Like most of you, I have a number of Joe Sixpacks in my life. They are people who own computers, but find them a necessary evil. They know little about computers, and would actually like to know even less.
They do little if any heavy-duty computing, the old WP/browsing routine. They do not look upon the purchase of a new computer with joy in their hearts; it’s more like replacing a new refrigerator.
Ideally, they’d like to own a computer until it breaks. They don’t read my articles. 🙂
How do you plan for such people.
What I’ve been telling them is: Wait another 12. As in months. Not literally 12 months, like the ideal system is going to show up December 8, 2006, but until roughly next fall.
Before I go into the why, there’s one general rule in buying Sixpack computers: Maximize the useful life for a minimized cost.
The owners of these computers want them to be around a long time, because getting a new one and transferring the old stuff over is an act of pain, not gain, to them.
So you need to look at any new computer not from the perspective of what it looks like now, but what it will be faced with in 2010 or 2011.
This means that technologies which may be fairly useless today, but likely will be needed or even required five years from now ought to be bought (provided the price is right), or at least be upgradable to the upcoming standard).
Dual-core is a good example of this. At first glance, it may seem like overkill for what these folks do, and initially, it will be, but a dually will be far more likely to face up to the challenges of 2010.
Of course, I could buy a dually today, but that would be silly for these people. They cost too much now. They will cost less in twelve months (especially those dual-core Semprons that are supposed to show).
Some technologies that are flourishing or at least mainstream today won’t be in 2010. AGP, DDR, and PATA are three of these. They’re on the way out, and if you’ve tried to buy a PCI video card the last few years, you might have been unpleasantly surprised at the lack of selection, what you pay, and what you get for what you paid.
In short, why buy into an obsoleting technology when you can buy into current standards that at the least will be less obsolescent should you need to upgrade or replace early next decade? It will be a lot easier to find a PCI-E video card, stick of DDR2 or SATA2 drive in 2011 than any of the forementioned.
Provided, again, you don’t have to pay much extra (preferably even less) for it.
BTW, I don’t like integrated video in these systems. Not for reasons of power, but because you can’t upgrade integrated video, and if your Sixpack or kid finds some little game or applet that requires DX11 to work, and you only have DX9 compatible-video, either the applet or the computer has to go. This may sound really silly, but I’ve had acquaintances replace computers for just that reason. I prefer going with a low-end discrete video card.
Finally, within that nine-twelve month timeframe, Windows Vista ought to show up, and since that’s going to be the standard for the next five years or so; it would be nice to have everything in the box compatible with it, rather than worry about whether X is going to come out with a Vista driver for some component or not, or whether the monitor will work if they want to watch an HD-DVD on their computer.
One of the Sixpack expressed an interest in getting an Apple someday. Well, buying an Intel-based Mac that can run Windows is certainly a safer bet in the long run.
Build or buy? You can’t build a lowish-end system from scratch today for less than what you can find in some Dell (or maybe HP) sale, so why bother? A year from now, you’ll be able to get a dually system that will either cost rather less (in the case of AMD-based systems) or at least run cooler/more quietly (in the case of Intel-based systems) than you can today. Catch the right sale, and buy third-party for items the big guys want to charge you too much for.
You Need A Different Approach
I’m sure a lot of people have looked at this and said, “I would never buy a computer like that!” Well, of course not. You have much different needs and desires and priorities.
The point of the article is that these kinds of systems for these kind of people aren’t for you, but for people much different than you in what they want.
So many people put together these systems based on what would be good for them, not the owner. Really, Grandma doesn’t need a 7800GTX, and you’re not economizing by buying her the 256Mb version.
Sixpack owners don’t need power or prestige. They do need a fairly low price, and minimal hassle.
The problem is Sixpacks almost always buy a lot of hassle for their low price. To this day, I have not yet seen one Sixpack I’ve known buy the “right” computer for them. Generally, they look for a low price not realizing that past a certain point, they end up getting a lot less computer for a little less money.
Just to cite one example, the best value at Dell is usually not the low-priced sale item. Often, if you price out equivalent configurations from the different product lines, a higher-end line will end up costing about the same as the sale item.
More importantly, a computer is a four-dimensional being. It not only has height, width and depth, it also moves through time. Spending a bit more initially (or paying a bit more for something that can be upgraded cheaply later) for a computer that will likely last one or two years more than the bargain basement item is actually the better value.
Some may argue this, and if you’re the type of person who changes computers more frequently than hairstyles, that might be true for you. However, the type of person I’m talking about wants as few extracurricular events as possible with their computers. This includes buying one.
Quality of life is also a factor. Yes, you can get a 15″ monitor for less than a 19″ monitor, but how many hours will you waste moving windows around and adjusting them over the course of a few years?
That doesn’t mean buying a $3,000 monitor, but one can be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
The goal is to buy the best computer you can for your purposes as cheaply as possible; it’s the old bang for the buck routine. However, for light-end Sixpacks, the prime directive isn’t power or performance; it’s longevity and lack of hassle.