It’s funny how the tech market has changed things in my home. Two years ago, my Beloved swore he could never give up having a desktop computer at home. His desktop broke, and now he’s using my abandoned nine-year-old Macbook to pretty much play podcasts and shop on eBay.
Desktops have reached the point where their makers are just about begging for you to buy them, and the same companies’ laptop sales aren’t as great as they could be, either.
Now, here I am facing a decision on my own computer as a mothership for e-books. I always swore I was a Mac girl, but now—well, it’s the same question I had when I bought my latest tablet. I do like the Apple stuff. But do I like it enough to pay more than double?
My year-old Macbook Air had a little accident, and it’s prompted a difficult soul-search. I have been told that even a damaged Macbook Air could fetch $500-700 on Kijiji. That is about what it would cost to fix the darned thing. I could get a decent non-Mac for only a little more, and I could get a bottom-rung non-Mac, still meet my computing needs, and actually come out ahead a little. Given that, does it make any sense to even try and fix the Air?
When I bought it, I was still using iPhoto. Now, the Dropbox app sucks all the photos off my phone and straight into a Dropbox folder. Once a month, I put that month’s uploads into a labelled folder and then forget about it until it’s annual photo album time—which, again, I was using iPhoto for, but I suppose there are other ways.
When I bought it, I was still using iTunes. Now, we have Sirius XM radio in the car. It fills the limited need a non-music person like me has for such things. I do have all my workout videos imported into iTunes, but they are in a directory that lives in my Dropbox folder, so I suppose there is no reason why some other media player can’t do the job.
So, what are my computer needs these days?
1) E-book reading
I use Adobe Digital Editions to download library books. I use Calibre to store purchased books, sanitize them and convert them for the Kindle.
2) E-book composing
I am using Evernote for writing, since I can use it on both computer and tablet, and then importing the plain text straight into Sigil for cleaning up and saving to ePub. Both of these apps have Windows and Mac versions.
3) Web use
YouTube, Gmail, Etsy and so on. I am assuming that any computer in the store can handle these basic needs.
4) Other Small Tasks
I’d like to be able to easily make bound photo albums. Ideally, I could have a locally hosted file I could add to every month, but I am negotiable on this. And I would like to play movie files and do other basic computer tasks.
So, that’s it. I don’t sync with iTunes anymore. I don’t burn DVDs or do other very intensive tasks. If I do light gaming, it’s not on the computer. So, do I really need another Macbook? It’s nicer, sure. To me, it is, anyway. But if it’s really worth $500, even damaged, then maybe I am better off cutting my losses, getting a cheaper one and breaking even. I certainly am not going to spend that value on repairing it when I could buy a whole new computer!
One handy thing about desktops is that it takes very little expertise to build your own, and you can save even more money that way—plus craft a machine to meet your precise needs and specifications instead of making do with whatever the closest-available-thing is. That’s how I’ve always made my own computers, after all. There are a lot of great resources for system build guides, such as Ars Technica’s Build Guide or Tom’s Hardware’s Build Guide. And when you get right down to it, all it really requires is a willingness to plug things in and screw them together.
I certainly am not going to spend that value on repairing it when I could buy a whole new computer!
No doubt about it, replacement is the way to go if repair cost is high. And repair cost is usually high, if you farm it out. When a computer has problems, even if you don’t know a lot about computers, you can lower the repair cost by doing the repair yourself, using computer support groups, such Dell Forums. Note that in the support groups, “repair” usually means replacement, albeit on a piecemeal basis. You don’t repair a bad hard drive- you replace it. And if the cost of replacing a part seems too high, such as for a motherboard, you replace the whole computer.
A further point in favor of replacement is that by replacing an old unit, you are getting newer parts that nearly always perform better than what you are replacing.
Chris Meadows’s comment:One handy thing about desktops is that it takes very little expertise to build your own, and you can save even more money that way
This is not as true as it used to be, as the price and profit margin of a tower has kept going lower. I suspect that for a mid-level computer, it is cheaper to buy one off the shelves than to purchase the parts and assemble them. On the other hand, there is a certain satisfaction derived from doing it yourself, in addition to designing one to fit your particular specifications.
If you buy or build a PC out of standard parts, that greatly improves the ‘serviceability’ of the system over a long period of time. Since computers are no longer become obsolete in just a few years as they did in previous decades, that’s actually becomes a pretty big deal. I’ve lost count how many poorly built desktops or notebooks I’ve tossed over the years because simple hardware failures become bit headaches, where parts would have to be souced on unknown e-bay sellers or some such.
Professionally, I lay out books with InDesign, so I need benefits of my Mac mini with dual displays,16 Gig of memory, and quality backup. That keeps me into having a desktop.
Alas, unless Apple repents and changes its wicked ways, I bought the last good Mac mini. The current one is yet another Apple product for what I call “the bougies.” That is my term (based on bourgeois) from those so helpless they can’t modify or fix anything. If you see someone beside the highway staring helplessly at their flat tire, that’s a bourgie. When something breaks, they buy a replacement.
Sounds like you’re taking the proper approach to decision-making. You’ve listed what you need digital devices for and assigned them to devices or (in your case) online services. Fill those needs with the fewest and least expensive possible devices and you’ll have money to spend in other ways. Working online with services gives you more flexibility between Macs and Windows.
In my case, that means my now eight-year-old MacBook must do service until Scrivener for iOS comes out, after which I’ll use my iPad 3 for writing book drafts. My cut-off isn’t that I don’t need a desktop. It’s that I don’t need a laptop. A tablet plus keyboard will serve as well at half the cost.
The only part of the digital device market that’s still hot are smartphones and that’s because the industry is still managing to innovate enough that buying new every two years often makes sense for those with a better income.
Eventually, even that will run out of steam. Digital devices will become like cars, with new ones often only bought for show and vanity not necessity. My 35-year-old Toyota gets me around as well as a new car. I certainly would not say that of a 1981 computer.
Beware free and inexpensive online services, including the Cloud (today’s euphemism for hosted services). The persistence of these things is entirely dependent upon their profitability. Look at all of the things that Google and others have jettisoned. The internet DOES forget.
Thus, I am quite happy with my 2009 MacPro with SSD boot drive and four internal drives totaling 12 gigabytes. I am seriously thinking about upgrading those four drives to 16 GB or more. This is the digital equivalent of the 50s bomb shelter but with a more realistic rationale.