Time right for tech upgrade? That depends…

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Published: January 8,2007

Quite a few people wait until their computer or other office equipment breaks down before replacing it. That might not be the best strategy especially as with Murphy’s Law, breakdowns often happen at the worst time. But exactly how do you decide when it is time to invest in new technology?

Dewayne Smith, owner of Computer Geeks in Tupelo, says a good custom machine is likely to last three to five years. But master-produced computers sold at large retailers are usually good for only two and a half to three years.

“A custom made machine costs $20 more and lasts 10 times longer,” Smith said.

“The big department stores are selling the mass-produced machines so people think they will get service support. We have brand new computers come in here all the time, but if they are more than 30 days old, you have to send them back to the manufacturer, which means people are without their computer for six to eight weeks. People can’t be without their computer that long. We warranty all of our stuff right here. Being able to bring your computer into a shop and tell a technician eye-to-eye what is wrong with the machine is worth a million bucks.”

Another issue that can determine when it is time to upgrade is the type of operating system the computer has. Microsoft Windows 95, Windows 98, Window Millennium Editor are obsolete.

“Most computer centers won’t service them,” Smith said. “You can’t get drivers for them or anything.”

New computers are faster, more efficient and more fun to use because new operating systems are based around multimedia like movies and pictures.

“Two years ago, a computer the fourth of the speed of today’s computer would cost $1,500 to $2,000,” Smith said. “Now you can buy one for about $550 that will outdo the two-year-old computer a good ten times over. That is a very good reason to upgrade. Every computer now has DVD burner, a big hard drive and lots of memory.”

When it comes to monitors, the new monitors are safer. The LCD flat panel screens are easier on the eyes and have fewer electromagnetic emissions.

When shopping for printers or printer/fax/copier/scanner combinations, consider not just the initial cost but the cost of supplies. Smith recommends staying away from ink jet printers and going with laser jets because of the cost of the cartridges.

“People will go to places like Office Max and buy a printer or copier based on the cost of the machine and not realize how much the supplies cost,” Smith said. “It is like insurance. You are better off spending a little extra to start with.”

Oma Cox, owner, Office & Computer Service Inc., Greenville, said most businesses make decisions about purchasing new office equipment based on actual needs and monetary restraints.

“Typically what they do in a third of the cases is hold on to what they have until it breaks, and then endure transitioning into something new,” Cox said. “Some businesses renew every three to five years. But I have a client now who has been waiting seven years to put in a new network. They are still running on Windows 95. Usually if things are working and going fine, why change now? Some people don’t want to endure the pain of the change. The learning curve may be a little steep at first. But once they do the change, they find there is a lot more functionality and capacity available to them.”v
Cox recommends budgeting annually for replacement of equipment because you are going to have things occur. Decisions on replacement can also hinge on whether there is a payback in productivity or reduced costs. For example, laser printers save time and money over the old dot matrix printers.

“Some investments you never recoup, but it is an expense for the business,” Cox said. “Usually the new hardware is harder to justify. Comparing faster to slower machines, often it doesn’t make that much difference in productivity. I get a few owners who can spend the money and want the biggest thing on the block. Usually there is very little benefit because you are splitting hairs between the difference in a function taking 20 milliseconds on the old machine versus 10 milliseconds on the new machine. That is 100% faster, but what real value is that? When it gets down to seconds and milliseconds, a human can’t keep up with that.”

Another factor to consider is the cost of repairs. If something major has to be done such as repairing or replacing the motherboard, you could end up spending a third to half the cost of a new machine.

“Why not enjoy benefits of a new machine and software?” Cox asks.

Most computers have far more capacity than is normally used. Cox said few people use their computer capability 100%.

“For me as a user it is a primary part of my business, but if I could claim I was using 50% of the capacity of my computers, that would be bragging,” Cox said. “Computers are underutilized. People normally use them for e-mail, the Internet, word processing, spreadsheets and specific information systems. Unless you are doing specifics things like gaming or graphics arts and engineering, you aren’t using most of the capacity. The general business, mom-and-pop retail down the street, are not using the full capacity of their computers.”

He adds that most small businesses don’t have to upgrade their software very often. But with major businesses it is a completely different gambit because of complexity and volume of software licensing.

Luke Lundemo, founder of the Computer Co-Op, Jackson, said while the corporate world budgets for new computers about every three years, that isn’t always the rule to go by for individuals.

“You can keep using a computer as long as it keeps working,” Lundemo said. “Once in awhile the software you use requires more powerful equipment. The software gets upgraded, and requires more powerful equipment so you are forced into an upgrade. Personal users might have their computer last five years or longer. Even when their computer no longer serves their needs due to requiring more power for software, often it is a perfectly fine computer for other computer needs like word processing or e-mail. That computer might be good another three of four years.”

Lundemo said there is an advantage to holding onto a computer as long as you can; the longer you wait, the more new computer you are going to get for the same amount of money. “Things do get faster and more powerful for the same amount of money,” he said.

With computers and other equipment being replaced so frequently, it is important to make sure the old equipment is recycling. The Computer Co-Op does a lot of recycling and also refers people to the City of Jackson program for recycling computers.

Computers, monitors and other office equipment are accepted for recycling at the hazardous waste center at 1570 Terry Road at the intersection with U.S. 80 near Battlefield Park each Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and every fourth Saturday.

“Computers can be recycled fairly well,” Lundemo said. “There is metal recycling and circuit cards are ground up and the metals extracted. Printers and monitors are more difficult to recycle. That is a shame because the monitors have some toxics in them. Unfortunately there is not a good way to recycle them, but the city program will take them for disposal.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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