Choosing When to Upgrade Hardware

New Mac Pros are out, which means the discussions have started about whether to upgrade now or wait. Of course, some people hold out for specific hardware features, but others want to buy at the perfect time, which doesn't really exist.

Mac Pro

In particular, there's a paradox about the newness of the technology. Conventional wisdom of the nerds says two things:

1. Don't buy into the end of a technology curve
2. Don't buy first generation products

These are mutually exclusive. Yes, there's some mythical sweet spot in there where the technology is new enough to be cutting edge but old enough to not be bleeding edge. Finding that specific place in the continuum is easy in hindsight, but hard at almost any other time.

So what do you do? I think you should buy a new machine when you believe it will help you in some way (and helping you enjoy yourself is still helping). Worrying about technology you may "miss out" on is a funny thought because you could be using your new machine during that whole time you're waiting.

Andy Ringsmuth said it best on macosx-talk:
Yeah, I keep holding out on upgrading my Mac 512k in eager anticipation of the next amazing Mac. And then it comes out and I wonder what else Steve has around the corner, so I keep on waiting.

I remember seeing a story on a news magazine show where researchers followed several consumers around who were looking to buy a higher-end television. There are, of course, a lot of options. What the researchers determined is that there are simply too many choices to declare any one model perfect. You drive yourself crazy trying to identify such a thing. Instead, they suggested that you choose the first one that works.

You see similar things in software development. People that really care about their code will try to find the perfect design. If it's a hobby, that's great. If you want to ship something reasonable, the best option is often (though not always) the first design that works. You'll probably change it later anyway. Another way of looking at this is to first implement the simplest design that does the basic task, then build on it.

For some reason, this reminds me of this scene from The Princess Bride (reworded, of course):
Vizzini: Only a great fool would buy into a first generation product. I am not a great fool so I cannot choose the new machine. But I don't want to invest into the end of a technology curve, so I clearly not cannot purchase a later revision.

Roberts: You've made your decision, then?

Vizzini: Not remotely!
Design Element
Choosing When to Upgrade Hardware
Posted Apr 5, 2007 — 13 comments below


Empty Set — Apr 05, 07 3878

This is an interesting post… especially the bit about how this pertains to software development. My former business partner and I definitely had opposing views on this topic. I'm wondering how often this conflict is a detriment to other developers. (my guess: very often) Some want the "perfect app" while others want to release something that "just works". Maybe there really is a "sweet spot" in between? Or at the very least perhaps these opposing views compliment each other (design/quality vs. actually releasing an app someday). If both sides are happy, maybe that's the sweet spot.

Fabio M — Apr 05, 07 3880

What you describe reminds me a seminar of the Google Tech Talk series whose title is " The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less" by Barry Schwartz.

The thesis, simply put, is that by having more choices you experience paralysis instead of freedom in your decisions.

And moreover, you often feel "regretful" even when your choice is a good one, because with such an amount of alternatives there is always a "better one" with respect to the one you have taken!

This sense of regret cause self-blaming, which eventually turns to depression.

If you had two choices you would have blamed the "system" for not giving you more choices. If you have hundreds of choices you blame yourself for not having chosen the "best" option. And this happens very often when we choose.

Anyway, here it is the link to the great seminar I mentioned before:

There is also a shorter (20m) version from TED:


Alan Smith — Apr 05, 07 3881

The economic term for this would be satisficing. For anyone interested in a fascinating (to me, anyway) read about this I recommend _The_Paradox_Of_Choice_ which talks about how more choices makes us less happy and ways to manage this.


P.S. Any post that manages to discuss both macs and princess bride is a beautiful wonderful thing. :-)

hmurchison — Apr 05, 07 3882

I've sold a lot of Mac in my day and you always notice the usual suspects. No one ones the current "time tested" hardware but when the new stuff comes and it "isn't" perfect they retort "I'm waiting for Rev B"

Few Mac users have really been shafted for buying Mac technology early (IIvx owners I'm not talking about you) and Macs hold their value well. I often notice a disconnect as well. The Mac Pro is aimed at high level stuff. When a model hits at $4000 that's the going rate for this level of power. It seems that many people have succombed to the ridiculous notion that "all" computers were supposed to be under $2000. I've even heard someone say "Apple should never have a computer over $3500" Huh??

I buy when i'm ready. And when a new model hits I sell the older model or move it down the chain. Sometimes it's time to stop planning and get busy computing.

Chuck — Apr 05, 07 3883

Interesting article with a lot of good points — and the absolute best use of Princess Bride I've seen in a while! That completely sums up a lot of folks' attitude towards buying.

The part of the equation a lot of people seem to miss, though, is that many of us really don't have the resources to make a bad purchase on a multi-thousand-dollar machine. If the Mac Pro now is perfect except it's missing two features, and then they release a new model with those two new features a month down the road, you're going to be without those features for years before you have another $3000 to blow — rather than just the one month you would have been without them if you'd waited. (And even that's OK if you're a glass-half-full sort, but some people aren't.)

Dmitry — Apr 05, 07 3884

But, Scott, I don't want to buy a new MacBook Pro because I want to buy the one which comes with Leopard :)

Jose Vazquez — Apr 06, 07 3885

Excellent post. Here are a couple random thoughts

- The guy with the Mac 512k, apparently he held out for the 512k instead of jumping on the original 128k :-)

- Dmitry is right, when you know the a new version of the OS is REALLY around the corner, a couple more months wouldn't hurt. I would buy (if I had the cash) a Mac Pro as soon as Leopard comes out.

- In the case of buying first gen stuff. Now a days with all the blogs out there all you have to do is wait a month of so to see if any major issues bubble up. First gen iPod nanos had their displays cracking within a few weeks, overheating issues were quickly reported with macBooks. In the case of the macBooks overheating, I read the reports and decided a few people were overreacting, sure enough, I bought mine and I've had not problems. I use it on a desk, not in my lap, no prob! When the iPhone comes out, I'll give it a month or two (my contract with Verizon will be over by then :-) and keep an eye out for early reports. I don't think it is necessary to wait for the second or third gen to buy, as long as there are no serious unresolved issue with the first gen.

- In case a catastrophic flaw emerges that is not reported on early on, chances are a recall will ensue. Case in point, blazing batteries on notebooks. This is a serious flaw and it's the manufacturer's responsibility.

- About software development. I like what apple seems to be doing. The come up with the basics in the first gen. Everything works but has few options. The options that are implemented have been lavished with a lot of attention to detail. Next gen add new features with same attention to detail. You can see this almost everywhere, iLife, iWork, Apperture, OS X, etc. Sometimes the first gen don't have enough features to justify using them (iWork) but over time they get better and better.

- finally... Microsoft offers many (MANY) versions of Vista, Apple basically offers 2 (server and regular). Apple good, Microsoft.... ehh... not so good. 'nuff said.

Scott Stevenson — Apr 06, 07 3886 Scotty the Leopard

@Chuck: If the Mac Pro now is perfect except it's missing two features, and then they release a new model with those two new features a month down the road
I think that makes sense if you're waiting for something specific, but I'm really talking more about the "conventional wisdom" which may not be in your best interest.

Joachim Mrtensson — Apr 06, 07 3888

I find it a little strange that people wait for Leopard to be included when considering buying a $4000+ computer, is it for the convenince of having it pre-installed or because of the money saved?

Blain — Apr 06, 07 3889

(Let's see how the Markdown works!)

I find it a little strange that people wait for Leopard to be included when considering buying a $4000+ computer, is it for the convenince of having it pre-installed or because of the money saved?

A little from column A, a little from column B. There is something to be said for starting fresh. No woes about either wiping your time spent customizing 10.4 to your liking with a fresh install, nor worrying about if some cruft from the 10.4 install will bite you months down the line.

Furthermore, even if it's following $4K, another $129 isn't pocket change. It's psychological, mostly. There's a sense that, after spending $4K, an additional $129 won't be in the budget. Or, more accurately, it's like pulling off a bandaid. Better to get it all done in one fell swoop, the entire package, than in bits and pieces.

Although, if you think about it, if one were a select or premier member, you'd save on the computer's price by a fair chunk of change, getting it now, and 10.5 is shipped to you upon release without any additional purchase. Which is the best of both worlds, really.

Hmm. $2499 for premiere, but you save $1295 for ADC, at least $799 per Octocore, and $129 for 10.5. That makes the effective price of a Select membership $-429, even.

Scott Stevenson — Apr 07, 07 3890 Scotty the Leopard

@Blain: but you save $1295 for ADC
Do you mean WWDC?

sierra — Apr 09, 07 3892

A hardware buy depends on the software. Since years this story I tell everyone.

I never wait for a cheap prized application like iwork. If the accounting package runs - MS-Office is O.K eventually Photoshop not in all cases and a few tools from Mathematica - SPSS - Aabel. If they're running well we can switch.

If Photoshop is essential you have to wait till yo can deliver 120 % of the former solution. I don't care if Leo - Gepard or Rattlesnake is on the machine.

Chinmoy — Apr 09, 07 3893

@Scott: If you want to ship something reasonable, the best option is often (though not always) the first design that works.

Yes, this is very true, not only in software engineering, but also in traditional engineering disciplines. Many technical people have a tendency for perfection, but as long as the product can be certified as safe for consumer use, one can work out the kinks in the next iteration.


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