks if you want to "pwn some n00bs" at online gaming.

  • by geekmux (1040042) on Sunday May 15, 2011 @08:50AM (#36132578)

    #1 rule, no matter what you buy. Plasma vs. LCD, car vs. SUV vs. truck, laptop vs. desktop, handgun vs. rifle vs. shotgun, or even rent/lease vs. own.

    If you don't know your real requirements for a purchase, then you're just shooting in the dark, or have already made up your mind based on peer pressure. The best example of sheer peer pressure/brand pushing can probably be best summarized within 80% of Apple sales. The other 20% actually know what they're buying and actually need it.

  • On real estate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rwa2 (4391) * on Sunday May 15, 2011 @08:55AM (#36132598) Homepage Journal

    "Don't buy a house more than 3x your annual income."

    Probably could have saved us some troubles back there.

  • by brusk (135896) on Sunday May 15, 2011 @09:06AM (#36132640)
    Simple. For software, pay for the support+license, not the license.
  • by magusxxx (751600) <magusxxx_2000@yahoo . c om> on Sunday May 15, 2011 @09:06AM (#36132642)
    Shop Electronically, Buy Locally. Do the research at home and take it with you to brick-and-mortal stores. If worse comes to worse, Buy Electronically, Return Locally. By doing this mistakes are easily corrected.
  • by rvw (755107) on Sunday May 15, 2011 @09:06AM (#36132644)

    The summary claims that one rule is to pay for more RAM over better processor. That sounds like poor advice for at least three reasons: 1) RAM can usually be user-upgraded later, while the processor usually can't be; 2) RAM is cheaper than the processor; 3) some OEMs overcharge for RAM upgrades (cough, Apple). Plus, it is dubious to claim processors are usually fast enough for most people. All told, whoever offered that suggestion wasn't thinking very soundly.

    I disagree. A better processor means you get a 2.7 instead of a 2.4, and for that you pay $300 (Apple Macbook Pro 13"). That's a waste of money for 10% speed increase. Then I would use that money to buy more RAM, which is probably a much better way to speed up a machine.

  • by syousef (465911) on Sunday May 15, 2011 @09:30AM (#36132740) Journal

    Read TFA, not TFS.

    You realise that the article is rules of thumb, which themselves are summaries of accepted wisdom, right?

    If anything, going by this article it should be RTFS not RTFA.

    Or you could just actually take the effort to understand the tradeoffs you're making instead of following a set of vague general rules which aren't suited to each situation... If it's important, it's worth getting the detail right. Think brain surgery - do you want your brain surgeon ignoring the detail and applying a set of shortcut rules of thumb?

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday May 15, 2011 @09:46AM (#36132798)
    Leave aside all the technical stuff for now. A large proportion of people don't buy tech. to solve a technical problem (such as being able to play a given game, or run a particular application). A lot of people buy stuff as an extension of their personalities. This is particularly true of cars. So asking "What do you want to do with it?" will elicit a technical answer that probably has nothing to do with what the purchasing decision will be made on.

    I also find that most people who do go for the "emotional" buy, rather than the technical buy, will often be reluctant to tell you the real reason they bought something. Usually the sales/marketing material that they quote afterwards is merely an excuse or rationalisation for their decision. Usually the reason people buy tech is because it makes them feel good. Nothing more.

  • Re:Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bill Dimm (463823) on Sunday May 15, 2011 @09:54AM (#36132848) Homepage

    Slight improvement: Decide what you want to do with it, then buy something a little better than what you think you need.

    Because there is a significant probability that you'll underestimate what you need, and having to buy a second item to meet your needs is a lot more expensive than paying a little more for something better the first time around.

  • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes@xmsnBLUEet.nl minus berry> on Sunday May 15, 2011 @10:15AM (#36132942)

    I find this statement to be true more for computer monitors than for television screens. Too many people end up with TV screens so large that the individual pixels become annoyingly visible. HD mitigates this, but most channels still use SD.

    Pick a TV screen size that's appropriate for your viewing distance, instead of the bigger == better fallacy.

  • For example - "Pay for RAM, not speed. The speed of the computer chip does not matter; the attention-span or RAM memory does matter."

    Totally wrong. You can always throw in more ram at a later date, and it will probably cost less to replace all of it than the cost of the "upgrade" today. Upgrading ram on a laptop is even easier than on a desktop, while a cpu upgrade ... forget it. And you'll always find takers for your old ram.

    Or "Pay for components, not cables. Buy the best components, and the cheapest cables". While you don't have to pay a monster price for "Monster Cables", some HDMI cables don't meet the latest specs. The difference between those that do and the cheapest may only be a few bucks, and it can't hurt.

    Or "Pay for speed, not channels. For cable internet, with enough speed you can watch TV channels on the internet for free." Pay for bandwidth. Speed means nothing if you have a low bandwidth cap. And buying a pair of bunny-ears for your HDTV can give a better picture over the air than either the net OR cable.

    And "Pay for reliability, not mileage. On a car, you'll spend more of repairs and maintaince over its lifetime than you will on a difference in gas." needs to re-think that when faced with $6-$8 a gallon gas prices. At $6 a gallon, 20mpg is going to cost you $30,000.00 in gas over 100,000 miles. At 40mpg you save $15,000.00

    And for those who don't think gas prices will go that high, they already are in many parts of the world (and you can bet that cash-strapped state and federal governments are going to need to raise more taxes).

    Think of how many people bought their cars when gas prices were half what they were today. When buying a car today, you have to keep in mind that history tends to repeat itself.

  • Re:On real estate (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet.hotmail@com> on Sunday May 15, 2011 @12:04PM (#36133500) Journal

    There are no houses less than 3x my annual income around here. Houses start at 4x, and decent ones start at 5-6x. I might be able to find a condo at 3x.

    Damn, that's in intractable dilemma. It would seem that the rule of thumb offered by the original poster violates your God-given right as an American to own (a small fraction of, shared with the bank) a home with a lawn and a driveway where you can park your SUV, so that you can make long trips to Wal-Mart. Since you're a good person, you deserve to have your front lawn and backyard barbecue; it's a moral issue, not a financial one. I mean, only sub-humans live in condos.

    Seriously, we're talking about rules of thumb here. They can be bent or broken providing one has sound justification; a rule of thumb is heuristic guidance, not Mosaic law.

    On the other hand, the U.S. housing market is ample evidence that large numbers of people are very poor judges of their financial limits. Even among the substantial majority of Americans who didn't lose their homes or their solvency during the subprime fallout, many still live right on the edge. Fewer than half of Americans have any sort of 'emergency fund' to cover them in the event of surprise expenses or unexpected job loss. Any family carrying any credit card debt month to month is living beyond their means, but there is an appalling culture of "I want $NICE_THING, therefore I should have it, whether or not I can afford it--and anyone who says otherwise can go soak his head."

  • by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Sunday May 15, 2011 @01:01PM (#36133890)
    You've really got to consider the audience this article is written for; it's not for /. techies.

    For example - "Pay for RAM, not speed. The speed of the computer chip does not matter; the attention-span or RAM memory does matter."

    Totally wrong. You can always throw in more ram at a later date, and it will probably cost less to replace all of it than the cost of the "upgrade" today. Upgrading ram on a laptop is even easier than on a desktop, while a cpu upgrade ... forget it. And you'll always find takers for your old ram.

    Most /. readers would likely have no problem popping open a case and swapping out a few sticks of RAM. We'd probably also know where to get a better price on RAM than the factory pull-down option offers, and where to get good quality RAM for that better price. However, there are many, many consumers who view this all as black-boxes and black arts. To them, the box will remain in whatever configuration they buy it as until they decide it's time for a new computer and buy another one. Here is when one has to be wary of the marketing of CPU numbers and the illusion that a fast CPU guarantees a fast computer. Nevermind that most consumers' needs would be well met by today's moderate speed CPUs.

    The advice is good for those who won't know more than the rule of thumb. But as with most things - reducing the complexity reduces accuracy. A smart consumer would be better served at knowing a bit more.

    Or "Pay for components, not cables. Buy the best components, and the cheapest cables". While you don't have to pay a monster price for "Monster Cables", some HDMI cables don't meet the latest specs. The difference between those that do and the cheapest may only be a few bucks, and it can't hurt.

    And here we have the same problem. You have to know something about HDMI cables and specs to ensure that you're buying a technically superior cable and not just a marketing up-sell. Keep in mind that a lot of up-selling happens with ancillaries like cables. And if that's the waters the naive consumer is swimming in, the advice to avoid the costly cables and get good hardware steers clear of the most sharks. But again, a bit more knowledge beyond the generic rule of thumb would serve the consumer well.

    Or "Pay for speed, not channels. For cable internet, with enough speed you can watch TV channels on the internet for free." Pay for bandwidth. Speed means nothing if you have a low bandwidth cap. And buying a pair of bunny-ears for your HDTV can give a better picture over the air than either the net OR cable.

    Along the lines of my theme - I'm not sure telling people that they should swap out Internet for the cable box as a TV source is all that wise. Sure - many /. readers probably have no problem doing it. But I'm not sure we're there yet (much to Google's chagrin). So if we're going to get in to those bleeding edge waters - I think you have the right of it. Bandwidth caps are the hidden evil.

    And "Pay for reliability, not mileage. On a car, you'll spend more of repairs and maintaince over its lifetime than you will on a difference in gas." needs to re-think that when faced with $6-$8 a gallon gas prices. At $6 a gallon, 20mpg is going to cost you $30,000.00 in gas over 100,000 miles. At 40mpg you save $15,000.00

    And for those who don't think gas prices will go that high, they already are in many parts of the world (and you can bet that cash-strapped state and federal governments are going to need to raise more taxes).

    A couple small points - repair bills are big, sudden expenses while gas is a slow consistent expense. And while many places in the world have had high gas prices due to taxes for decades, many places in the world do not have the land mass and infrastructure requirements of the US. Having said those things - you do have a very good point that's certainly worth considering.

  • Psh - active studo reference monitors, connected to your high quality mixing board via XLR cables. :P
  • by Sepodati (746220) on Sunday May 15, 2011 @01:41PM (#36134144) Homepage

    For example - "Pay for RAM, not speed. The speed of the computer chip does not matter; the attention-span or RAM memory does matter."

    Totally wrong.

    Remember the audience. This is for people clicking through the customize options on the Dell website. Do they go with the i3 at $550 or the i5 at $650? Do they go with the i3 and 4GB of RAM for $550 or 6GB of RAM $610.If someone's going to spend the money, I think most people would get more out of the additional RAM than a processor upgrade. That's what TFA is getting at. In reality, the plane old i3 with 4GB is going to be more than enough for most people.

    If you're willing to do a little research, you're not the target audience for a rule of thumb.

  • by CmdrPorno (115048) on Sunday May 15, 2011 @02:25PM (#36134406)

    The average consumer buys an HDTV and brags to all of their friends about how great it is and how clear the picture is, and if you ask them whether they upgraded their dish or cable service to get an HD signal, they have no clue what you're talking about.

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