Our economy depends on our collective desire to own more, the newer the better. Whatever the sponsors tell us, we want.
But our behavior creates enormous problems for society in terms of credit and waste.
I don't want to lecture about those topics here. Those are well covered.
Instead, I want to describe how I provide reasonably priced high performance computing for myself while making a tiny individual step to slow the waste stream by staying close, but not on, the bleeding edge. This is my small example of thinking differently about consumption.
Buy used to save money is hardly a new idea. But in this case, I hope to show that I am BETTER OFF buying used while having a small eco contribution as well.
|Georgesworkshop Principle of Two:
I am better off to have TWO of a previous product, rather than ONE of the current.
I use "last year" and "last model/product" loosely and interchangeably. I think you'll understand. The principle can apply to a few classes of goods, particularly technology, but not to everything.
How can this be?
- I am almost as well off, perhaps better off with last year's model. After all, a year has gone by to see if it was any good. Don't you just hate to be the one who buys the dud product, the one that dies in the market? Wait at least a year for other peoples' experience (at their expense) on which to make up your mind.
- Less landfill If a few people, or a few million people, started to think and act in this way stuff would stay in circulation longer, like good products used to.
- I can buy two of the last model for less than one of what is on offer today yet be better off in some interesting ways - in spite of not having the latest and greatest.
I have a special memory of my mother taking me downtown as a boy to buy one of the first transistors that became available in the 1960s. Since then I have spent a lot of money and effort on the quest for new technology which taught me:
- Buying new is expensive. After a year or so, the used price often falls to half or a third, if it has any value at all. Tech stuff generally does not hold any value over time.
- New stuff can have yet to be identified problems. Better to wait for at least the first service pack or some software updates?
- The market can cruelly ignore a new product no matter how "good" it seems and it fails. The company can fail too and customers are left with no support. This is too much like gambling to me.
How to cope? I will illustrate how it works for me with a recent computer addition. It is with desktop computers that I think I can give you a perfect example.
My principle of two computers project - a case study
I needed a new main design computer. One with raw power, a big screen with no travel. It had to be a desktop, heavy metal is ok in this situation, a laptop or a tablet just will not do.
My main machine was getting slow and developing quirky behavior requiring lengthy reboots. You will know the signs that a new computer is needed. I had been running this one (and it's spare) for *seven* years doing useful work (amazing?!) and until recently it had been very stable and reliable. One of two ASUS P4C-800e. Both had been excellent. All my files were backed up elsewhere. I was still able to work with it. I decided to migrate before I was forced to.
Instead of ONE new desktop computer I bought TWO IDENTICAL slightly used, for about half the price. Each received a thorough checkout and a OS software refresh on a clean system drive. Each is a complete functioning backup in all respects for the other. There are some interesting ways to use two computers where otherwise you would have one. Here is the comparison as I see it:
|One NEW||Two USED|
|OS||Win8 64 bit||Win7 64bit|
|Raw speed GHz||3.4||2.66|
|Warranty||one year||30 days|
The column heads have links to the two types of machines I am comparing. The example New machine is from a national retailer, Staples. I am not picking on Staples and this is only an example. Some of the key specs show important differences. Of course these are not equivalent, I am trying to be macro to illustrate a point.
To Compare and Contrast (as they say in high school):
Application software I was not sure if my more important software (Abobe Creative Suite CS3 for example) which I did not have in the latest version (did I mention a tight pocketbook?) would run on a newer OS like Win8. Win7, on the other hand was of the CS3 period and the implication at Adobe was that what I had would not need to be upgraded with Win7 - a possible additional cost of the Win8 approach where I would probably have to upgrade my applications.
I reduced risk by buying only one of the used machines first. I then installed, authorized and tested the bigger packages on Win7 64 bit before deciding to commit to the second used machine.
Performance You will accept perhaps that when the used example was new, only two short years ago (2011), it would would have been then a fine step up from my design computer (2003 3.0GHz P4 running WinXP), the very the same step as I have done now at less than half the cost?
To me, the "new" old machines are a quantum leap from the old XP based P4. I don't honestly think I would have see a difference choosing between the "new new" and the "new old" in performance unless I was really trying to look for it. The contrast with what I am replacing makes it worthwhile.
You might be aware that processor speed, once the ultimate market benchmark, topped out at around 3GHz 10 years ago? Intel realized than it was increasingly difficult to go much faster and instead started promoting other user benefits like "i7-3770"(?). I can tell you that going from a relatively ancient 3Ghz to a much newer 2.66 it is like flying now compared to walking before. There is more to it than just the numbers.
Reliability The used machines have a clean Win7 install patched and field tested in it's 64 bit version. Windows 8 reliability is probably going to be pretty good but do I want to be a tester? Win7 would be safer.
Backup I mean not software but physical backup. Having two identical machines provides an instant available source of backup components - a "hot standby". When you are remote and rely on your computer, having backup is important.
Warranty Having a longer warranty is certainly important for an expensive new piece of equipment. In the used case, the 30 days is long enough to find anything obvious that does not work correctly. Since I have two machines, each can function as a backup for the other. Warranty other than the initial month may be less important to me.
The OS Windows 8 comes on the new computer in the 64 bit version. This must be so even though they don't state since the memory (RAM) provided is 12 GB (more than four, actually three something as the Windows 32-bit sees it).
Windows 7 has been thoroughly tested. I have wanted to try the 64-bit version for some time. Having a 64-bit OS primarily gives the benefit of allowing more RAM. 32 bit versions of Windows (most of them prior to Win8) could address only slightly over 3 GB of RAM. 64 bit allows up to 16 exabytes, (in theory)! I am happy to have the 6 GB offered with the used machines (twice what I had) and I can upgrade each to 16GB for about $100 for both.
At this time, I feel more confident adopting the Win7. I will wait for others to shake down Win8 before I wade in. The change to the Win8 interface is greater for me than to Win7 since I already use Win7 on a laptop.
Cost is a no-brainer for me. Having two of the used is great given the other advantages. Even with add-on RAM and HD to make used and new equal in size and less unequal in cost, buying used is still less than half the price and with a huge performance increase for me.
What to do with the hot spare? After checking the second out, I could quite happily park it on a shelf to keep it handy, un-used.
It could also be set up somewhere as a non-essential spare workstation? A rendering node?
In my case, I will use the second as a non-essential machine for internet browsing and email, functions which I am happy to separate from the main, money making workstaion. I will remove the system hard drive with it's configured and working Win7 and install another system drive and 64 bit SUSE Linux to try that out.
It is very nice to have a spare machine on which to try out new software. You know the kind of software? The kind that you wish that you had never loaded on your important computer? I now have a spare identical machine on which to do tests without any possibility of damage to the operating environment of my main production machine. An off-line hot tester if you like. This is a small but important advantage, and additional insurance of reliability.
Another software benefit: If you are ever wondering about upgrading something fundamental, like the OS, you have an identical spare to test out the upgrade once again without putting production at risk.
The benefit of having an identical hot spare extends to hardware as well. We might all be reluctant to put a main production machine out of service, to pull the wires off or the cover to have a look inside. We would not, with a spare. How many have ruined a perfectly good machine, let's say to try a new graphics card by plugging it in to see if it works? After the smoke clears, rather than fretting about having just killed production, wouldn't it be nice to have just tried the same thing on a risk-free convenient hot spare?
In the event of a gross failure of any of the components of the "new old" main machine, I have an identical working replacement only 5 minute away, by removing it from the spare.
All of this at half the cost of new? To a small business owner or an individual who makes their living from one key machine, backup and near zero failure downtime (not to mention significantly lower cost!) are not just large company IT concerns.
Summary I don't regret not having taken the "new" computer option. I think that in this case, having two of the previous model is perfect - for me.
But I am biased. I do like finer old stuff which can still be useful (like me?:) Please see In praise of older machines. Some of this writing shows it's age and mine. Later in the piece, the ASUS P4Cs I was using in 2005 are the "old" machines I am replacing here. May your own computers be useful to you for at least seven years! But other than fixing some spelling, I left it the way it was in 2005. Dust from the archive.
Thanks for your interest. Your comments are always welcome. Comments here are moderated.