8 Products You Should Not Rush to Upgrade

While some technologies continue to improve with each iteration, others have leveled off. Don't feel the need to rush out and buy the latest hype.

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The computer and technology sector has grown very large and very rich on the perpetual upgrade cycle and planned obsolescence. While the home theater market can only look on in envy, computer enthusiasts upgrade their gear annually.

Overall, it’s safe to say equipment does make quantum leaps – who would still want to use a 2000-era PC? But some advance faster than others, and in a few cases, they have plateaued and aren’t worth replacing until the product itself breaks.

None of this is absolute. With each item listed, there is a caveat. I make qualifying comments with most of these entries. With that, let’s run down the list.

Laser printer
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Laser printers

As it is, we are increasingly paperless. I recently started with a new dentist and the entire office is electronic. No paper to be had anywhere. As to laser printers, they are pretty much tapped out except at the high end. You can get a 600 dpi printer that spits out 12 pages per minute for under $200. Anything above that would be overkill for a SOHO user or someone not engaged in publishing.

And if you are in the market for a printer, you should look at Bluetooth printers, so you can cut that wire. Also worth considering are the all-in-one printers, which are usually ink jet but have closed the gap with laser in terms of quality.

Sound card
Sound cards

This standard is dead in the water. Intel created the AC’97 (Audio Codec ’97) for sound cards in 1997, and if you buy a motherboard this year, it still has an AC’97-compatible audio port. For business use, this is more than sufficient.  If you are a dedicated gamer or someone who does music or sound work, then a fancier sound card from Creative Labs might be in order. And even there, it’s only if you use speakers. Many gamers use USB-based headsets, so the sound goes right from the PC to the headset, so the soundcard is bypassed. The only other time you might want to look into a high-end audio card is if you are playing a lot of games that actually use positional audio.

Ethernet routers
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100 megabit Ethernet routers

This is dependent on use. For a small office, single user PC situation or relatively low-tech home, you don’t need a 1Gbit network router.  If you are streaming from one PC to another, the hard drive speed will cause a backup long before you fill that network pipe.  For any setup with less than three users, unless you are doing some extreme data movement, a 100Mbit router will do just fine. You only need a 1Gbit router if you have many machines moving a ton of data around, like streaming video off a server. You’re better off looking for routers with high-powered Wi-Fi that cover wide distances and dual channel for greater bandwidth, or even 802.11ac. There aren’t many 11ac devices out but there will be.

 High-end graphics card
High-end graphics

I covered this in a recent blog but it bears repeating. If you have a monitor with 1920x1080 resolution and are a gamer, GPUs are almost maxed out. Even with all of the graphic effects on like 4X Anti-Aliasing, at that resolution your eyes simply won’t perceive the difference.

The people who could use the new GPUs would include anyone engaged in 3D graphics work of any kind, or do any video rendering. Then you will always want the fastest GPU you can get. A faster rendering of AutoCAD or Photoshop is always welcome. And of course, if you make the jump to a 2560x1440 monitor for gaming or for work, then there is still a ton of room for GPUs to grow.

Also, for a business user and casual gamer, if you buy a computer with either a Haswell or Ivy Bridge generation CPU or the latest from AMD, the on-board GPU will actually do well. You wouldn’t want to play "Call of Duty" on it, but it will do just fine for "Candy Crush Saga."

CPUs (post-Sandy Bridge)
CPUs (post-Sandy Bridge)

Raw CPU performance really has leveled off to the point that only benchmarks will reveal any change and then it's minor. It could also be argued that anything beyond a dual core CPU is a waste because there are so few applications that fully take advantage of multiple cores and threads.  Again, it comes down to your use. If you are deploying new laptops to primarily run Office and a browser, then a quad-core Haswell-based machine with 8GB of memory is overkill.  For graphic designers, modelers, or programmers, then all the horsepower in the world is not enough, and they are likely to have the apps that are parallel and multicore.

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Broadband boosts

If you are a many device home and stream from Netflix heavily and have a central server, then yes, you will probably be able to max out that pipeline. But for most people of modest to moderate use it’s unnecessary and gives no benefit. I have one PC, with a second used only as a Windows 8 test bed, plus the iPhone and iPad that don’t see much use. It did me no good to increase from 20 to 50 megabits. Sure, downloads were great, up to two MBs in speed for some torrents. But again, like networking hardware, the speed of the hard drive was the limiting factor. 

Windows 7 screenshot
Windows 7

Isn’t it obvious? Ok, UI aside, Windows 8.1 is actually a decent operating system. It’s fast and smooth, handles multicore and process management better than 7, has native features that are add-ons to Windows 7, like USB 3.0 support. And I never hear people complain about it crashing.

Consider this: WZOR, a Russian source for Windows gossip who has an accuracy record dating back to Vista, claims that Windows 9 will come much sooner than expected and will feature the return of the Aero interface.

Credit: Intel Free Press
SSD beyond 256GB

This is for the few who still use desktop/tower PCs, as laptops dominate the show and usually only have room for one drive. SSDs don’t get cheaper as they get larger like HDDs. If you double the capacity of a hard drive, from 1TB to 2TB, they jump from roughly $69.99 to $99.99, give or take a few dollars. If you double the capacity of a SSD, the prices doubles: from about $100-$120 to $220-$250, give or take.

That’s because you can increase drive capacity with a single platter, which is much cheaper than the many chips needed to double SSD capacity. You have to double the number of chips in the drive to double the SSD’s capacity, and that price is fixed.

While it’s nice to put apps on the SSD, in a lot of cases it’s not necessary. Once it loads, the bulk of the drive access is done and it comes down to memory for performance, and most of us have plenty of that. So unless your app does a lot of drive access, such as a compiler, an SSD is pointless.

Also, some lower-end, cheaper SSD drives are known to slow down as they get full, so keeping them at under 50% capacity is actually advisable. It’s easy enough to do that. Every app, when being installed, asks you where to install it. So you can put it somewhere else besides the SSD.

To me, the optimal setup for a desktop PC is a SSD boot drive no bigger than 256GB and a big D: drive, 1TB or more. You will have a fast, responsive PC for the OS and swap file and your apps sit alongside the data on D: drive.