The Mac Webb

Benefits of Computing at the Low End

- 2002.11.15

Over the last five years, I have made the miraculous transformation from an early adopter to someone living life on the low end. The key to this transformation was the analysis of the jobs I needed my gadgets to perform. I realized that I was buying tools with too many features and too much overhead.

I found over time many benefits in running the low end. The first and most obvious of these benefits is the savings at initial purchase. When I look at computers, I try to shop about 8-12 months behind the latest model. This allows me to buy relatively new machines that have depreciated after the release of newer versions. Typical savings are up to 40%, with larger price cuts if I don't mind buying on eBay or similar consumer-to-consumer sites.

This year's discontinued model was last year's top of the line machine.

I will typically use the difference in funds to add accessories I could not have purchased staying at the bleeding edge. For example, I could go to the Apple site tomorrow and buy a PowerBook G4 867 for $2,299 and be extremely happy. As an alternative, I could look at my requirements, and buy a used or refurbished PowerBook G4 550 or 667 and add a huge hard drive and maximum RAM for the same money - or less. In the case of the 667, I could probably find one under Apple warranty.

I would be able to handle all of the computing tasks with an older model without paying the premium for a new machine. This logic is the same that is applied to buying a used vehicle for less initial cost. And as in the case of a used car, buying a used computer will keep you from worrying about depreciation as Apple updates computers each year.

A second benefit of life on the low end is the fact that units have been in users hands for an extended period. During this time, the manufacturer has been able to address problems and provide solutions to end users.

I have a good friend who loved computer games. Over time he learned to wait at least six months after a game release to buy the product. His logic was that in addition to bargain prices, the developers will have patched the software, and the gaming community will have added to the games value in the guise of mods.

One of my personal experiences with problems on the bleeding edge was in my purchase of the Compaq iPaq Pocket PC. I initially bought the machine at inflated prices immediately after release. The demand had far outstripped Compaq's ability to produce the units. After a few months in use, users were reporting numerous problems with the units. I experienced three of the most major and was required to send for replacement units each time. This would have been avoided had I simply waited a few months to buy.

This leads to a third benefit of the low end, the availability of accessories. In the above iPaq example, I waited months before being able to buy a CF sleeve. The keyboard I needed was purchased almost a year after my initial machine purchase. Each time I paid a premium for the scarce accessories. My total investment was at least 40-50% higher than it would have been few months later. It is fairly simple to find parts for my PowerBook Pismo or iBook. Accessories for both are easy to find and, in the case of the Pismo, are often discounted below fair market value (thanks eBay).

Perhaps my favorite benefit of the low end is the ability to own more gadgets due to the cost savings. I am one who could never decide between the Palm OS and Pocket PC. Both camps have strengths and weaknesses, and I was jumping back and forth too often to make sense.

Last quarter, I applied my low end philosophy to my PDA purchases. Rather than spend $600 for a top of the line Palm or Pocket PC, I grabbed a Sony T615 at closeout and a Jornada 568 at closeout. My total investment for both units was around two-thirds of the total for one machine at the high end. I can know straddle the fence and use both machines without feeling too guilty.

I am sure my new revelations regarding my electronic needs are obvious to readers of Low End Mac. For everyone reading this article on a G4 machine, a counterpart is reading this on a text based browser on a Performa 475.

My message is to keep up the good work and use those tools that meet your needs. Help your friends and family realize the value of the dull edge. LEM

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