The pace of innovation, especially in computer hardware and software, can seem blistering. But do you always need the latest and greatest? It really depends on your reasons for getting into new packages, says self-described "technology evangelist" Ramon Ray, editor of Smallbiztechnology.com. "Unless you're looking for more memory or faster processing, there's no need to rush into an upgrade," he notes.
For both hardware and software, the key question to ask is, "How long should they last?" Ray observes that a typical desktop computer will last somewhere around three years. Laptops can go about two to four years, depending on use (and abuse—they're often dropped or jostled during travel, which cuts down on shelf life). It's worth noting that newer electronics can now be inexpensively repaired and serviced, which extends life even further.
The software side of the upgrade equation is a little different. The newer versions of older, commonly used packages, such as Microsoft Office, may not always communicate that well with older releases. "You may not have to upgrade immediately," Ray says, "but you need to think about communicating effectively with vendors, customers, and even external contractors. In those cases, it pays to keep current."
As for what to look for in hardware performance, Ray recommends getting anywhere from 2 to 4 gigabytes (GB) of RAM and 150 to 200 GB of hard-disk memory or more, especially given all the graphics and videos we all tend to download now. When you buy in those memory ranges, the installed processor will generally be the fastest available on the market. One option you have to keep costs down is memory upgrades. If you have an older computer or you've bought a new one with, say, 2 GB of RAM, you can easily upgrade to 4 GB for as little as $50.
When looking at equipment, you may be able to save money by holding on to your monitor, which can last up to 10 years. It's easy to find CPU-only packages that are less expensive than buying complete bundles (all-in-one monitor, CPU, keyboard, and mouse packages), when all you really need is the CPU.
When buying software, what makes sense? If you have 20 to 30 computers, you may want to consider more cost-effective volume licensing. But if you have only a few computers, it may make sense to get individual copies. Depending on the software you're using, multi-user licenses begin to make sense at about five users, when it's less expensive to have a license than to buy five copies of a package.
While there is no need to stay with one brand of hardware for desktops or laptops, it does make sense to maintain the same operating system—Microsoft Windows 7, for example—which makes upgrades and overall operation easier.
Another choice you may be considering is a Mac, as the company has been increasingly marketing to small business. With more people using hosted applications, compatibility is not the issue it has been in the past. And its Airbook, iPad, and other tools are becoming more popular with consumers. "Mac's presence in business is still low in comparison to PCs, but they're selling well in the education and entertainment fields," says Ray.
"If you have a real technology plan—a road map—you'll know when your technology is turning over and that it's time to upgrade," he advises. "Just because you see a hot, new technology doesn't mean it's time to upgrade. If you're growing rapidly, or the equipment and software can't keep up with your needs, those are the issues that should drive your decision."
Source: "When Is It Time to Upgrade?" Trendline
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