Horse Sense #141

Your New Computer is Old!

The pace of innovation in hardware and software has become so rapid that it is hard to tell sometimes if you are buying new technology. Some people are surprised when they find out their newly purchased computer has a processor in it that is three generations older than those in other machines....

Intel has been rapidly releasing new processors over the past few years. New processor releases phase in while older processors phase out of the market. Additionally, not all of the new processor models ship at the same time. Thus you end up with a market with a lot of age and model variability. Intel's Core series is currently in its sixth generation. You can still buy brand new machines with fifth, fourth, and even third generation processors!

The same thing is true of other hardware and software manufacturers as well. For example, Windows 10 is the current version of Windows, but manufacturers are still shipping Windows 7 based machines due to customer demand. Windows 7 first shipped July 22, 2009!

Machines based on new processor models often ship with great new features. Newer notebooks boot faster, weigh less, consume less power and last longer on a battery charge, have higher speed ports, perform tasks much faster, are more reliable and secure, etcetera. And, the new processors tend to come out at price points about the same as the ones they are replacing, so you can have all of this extra capability for "free."

So how does equipment based on older technology not only survive, but sometimes thrive?

1. Large organizations cannot turn on a dime. They will often want to outfit their work force with a standard set of hardware. That makes it easier for them to support. It might take multiple years build, configure, and ship out enough equipment to outfit a large workforce. Only then will they restart the process with a new standard. If you think waiting for years for new hardware is bad, you ought to see what governments and businesses are buying to support their specialty needs. We are continually asked to provide hardware that has not been in production for over a decade and it is not unusual to see requests for two or even three decade old hardware. If you have a 20 year old drive inside a submarine or a printing press, you may not be able to upgrade the equipment around it to allow you to put in more modern hardware easily. Many times you can, but a lot of people do not want to take that risk. If you take that risk, do you need to do it with all of the equipment you have in the field? If you do that, do you have to change all of your training and rewrite your procedural and service manuals? That is why you will find the FAA, the Air Force, and many in private industry using equipment you threw away years ago as being "totally useless."

2. People are hesitant to change something out especially if it is doing the job. With change comes risk, cost, and aggravation. Inertia is a powerful force. People get accustomed to doing something a certain way, even if it no longer really makes sense. It is hard to replace a roof that is not leaking. If it starts to leak, you might patch it. You might do this many times. It can be very hard to bite the bullet and strip the whole roof off down to the rotting plywood and put on a new state of the art roof. What's the difference, right? The old roof was keeping you dry, right? [That rickety roof will fail and it will be alot more costly and inconvenient when it does.]

3. You may not be able to see or enjoy the benefit. If you replace the equipment and now can do the work twice as fast, will management demand you get rid of an employee? If you replace a power hungry device with one that sips so little power it pays for itself in a short amount of time, will the bosses let you have all or part of that money? The power bill probably comes out of another budget pocket, so that answer is usually no. Organizations that live and die by their budgets often make poor decisions because of artificial boundaries and rules. Power and influence is determined by your budget, not by how you and the business as a whole are performing your mission. Budget based organizations can find it very difficult to innovate and lower costs because budgeting often discourages both.

4. Sometimes one piece is ready, but another is not. You might be able to build processors that have great capabilities, but if the BIOS, memory, or support chips are not available or too expensive, you have to stick with the old processor until things catch up. If the availability of critical parts is low, you might be able to squeeze out a few models into more or less full scale production, but you cannot revamp all your models.

5. You need to sell what you have. You do not want to kill the market for the items you are building now, so you might not want to offer new product until you sell out of your older product. If you are buying for a bunch of employees, you might not want to give people models of differing capability as employees may lust after the newer stuff. [We hear this excuse too often. Buying below your current needs is a very poor decision because you are accepting ineffectual management that allows jealousies to become an issue. You end up with less capable tools and jealousies that are still unaddressed.]

6. More capabilities may not help. If you are limited somewhere else, a faster processor just waits more than the slower one does. There is no such thing as faster instantly. Go ahead and replace old hardware or software, but do it for a reason or leave it alone.

7. There is danger in the new and less proven. Newly released hardware or software is more likely to have nasty surprises. Even if you replaced your machine with an identical brand new machine, you are taking a risk since electronic components tend to fail very early in their life, then reach a low point, and then gradually fail more and more over time.

So now you know that you can end up buying brand new stuff that is older. But, the market is actually larger than that!

There is a very robust market in used equipment. If you are not demanding much out of a machine, you can use a pretty old machine to do it. This is counterbalanced by the fact that maintenance, support, power, and other costs normally say you should buy new equipment (even those built with older components or software) for your business. This might not hold as true for your home computer where your time is "free." Always remember, though, that you have to balance the cost of your computing tools with their convenience and utility, even if your time is "free" (or you wrongly think the people who work in your business on your computers work for free). Most studies show that replacing your business computing equipment every three to five years is optimal for most businesses to maintain productivity at the lowest cost. Be aware that sometimes old equipment costs more than new equipment because it is hard to find and some people (see 1 above) still want it. Repairing old equipment can get time consuming and expensive.

Sometimes it does make sense to buy used or refurbished items for your business. If you get properly remanufactured, warranted, and guaranteed toner cartridges for a laser printer, you can save piles of cash with almost zero risk. [We provide such items.]

Sometimes you should just spruce up what you have. Maintaining or upgrading equipment and software can pay significant benefits. Recent generation machines upgraded to Windows 10 will often run better than they did with Windows 7 or 8. Adding a solid state drive to an older or even a brand new machine can make it much more usable. Just professionally maintaining your equipment periodically can pay huge productivity benefits. [You should see the ancient stuff we still use in our office.]

What is your best option? Well.... Why not call Iron Horse and find out?

©2016 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse