A few things I learned while looking at computers

I was curious as to what was on the market, so I decided to look around at new computers. It would probably be a short while before I purchase a new computer, but because I have a technology major, it probably wouldn’t hurt to be aware of what is out there.

While shopping around, both online and at retail locations like Walmart, there were a few things I learned that I found surprising.

For one thing, I was surprised to learn that the computer that I have now is not considered obsolete.

Yeah, that was a surprise. The laptop I use now was purchased around December 2009 to January 2010. It was a floor model of a discontinued laptop that I saw at Staples, and I got a discount on it. It has two 2.10GHz processors, 4 GB of RAM, and a 286 GB hard drive. I only spent a few hundred dollars on it.

What I find interesting is that, even though my laptop is over 5 years old, it’s comparable to what’s out there today (though perhaps on the lower end).

About a decade ago, tech was advancing so rapidly that what was purchased new was considered obsolete pretty fast, usually within a year-and-a-half of being purchased. It was actually kind of alarming. Many consumers were going out and purchasing newer computers, only to discard them about a couple years later and often because they took a few more seconds to boot up compared to when they were brand new.

In tech, one of the things to watch out for was “planned obsolescence”, which was a phrase that suggested that tech companies were aware that the products that they were making would one day be obsolete, even if they were, at the time of their manufacture, considered top-of-the-line. Some of the more cynical among us suspected that companies like Microsoft made their newer operating systems and updates to existing ones to consume more system resources in an attempt to encourage consumers to purchase more PCs. Whatever the cause, many computers fell down in the stampede of progress.

We’ve reached a point that tech companies have a much harder time doing more with the space available to them. At this point, it seems like they can only feasibly fit so many capacitors in such a small space, so the forward advancement in CPU processing power seems to have slowed.

So, what’s being used to encourage consumers to purchase more PCs? That leads to another thing that I discovered while shopping around. At one point, the processing power and storage of a computer were considered their main selling points. Today, it seems like tech companies are enticing consumers with features.

Some of these features are pretty cool, such as touch screens (though I don’t like smudges on my display screens), and detachable screens that would allow the displays to function as tablets (durability might be an issue).

One problem I’ve noticed with newer laptops is that some of them look really cheap. While features and technical specs are something to consider when shopping for a new computer, there is a certain form factor which is considered preferable. If I were to purchase a computer that’s cutting edge, I’d prefer for it to look slightly edge, rather than something with a Fisher Price look to it.

To make matters worse, Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 8, isn’t very attractive. Their new home screen is particularly garish and overly simplistic, like something that a person could make in MS Paint in a few minutes. I’m not sure why Microsoft is so proud of it’s new home screen, but apparently they are, because it’s seen on many Windows 8 promos. A newer version of Windows 8 brings back the desktop, which is something that people seem to prefer. Microsoft has a tendency to attempt to fix things that aren’t broken, which is one problem, but do they have to phase out features that people like?

And speaking of phasing out features people like, I’ve noticed that some newer laptops are missing drives for optical media, such as CDs and DVDs. I understand that media is making the shift to digital downloads, but it seems to me that optical media is still relevant, so it would be too early to phase it out. People still have DVD collections today, and BluRay is still new.

And when it comes to missing features, netbooks are famous. Many people buy netbooks because they’re so cheap and many consumers suspect that they’d be getting the same experience with them as they would with a laptop. Me, I don’t take netbooks very seriously.

The laptop I have now might be on the lower end of what’s available, but for now, it seems to suffice with what I do with it. That may change in the near future, however. But it seems like I got a pretty good value with the laptop that I have now.

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