Good Tech is Better than More Tech – Part 3: Smart Upgrades

The temptation is strong to just buy anything and everything shiny that you may find and like the moment it comes out. Trust me, I understand this temptation. But resist, my friends! Resist! We’ve left the Good Tech is Better than More Tech series by the wayside for a couple of months, and in that time there have been a lot of delicious new product launches, gear releases, and gadgets that are all tempting us to spend tons of money on them.

In the first part of the series, Think Before you Buy, we talked about ways to streamline your needs and make sure you’re only buying the gear that will make a difference in the way you work and play with your tech. In the second part, Bargain Hunting, I shared some of my favorite tips and tricks for making sure you get a great deal when you’re shopping on the Web or in person.

Now, in this third segment, I’ll walk you through five ways you can make sure that the tech you’re so eager to buy will actually be a good, solid upgrade for you – the kind that you won’t look back on in a couple of months and say “you know, I really didn’t need to drop the cash on this,” which is never a good place to be – even if you like what you bought.

  1. Is it an upgrade or a new tool?

    The first question you really have to ask yourself is whether or not this is an upgrade, or does it offer some new function or utility that you don’t already have in your life. It would be best if it’s both – something that upgrades an app, gadget, or service you already have but also gives you something more for your money other than just being new. If it’s an actual upgrade though, that’s fine too, but where you run into trouble is if what you’re looking at doesn’t actually improve any aspect of your life and instead is a new gadget that will take up new space and do something new that you haven’t been doing up to this point.

    Before you accuse me of going all holier-than-thou-minimalist on you, the point I’m trying to make is that when you’re considering a new purchase of an item that will fill some need or space in your life, you usually think of the purchase in terms of whether that need being fulfilled is worth the money you’re planning on spending to fill it. When you couch that purchase in terms of a non-existent “upgrade” to something that you know you’re not actually going to replace, you’re not being terribly honest with yourself, now are you?

    If you let yourself rationalize that you could replace that thing over there with this new expensive shiny, if you really wanted to and then bought this over here to go with it, you’ll quickly find yourself spending money on something you may not have really needed – and may not have bought if you were thinking about it on its own merits alone instead of your dissatisfaction with whatever you need to fix or update. Thinking about your purchases and upgrades with that kind of cost/benefit mindset will help you make sure that you’re buying things that will help improve the way you work, play, or just conduct your day-to-day life.

  2. Is the old one out of warranty/near the end of its life?

    Of course, if you’re planning to buy an upgrade or a replacement for something, it’s natural to think about it in terms of whether or not the item you’re replacing really needs to maglie calcio poco prezzo be replaced. It makes sense when I say it like that, sure, but it’s remarkable how infrequently we think about things like this. For example, most of us run out and pick up a new cell phone almost the moment our contracts are up because we’re offered a discount on a new handset by our carrier, regardless of whether we actually need a new handset.

    I’m discounting the phenomenon of planned obsolescence here, of course, and average lifespans for a number of products like cell phones, but one thing I’ve noticed in covering the smartphone market is that there are new handsets and products coming onto the market so frequently that the most cautious buyers are almost always punished for waiting to make sure the one they buy is right for them. We’re encouraged to stand in line for the most recent product and buy it completely un-tested in the field, because, well, it’s new! It’s shiny! It’s hot!

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing against technolust here, and I’m not suggesting that you don’t go stand in line if you know that the next iPhone or Android phone or game console is the one for you. What I am saying is that if you have the luxury of time and rational thought, use it. Think about whether or not the manufacturer’s warranty is up on the 50-inch plasma television you have that has issues with one of the HDMI ports before getting sucked into Black Friday sales. If it is and you’ve been meaning to upgrade to a better model for one reason or another (good reasons, please!) then by all means, start shopping.

    Think about the warranty or service plan you have for your laptop. Did you get a 3-year manufacturer service agreement and it’s nearly up? Is it woefully slow and you can admit you’ve idly spent days configuring updated models on the manufacturer’s site? It might be time to pull the trigger and make the purchase, especially if you know you’ll use and love a new model more than you use and love your older, busted version (assuming you can’t do something to give it a little refresh – you know, like I suggested in Ways to Make Use of Your Older Tech.)

  3. Does it replace something you’re already using with something better?

    This one may seem like a throwback to the first question, but I’m making a very concise point here: what are you getting rid of to make room for this item in your life? If you’re not getting rid of something entirely, what is the old thing going to do while the new one fills its need? The new thing should do the old thing’s job better than it used to – is that the case?

    These questions – which assumes that you’ve determined in the first question that this is indeed an upgrade and in the second one that it’s worth purchasing a replacement, help you confirm for yourself that what you’re buying isn’t just a new version of the same thing you had that worked just fine. The key to upgrading smart is not upgrading blindly just because there’s a newer version of whatever you already have – it’s making sure that you’re upgrading to the new shiny because the new shiny gadget or service does what you need it to do better, does some more things you wished the old thing would have done, or hopefully does something else you hadn’t thought of but can really use.

    In a number of ways you can really determine a smart upgrade by how many other things you currently use that will be replaced with the new item. What you don’t want to do is spend a thousand dollars on a new NAS device that does the exact same thing with no additional features over your current home server. If the new NAS has some goodies that your home server doesn’t have (hot-swappable drives, fault tolerance when you pop a drive out, portability, simple management, Web interface, etc) then it might be worth the money – but only if those new features are things you’ll really use and enjoy.

  4. Are you saving money versus cobbling together parts or a replacement for what you have?

    One of the questions I asked myself when I ditched my hand-built home server for a pre-configured Dell that I bought from a coworker (bargains are always good!) was whether or not I was actually saving money by buying this new system from him versus buying the components that I needed to get the same features in the home server I already had. The problem was that the amount that my coworker was planning to charge for his secondhand computer was fractional compared to the upkeep of the system I already had. Here’s why.

    My old home server was hand-rolled, and an ancient AMD Athlon XP 2500+ with a pair of 500GB IDE drives inside and an old scavenged video card with S-Video out that I used to display video on my TV. The video card had just lost a fan, and the motherboard was starting to flake out on me. I was thinking about buying a replacement socket 939 motherboard and looking for an AGP video card that might have a HDMI port or even a decent S-Video post.

    Now this old machine had been one of my first computers out of college, cobbled together out of components that were top of the line at the time. Sadly, when it came time to look for upgrades for it though, or even replacement parts to keep it running in the same way it had been up to this point, the components had gotten magliette calcio a poco prezzo both cheap because they were commonplace and unused, and then with a bit more time wound up getting expensive because they started to become scarce. So that replacement motherboard and an AGP graphics card – any AGP graphics card – both amounted to more than the $150 my coworker wanted for his old secondhand computer with a pair of 500GB SATA drives in it and a built in graphics card with S-Video ports.

    You’re seeing the logic here. Sometimes your components and your gear and your gadgets, even if you love them, are so old that you wind up blindly dumping money into them to keep them running and keep them functioning when you would have spent less money just replacing and recycling the original item with something newer and more functional. Make sure you pay attention to that fact when pondering an upgrade – or even looking for a reason to upgrade. Sometimes old and busted is great for the nostalgic set, and sometimes it’s even better if there simply isn’t anything newer that meets your needs better than what you have, but sometimes we hold on to things for absolutely no good reason, and worse, we spend money on it.

  5. Is it well-reviewed/liked/anticipated?

    Finally, this one should be straight forward: don’t buy something if it’s a dud. Do your research. Seriously – check out what other people are saying, check out with reviewers are saying on blogs around the Web, and this goes for more than just technology too: if you can buy it, there’s someone out there who’s probably reviewed it, even if we’re just talking about customer reviews of the item on a site like Amazon.

    This also dovetails with the whole “is it end of life” question – because there’s so much technolust in the air, it’s easy to get caught up in something that’s new and shiny and comes with promises of incredible features, but it’s even more important in these cases to spend some time looking up hands-on reviews, in-depth reviews, even first impressions from people who may have had an opportunity to work with a device before it’s been released.

    Check the reviews and make sure that the things you want it to do that are above and beyond what you already have actually work – that the features that make it a real upgrade are actually worth using. Actually, while you’re at it, make sure that the core features that you’re upgrading by picking up your device are improved over previous versions. If you’re replacing one product with another, like one generation of cell phone with a popular new model, see if there are comparative reviews; you might be surprised.

    In the end, this item comes down to doing your homework. It’s an underrated task, and one that’s too often left undone.

If you’re a more experienced tech buyer and bargain hunter, these things come naturally to you. For a number of people though, these tips need to live in the back of your head every time you make a major tech purchase that you just swear is going to completely change the way that you work or the way that you play with your gear, or make doing whatever it is you do with the stuff you have now so, so much easier.

Yeah, you’ve said that to yourself a dozen times, I know. I say it to myself too. If you’re anything like me, you’ve said it to yourself in the past week, or even the past day, about something new. Maybe an XBox 360 slim? Perhaps it’s a new smartphone? Or maybe there’s an iPad on your wish list and you think it’ll replace your netbook or thin and light laptop?

Look, there’s nothing wrong with upgrades, and there’s nothing wrong with those lovely dreams of fancy new gadgets dancing in your head. There is, however, something wrong with looking at a big credit card bill a month after you’ve made a major tech purchase and shaking your head at the knowledge that you probably could have waited for a sale before dropping the cash, or that you probably didn’t need to replace your perfectly functional old gadget or piece of gear in the first place.

If you make sure you ask yourself the right questions before you pull the trigger and max out your charge card, your likelihood that you’ll look at your new purchase with no regrets and nothing but admiration are much higher. With a little forsight and application of your geekly know-how, you’ll enjoy the satisfaction that you’ve made an intelligent tech purchase that’s had a positive influence on your life.

images in this post courtesy of Flickr user William Hook, (Wikimedia Commons: File:Logitech G15 Keyboard.jpg) and Flickr user svensonsan, (iPhone und Motorola Milestone/Droid im Saal 2 auf der Schanze).

Author Description

Alan Henry

There are 3 comments. Add yours

  1. 15th November 2010 | sjon says:
    Point 4 goes again most "upgrades" these days. If a box is old enough to need an upgrade that upgrade is likely to be so extensive that a new box is a better, cheaper option. For example I cannot remember doing a sensible processor upgrade without upgrading the motherboard (and memory) at the same time. And Point 5 needs an addition : "check out what other people are saying, check out with reviewers are saying " and don't listen to the sales person. ^_^
  2. 15th November 2010 | Alan Henry says:
    @sjon - that's my point with number 4 - in many cases, buying something new WILL save you money over trying to find components to upgrade for your existing hardware. As for point 5, I'll let your comment stand on its own. I don't think it needs to be added. :)
  3. Pingback: Classy Resolutions to Start the New Year! « The Classy Geek December 29, 2010

    […] covered this in a couple of posts on the matter, most specifically Good Tech is Better than More Tech – Part 3: Smart Upgrades, but the lesson is always one worth remembering, and one that I specifically will have several […]

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