Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

My rules for buying a new computer for genealogy

In my recent post on buying a new computer I talked about some of the factors that go into choosing a system for home (or small business) use. Here are my rules or at least the ones I have adapted over the years in purchasing dozens of computers:

Rule No. 1: Always buy the fastest computer you can reasonably afford.

This is a pretty simple rule. Various computer systems are rated by the speed of the processor and the speed the information is moved internally (Bus Speed). Usually, within a short time a new processor is introduced, there are a number of independent organizations who rate the speed and compare the new processor to previous models. You can make a pretty good guess as to how fast the computer is going to operate by the speed marks. There is one catch, you cannot compare two different processors on speed alone. For example, you cannot compare an AMD chip with an Intel chip. To this end, there are also speed tests using common software, such as the time it takes to open a certain file in Photoshop or some other program. After careful research, you can get a good idea of the speed comparisons of the various computer chips currently available. If you are so inclined, you can look at a CPU Benchmark test at PassMark Software. This is not an endorsement and yes, I know there are a dozen (probably more) different tests out there.

Why do I buy the fastest computer I can reasonably afford? The answer is pretty simple. Computers age much faster than any other consumer product and by buying the fastest computer you can afford, you will likely keep what you have for a longer period of time and spend less money over the long run.

Why do computers get old and slow? Because software and my use of the computer continues to demand more speed and more capabilities.

Rule No. 2: Don't ignore rule No. 1, but don't buy a new computer system when it first comes onto the market.

Rule No. 2 seems to contradict rule No. 1, but in reality, the fastest computer in the world is useless unless the software programs utilize the speed of the processor. For example, Apple computer has had a 64 bit system for some time, but most of the computer programs ignore the extra speed and continue to run in 32 bit mode. So purchasing a very fast computer is tempting but needs to be moderated by utility. Wait for the software to catch up with the new processors.

Rule No. 3: Anticipate change.

It does no good to buy the fastest computer you can reasonably afford, only to find out that the major manufacturers, i.e. Intel, AMD, Motorola, IBM etc., are coming out with entirely new computer chips in the near future. First of all, when the new chips come out, the existing computers with the older chips will either disappear or drop drastically in price and second of all, the new chips will mean even faster computers. But, you can wait forever. You have to make a decision and go with it.

Rule No. 4: Stick with compatibility.

OK, now despite Rules 1 through 3, upgrading your computer programs could cost more than the computer itself. If you buy a new computer system without taking software upgrade cost into consideration, you might be surprised at what it is going to cost you to upgrade. You may even find that your old software will not run at all on the new computer. Look before you leap. It may be less expensive to get some more mileage out of the old system until the speed issue becomes intolerable.

Rule No. 5: Time is money.

I practically live in front of a computer and make most of my living (even as an attorney) from using a computer every day. I simply will not put up with a cranky old computer system. Like some people I know, computers tend to get cranky with age. They slow down. They get a variety of ailments and they don't work all that well. Unlike getting new body parts, buying a new computer is a ready solution to the cranky computer syndrome. If I can cut the time I spend doing a repetitive task in half, I can make twice as much money. (OK, I realize this is dreaming, but I do get a lot more work done today than I used to ten years ago).

Rule No. 6: Watch the technology. 

The Apple iMac is a good example of watching the technology. The standard computer system of the past was a box connected to a huge cathode ray tube monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. iMac put the computer in the monitor and did it with style. The box is gone. iMac may not be the fastest computers in the world, but they have so many positive features that on the whole they are more attractive (to me) than any other current system.

Rule No. 7: Consider the price.

Will the increased productivity offset the cost of the computer? Will you have to upgrade all your software? Are you really unhappy with your current system or is someone telling you to buy a new computer? Will you have to buy a new printer or scanner? These and other questions equate to the cost of a new system.

Now, do I really go through all of these questions every time I purchase a new computer? In fact, the answer is yes I do and I apply the same criteria to digital cameras, cell phones and all the other electronic gadgets in the universe.

1 comment:

  1. Here's one of my suggestions (I'm using "you" in the general sense): You might also want to put your computers on a 3-4 year upgrade cycle if you can afford it. After about 4 years computers tend to be pretty much obsolete. Besides, if you own a Mac, you should be able to sell your old computer for a good amount of money to apply to the costs of your new computer. Just make sure your hard drive(s) is securely erased; if you don't know how to do that then find someone who does, otherwise you leave your private data open to potential use.