A Long Pause in the Upgrade Cycle

If you are not a PC gamer or someone who needs some serious computing horsepower for video or audio editing, intensive graphics work, or virtualization, there’s not much point in getting a new computer on a regular basis anymore.

When Desert Bus started the other day (if you have some time, go watch and contribute at desertbus.org before it’s over!). This is the first chance that I’ve had to watch Desert Bus in the new office, and I discovered that it really needs 2 monitors to do it justice – one for the main video and one for everything else.

I typically need two screens to do my job regularly, so I had a conundrum. Fortunately, there was an old monitor and USB video adapter that have been sitting on the desk beside me unused for some time, so I hooked them up, and now this is what my desk looks like:


The computer that is powering all of this is my 7-year-old Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro (sitting on the stand in the middle). This computer has seen me through the back half of my bachelor’s degree, my entire master’s degree, and almost 2 years of work since, and is still my daily driver. “Why?” you ask? Two reasons: First, Apple doesn’t make a 17” MacBook Pro any more, and I love the large screen. Second and more importantly, it does everything that I need it to do for work. While it has had a couple of upgrades over the years, including a glossy screen and a larger hard drive, the underlying system has not changed, and it still runs the latest versions of Microsoft Office and Firefox, as well as handling a bit of light virtualization when I need it.

In the last 7 years, computing hardware has become more powerful, adding slightly faster processors, more cores, and more RAM, but the bigger boosts have come from graphics cards, and SSDs. More significantly, though, as mobile has become more important, everything has become much more power efficient, even in the desktop and laptop spaces. This is in stark contrast to even 10 years ago, where the new processors were always leaps and bounds over the old ones, and doubling your RAM gave you a significant speed boost. Then, it made sense to upgrade or replace your computer every couple of years to take advantage of the latest and greatest. Now, your average consumer will probably not even notice the jump from 8 gigs to 16 gigs, and even my old gaming rig from 2007 (pressed into development machine service under the desk) still handles Windows 7 fine and would probably do just as well with Windows 8.1.

Computers have reached a plateau for the moment, and while I love the look of some of the shiny new toys coming out, and would love to get a new gaming rig, I don’t need a new work computer just quite yet – at least not until this one breaks.

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