Almost all genealogy programs and related applications are not particularly demanding of computer power. If I were to compare buying a car to buying a computer, the genealogists would all be completely happy with a Toyota Yaris, even though they think they need a Koenigsegg Agera at about $4.8 Million dollars. In my experience, very few genealogist push the limits of the average computer today.
We are about to go through another round of "computer upgrades" with the release of new Apple computers and the release of a new chip set from Intel. There the automobile analogy breaks down completely. The fact that very fast cars costing over a million dollars exist, has absolutely no bearing on my needs to drive down streets with 25 mph speed limits and lots of traffic. If I were to buy an expensive luxury car (very unlikely), it would not be because I needed it. However, with computers there is another driving factor. When the main suppliers of computer chips release new versions of their products, very frequently, the new chips require substantial changes in the software.
If the automobile manufacturers' new models had the same effect as new computers, we would have to build all new roads every time a new model car came off the product line. Computers, unlike any other manufactured product in history, are locked into a cycle of change that happens over a matter of months rather than decades. There is a lot of talk in the United States about "alternative fuel" vehicles and I drive a Toyota Prius, but there is not much possibility that electrical cars or hydrogen fueled cars will completely replace gasoline fueled vehicles in the near future. Barring some new war or other major catastrophe, it is very likely I will still be buying gasoline until I am placed in a care center.
On the other hand, the duty cycle of a new computer is really measured in months. There is some slack in that system however and the average person can probably keep a computer, without any problems, for up to five years before they begin to see serious software incompatibilities. But a genealogist with limited software demands, may not even become aware that their software and genealogy files have become obsolete.
Let me use Dell Computers as an example. Their computers start at under $500. The new Inspiron Micro Desktop (without a monitor) is $179.99. It has an Intel® Celeron® Processor (Dual Core) and comes with Windows® 8.1 with Bing and a Free Windows 10 upgrade. The computer has 2 GB or Memory and a 32 GM Solid State Drive. It also has the following connectors: a USB 2.0, DisplayPort, HDMI port, RJ45 Ethernet port, headset port (Combo Jack) on the back and on the side (1) USB 2.0, (1) USB 3.0, Media Card Reader, Security cable slot. For a genealogist without any demands for extensive storage and the need to do graphics design or run the latest 3D high tech computer games, this computer would work just fine. You could add a new Dell 22 Monitor for another $179.99.
So why would I spend thousands of dollars on a computer? Granted, I am a special case. I have huge graphics files and I not only involved in genealogy, but I am also a professional photographer. I handle huge data files with storage capacity over 3 Terabytes. I spend many hours a day working with programs such as voice recognition and graphic editing that gobble up huge amounts of storage space and computer memory. I sometimes run a dozen programs at the same time. I live in Provo, Utah and I use the Google Fiber Optic cable system to its capacity.
It might be good idea, however, to really analyze your computer usage. What do you want to do with your computer. Do you need the computer equivalent of a huge truck or do you need the Yaris?
But what about the upgrade issue? Well, that is another story. My high powered computers of the past are now dinosaurs. They are entirely useless. I can restore a car, but restoring an old computer is an entirely different issue. Over the years, I have always pushed the edge of technology and even now, I can see how my perception of the speed of my computer is beginning to become and issue.
I was watching someone with a 3.5 external drive copying data from old floppy disks onto a flash drive in the BYU Family History Library the other day. Yes, he could make the copies, but the real issue was whether or not he could open any of the files with the existing software. For me, I can see the handwriting on the wall, I will be looking closely at the new models of computers.
There are two issues here: upgrading existing systems and software and making an educated purchase of a replacement computer. I remember a few of my friends who purchased "netbook" computers. I am guessing that they are now using something else and have probably concluded that they "wasted" their money. Yes, they still sell computers they call "netbooks" but they are far different machines than the original netbook computers. For example, Walmart has an HP Flyer Red 15.6" 15-R132WM Laptop PC with Intel Pentium N3540 Processor, 4GB Memory, 500GB Hard Drive and Windows 8.1 that they call a "netbook" but I can assure you that it is not the same thing as one of the older models sold as netbooks. By the way, the HP Flyer is selling for $263.
My point is that yes, upgrading is inevitable, but the cost of doing so does not have be into the thousands of dollars. But if you want (or need or can afford) a powerful computer system, you can buy it.