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November 08, 2004

The Upgrading Game: To Buy or Not to Buy

Upgrade Money
You know that itch Iím talking about. The ďfresh new gearĒ itch. It burns a hole in your wallet, and completely diminishes your self-control. Itís that shiny new cell your best friend just showed off to you, or maybe itís that cool new digital camera with twice the megs of your existing one, and itís smaller to boot. Everyday we at Gear Live see new gear, and the temptation to purchase one of our review items is always present, even if the cash isnít. Today, Gear Live asks you to think about when exactly is it time to upgrade your old gear? What are your options, and when should you actually just keep what you already have?

I've been using my Palm m515 for years. It seems, in fact, that the longer I have it, the more useful it becomes. Everyday some new software comes out for it that can either keep me more productive, organized, or entertained. And there's really nothing wrong with it. At what point then, should I upgrade? Is it wrong to just ignore all the latest innovations and save a few bucks? Well, sometimesÖ

When you canít live without it. Thereís some function or benefit that an item has that is so valuable and handy that thereís no escaping a new purchase. Usually the feature is something thatís not present in any other device you own. Say itís digital photography. Your PDA doesnít do it, and neither does that old cell phone you bought 2 years ago. Then maybe itís time you upgrade from that old Kodak Disc youíre using for all those special moments. This is pretty much a no-brainer right?


When itís completely busted. I once had my cell phone get run over by a bus:

The clip that came with it was so loose that when I ran down the sidewalk it popped out and skidded into the road. For just a split second I thought about getting in front of the bus and risking my life, obsessed gear head that I am. I decided to just shake my head, and throw my hands up in the air as I heard the sickening ďcrackĒ. The wonderful folks at the nearest Circuit City told me that the insurance I bought for the phone only covered manufacturer glitches. Sound familiar? To their credit though, I was able to take off the insurance and apply it to my next Samsung. Sometimes you have no option. When it comes to cell phones in New York, there really is no discussion. A must-buy.

Or maybe you find yourself unable to hold on to the support bars on the subway because you have to constantly flip out the CD you have on your player. Thatís when itís time to break down and get that MP3 player. Besides, itíll help drown out more of those loud school kids, along with the merchant woman selling the batteries and noisemakers. Who really buys nail clippers in a train, anyway? Sigh. Another round of ďHeadsprung,Ē here we go: Click-clickÖ

PCíS are great for this, provided you have enough slots and a compatible motherboard. One time my PC kept shutting down on me for no apparent reason. After about an hour it just kept pooping out on me. I turn it back on, and it would last another 30 minutes before giving up. One day I tried this too many times and something in the back end of the case exploded, leaving tendrils of smoke climbing out the back of the desk.

Turned out the power supply fan wasnít working and it kept heating up my PC, causing it to shut down as a form of protection. But I had friends in high places. For a mere $20, I was able to buy a new power supply and bring the whole system back from the dead, almost a full year later. The key is this: If itís only partially broken you can get away with saving a little cash.

It's not as hard as you think to upgrade PC's. Sometimes, the most efficient upgrades are the easiest. Installing more RAM, for instance, would be of great benefit to those 3D games we all love. All it takes is a quick phone call to the manufacturer to find out which type you need, and a few bucks. Pop it in to the available slot and (considering you've opened up your PC beforehand to check) and you're in.

Holy Crap!

Upgrading a video card is also relatively easy. Find the drivers online before you begin, pop open the case, unscrew the existing card, and pop in the new one. Finally, install the drivers, and enjoy some Unreal 2004 sweetness. Halo2 who? Again, it helps to have a friend or a family member who is more familiar with this process, just to be on the safe side. Treating them to lunch as a token of your appreciation is nice, and hey, it's still cheaper than buying a new PC. Many forms of gear are upgradeable. Explore your options thoroughly before giving in.

If it makes sense financially. I like the rule they have for upgrading PCís. If it costs more than half the price of a new PC to repair/upgrade the old one, just buy a new one. I would apply that to all gear as well, generally speaking. If your unit is damaged or useless enough that upgrading would cost half of a new oneís price, get the new oneÖespecially if it has a few more features you can make use of.

If itís still functional, and a new product is overly expensive. Like I said in the beginning. I still lug around my old Palm m515. I could upgrade to a newer PDA, but really thereís nothing wrong with my current one and it does everything I need. Besides, it cost me $400 when I first got it, so I want to extend that value for as long as I can. Donít get me wrong, sometimes I wish it would break so it would give me more of a reason to run to something new and shiny. Still, if it treats you good, and it does what you need it to do, you donít have to succumb to the temptation.

Hand-me-downs. If you have a friend who isnít into high tech, then you can introduce them to some cool and still-useful gear that you donít use anymore. It may not be new to you anymore, but it is to them.

You can also keep an old piece of gear for backup. Hey, you never know when your new phone/PDA/camera is going to blow up to smithereens. Then what will you use? Yeah you had the data on your PC anyway, but what will you do while you get your unit repaired?

Charitable Organizations. There are some great charities out there that will go so far as pick up your used gear right from your house if you make appointments. Those of you living outside of NYC (read: with cars) should be able to drive to a nearby one without too much hassle. The point is that you can help somewhat less fortunate than yourself, and create some space in your home as a bonus, by donating.

Sell at a discount. Thereís nothing wrong with a making a buck off those less fortunate either. If you sell your digital camera for about half what you paid for it, it will take a little sting out of buying your new one. I try to insert gear talk in all my conversations so that I can find the next sucker--umm, person in need.


Hide old gear to avoid embarrassment. Peer pressure is a force to be reckoned with. If you must keep old gear around you, donít let anyone see you with it. The other day I noticed someone rocking his head back to some music with some earbud phones. Sure enough, they were the white iPod cords that everyone has these days. I didnít give it too much thought until he pulled out the actual music device, which turned out to be a (gasp!!) regular CD player! He had to pick the Apple ones, out of all the earplugs in the world. To me that smacks of peer pressure; wanting to fit in with the rest of the digital crowd. Oh well, he did what he could.


Knowing when to upgrade, and doing so in a smart manner, can end up saving you a lot over time. I know things do get annoying when others are flashing their new iPod Photos in your face, but you have to think about your alternatives. Maybe you have a device that already handles everything you need, or maybe you can swap out a component that'll make things smoother for you. If you think it through, you can get by for a while before forking out hundreds.

Posted by Hector at November 8, 2004 03:38 PM

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Tracked on November 11, 2004 09:27 PM


Please do not donate junk electronics to charities.

There are several problems:

1. Assessment time. Does this hardware work? It needs to be plugged in and tested. If it doesn't work, the time (and cost of labor) is wasted.

2. Printers without disposables. If an inkjet printer is donated without an ink cartridge, how to test it? Buying a new catridge is a risk: if the printer doesn't work, $30 is wasted.

3. Legal liability. Don't donate computers with illegal software on the hard drive.

4. Disposal. If a computer is left on our steps after hours, and it turns out to be defective or unusable, what to do with it? Throwing a monitor into the trash is hazardous to the environment and, in many places, illegal.

Posted by: Andrew at November 10, 2004 03:16 PM

What you say is right for the most part...except for your typos.

Posted by: greeenpeas at November 10, 2004 04:22 PM

For PCs anyway I think that the days of upgrading are over. The amount of effort and cost is usually greater than the benefit. Memory might be the exception as it's quite cheap and doesn't require faster newer memory for upgrade. You're just buying more of the same memory you originally bought. Although sometimes buying 'old' memory can actually be more expensive than equivalent amount of new memory due to supply shortages for older parts.

With graphics cards though you are likely compromising the performance of your new card by sticking it in an old system. The old agp slot likely won't support fast enough transfer speed 4x vs 8x. Your CPU likely won't be fast enough to run the new graphics card.

With CPUs it is worse where old boards won't often won't run new CPUs usually due to FSB and socket changes. So either you only get a new 'older' CPU in which case you're unlikely to get much of performance benefit (ie double your old speed), or you're looking at upgrading other components in tandem. Then you're basically looking at new mother board to go with new CPU, which can often mean new ram too. Quickly getting to cost of new computer. Not to mention you probably need to re-install your computer o/s from scratch due to new motherboard which is a significant hastle in terms of backing up, and losing those things that you forgot to backup, re-installing all your software.

In general in terms of speed increases anything less than double probably isn't worth upgrading for (you're not really going to notice the difference). In general I try and wait until I can get new system which is close to triple the performance of current system.

Of course there is something to be said for buying cheaper and more often given the historical better bang for buck that is six months away. Rather than buying high end or even at the price/performance sweet spot.


Posted by: luke at November 10, 2004 05:05 PM

The ipod ear phone user could have got them from an ipod user who didn't want the earphones anymore.

Posted by: davenull at November 10, 2004 07:55 PM

>> Hide old gear to avoid embarrassment.

Come on, there's nothing wrong with mingling headphones. The man is thrifty and should be lauded for his refusal to mindlessly consume.

Posted by: Kevin at November 10, 2004 10:56 PM

Peer pressure is for schoolkids. Any adult who suffers from it should see a psychiatrist. Though I suspect the sort of people who write the articles here arn't too long out of the classroom...

Posted by: Ben at November 11, 2004 04:13 AM

"Though I suspect the sort of people who write the articles here arn't too long out of the classroom..."

Nope. I have a Master's in Organizational Psychology and have been working in the field for over 6 years now. Peer pressure is always a powerful force, from the way you dress to the way you talk, no matter where your station in life. They may be called "Social Norms" by then, or something else.

Posted by: HectorGearLive at November 11, 2004 01:30 PM

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