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Author Topic: Tech shopping tips  (Read 6314 times)
zridling
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« on: May 20, 2011, 05:28:20 PM »



It takes a lot of research to make a tech purchase with conviction. Sam Grobart reduced a lot of hard-earned and complex wisdom to seven rules of thumb in the New York Times. I was pretty impressed with this list because I think his advice is sound and he was able to reduce it to short rules of thumb. His seven rules are a trade off, as most tech advice is. When buying hi tech...

-- Pay for RAM, not speed. The speed of the computer chip does not matter; the attention-span or RAM memory does matter.
-- Pay for messaging, not minutes. On your phone, your texting is more expensive than your voice time.
-- Pay for components, not cables. Buy the best components, and the cheapest cables.
-- Pay for speed, not channels. For cable internet, with enough speed you can watch TV channels on the internet for free.
-- Pay for screen size, not refresh rate. On TV screens, bigger size makes a difference while refresh rate does not.

What tips do you have for tech shopping?
« Last Edit: May 28, 2011, 01:55:38 AM by zridling » Logged

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40hz
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« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2011, 07:05:07 PM »

Just four:

1) Do not buy anything remotely close to serial number 0001 of anything.

2) Almost every category of technology has a "sweet spot" in its price/performance ratio. It's usually found one or two model numbers below a manufacturer's "top of line" component or device. That's where 90% of the real bargains will be found.

3) Since software development lags behind hardware advances by at least a year, having "last year's model" does not automatically mean lower performance. About 2/3 of all software is still written to work optimally on legacy 32-bit hardware and architectures.

4) The family of a friend when I was in college owned a huge Christmas tree farm. My friend told me that whenever you bought something for a farm, you bought it with one of two philosophies in mind:

     a) it's easy to fix

              -or-

     b) it's going to last.

Not a bad way to approach buying any technology.  Thmbsup

« Last Edit: May 20, 2011, 07:08:54 PM by 40hz » Logged

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steeladept
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« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2011, 10:52:54 PM »

I like your additions 40hz.  My one exception is 4b.  In technology, Never, Ever, Ever, buy something just because it will last.  All that means is it will reach obsolesence long before it loses its utility.  For technology, I strongly suggest 4a only. 

Experience has taught me - sure, you might have to replace something that breaks several times that one long lasting one will be cheaper in the long run.  However, technology moves so fast that if it is ease to fix you can a) fix it quickly, b) often can fix it cheaply, and c) fix it with a superior product featureset.  How many of you still have and use your old zip drives?  They sure do last, but no one reall uses them anymore, and can you even find drivers for them in Vista/Win7? 
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« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2011, 10:55:59 PM »

<cynicism mode="slightly">
For 4a, I believe "fix" really means "replace" in most circumstances. Got an iPod? Battery die? Oh... Just replace the iPod... smiley

Regarding 4b, does "last" mean more than 6 months, or as long as the warranty + 1 day?
</cynicism>

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Edvard
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« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2011, 12:04:10 AM »

1) Do not buy anything remotely close to serial number 0001 of anything.

Unless the make and model is "Fender Stratocaster" *drool*
(says the guy whose great-uncle received #0003 from his good friend Leo who said, "try it out, tell me what you think"; sold in 1970 for $1000) wallbash

Regarding 4a: I'm a solid trigger finger with the soldering gun; If I can't fix it, it was broke when it left the factory. Thmbsup
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40hz
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« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2011, 06:06:55 AM »

Experience has taught me - sure, you might have to replace something that breaks several times that one long lasting one will be cheaper in the long run.  However, technology moves so fast that if it is ease to fix you can a) fix it quickly, b) often can fix it cheaply, and c) fix it with a superior product featureset.  How many of you still have and use your old zip drives?  They sure do last, but no one reall uses them anymore, and can you even find drivers for them in Vista/Win7?



For 4a, I believe "fix" really means "replace" in most circumstances. Got an iPod? Battery die? Oh... Just replace the iPod... smiley


I probably should have expanded on that a bit.

In the context it was given to me in, we we discussing the issue of maintenance. So I'll try rephrasing it so that my buddy Randy's point is a little clearer: It's ok to buy cheap or inexpensive as long as it's easy and cheap to fix. If it isn't, you're better off spending more money up front for something that's not likely to break to begin with.

There's been some debate about the necessity of considering things like this. Especially since much of the tech we use has been engineered with a high degree of obsolescence in mind. And also because most modern techniques for electronic assembly makes many devices virtually unrepairable.

But I think it's important to at least be aware of what inexpensive tech products really cost us. Because there's lots of things on a circuit board you really don't want (or can afford to have) sitting in landfills for the next century or so. A growing tidal wave of obsolete electronics has already started flooding our landfills. And most local recycling centers aren't geared up to handle this type of industrial waste. Consequently, many municipalities are enacting laws that prohibit just dumping electronics in the trash. And many are now charging a fee to pass such waste on to places that can recycle, detoxify, and dispose of electronics safely. (Which has the unintended consequence of encouraging illegal dumping - but that's a topic for another day.)

So it's important to remember that a lot of our technology becomes obsolete (and gets trashed) because it was deliberately designed to be "junked." This is the strategy of manufacturers who are out to make some easy money for their bottom line. They get the customer to not look too closely at what this practice really costs society as a whole by passing a small portion of the savings in manufactured cost over to the customer - as a bribe.

Machiavelli suggested that anytime something was going on that didn't make sense, you could get to the bottom of it by "following the money" to see who profited by it. Manufacturers make money in three ways. First, by the overall number of units sold. Second, by the margin of profit on each item. Third, by the avoidance of rework or re-manufacturing expenses whenever possible.

Building relatively inexpensive devices, which are designed to be thrown out every three years, is a good way to get an optimal yield out of the above three criteria. But only at the hidden expense of downstream waste - which the manufacturer is not held responsible for.

So next time you factor "avoiding obsolescence" into a purchase decision, as yourself the question: Why is there so much obsolescence?

And also ask who's recommendations you're following as a way to deal with obsolescence.

Follow the money and you'll soon discover half of what you've been taught to believe is marketing hype and industry propaganda.  smiley



Regarding 4b, does "last" mean more than 6 months, or as long as the warranty + 1 day?

 Grin

I think it currently means from when the credit card transaction first clears until the 'charge-back' period expires.  tongue
« Last Edit: May 21, 2011, 07:04:52 AM by 40hz » Logged

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40hz
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« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2011, 06:18:30 AM »

1) Do not buy anything remotely close to serial number 0001 of anything.

Unless the make and model is "Fender Stratocaster" *drool*
(says the guy whose great-uncle received #0003 from his good friend Leo who said, "try it out, tell me what you think"; sold in 1970 for $1000) wallbash





Quote


Regarding 4a: I'm a solid trigger finger with the soldering gun; If I can't fix it, it was broke when it left the factory. Thmbsup


Agree. I'm pretty solid with a soldering iron too. Or was until they came out with 4-layer boards with plated-thru mounting holes.  Grin

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Edvard
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« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2011, 06:27:37 AM »

Quote
Or was until they came out with 4-layer boards with plated-thru mounting holes.
Like I said, "... it was broke when it left the factory."

You call it "obsolete" or "out of warranty" I call it "free parts".  tongue
That silver solder they're using now is pretty darn tough though. Cry
"We're gonna need a hotter iron..." (nod to Roy Scheider and his toothy pal)
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« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2011, 07:33:04 AM »

OH! OH! OH! OH! OH! OH! OH!


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zridling
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« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2011, 11:08:12 PM »

I like the 4a/4b criteria from 40hz. As much as things cost today, it's worth the extra -- and I mean extra -- time spent researching something before you lay down a load of cash for it.
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« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2011, 11:41:05 PM »

Quote
Consequently, many municipalities are enacting laws that prohibit just dumping electronics in the trash. And many are now charging a fee to pass such waste on to places that can recycle, detoxify, and dispose of electronics safely. (Which has the unintended consequence of encouraging illegal dumping - but that's a topic for another day.)
Really?  I have only seen charging from corporations that really don't WANT to deal with it but are forced to.  I know our municipality holds regular collections free of charge (and no, that doesn't mean it is paid for by taxes - more on that in a minute).  There is quite a bit of valuable material that goes into each machine, and if you can dismantle it, you can make a pretty penny selling it back to the suppliers.  The key is dismantling enough of them, fast enough, and completely enough to make it profitable.

There are a few outfits around Pittsburgh that specialize in this.  They will take all machines from a company, guarantee nothing will end up in a landfill, complete with written proof if needed.  They dismantle, separate, and in many cases shred components to get at the metal.  Once all the metals are collected, they use various methods to separate them and sell them on the open market (this is where they make their money).  Even the plastic is shredded into reusable material (though I don't know for what purpose - perhaps they can be reused for making new boards, but more than likely they would be used as a lower grade plastic for something else).  I was talking to the owner of the one that I provided about 6 old systems to and he said that he needs to be able to dismantle 3-6 (depending on machine age - older = fewer) machines/worker/hour to break even.  He said it is difficult because of how much needs dismantled, but he has a process.  This is why he can do this free of charge for the municipalities and even local companies.  He even does the pickup - the only thing he wont do is take it from the desktop.  It needs to go to a collection point and he takes it from there.  I got his card for my company because I know they use HP for this service now, and I think HP charges them for it.
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« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2011, 07:40:42 AM »

Really?  I have only seen charging from corporations that really don't WANT to deal with it but are forced to.  I know our municipality holds regular collections free of charge

Yup! Here's the handy-dandy infographic my town has so helpfully undecided provided it's residents:



They do have two "hazardous waste" days per year where you can bring the usual stuff (pesticides, lawn & pool chemicals, small propane tanks, non-latex paints and thinners, etc.) in for free disposal. But they won't accept electronic components or devices. The only exception to their "no electrical items" rule is dead car batteries.

« Last Edit: May 22, 2011, 07:43:20 AM by 40hz » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2011, 08:24:43 AM »

I like the 4a/4b criteria from 40hz. As much as things cost today, it's worth the extra -- and I mean extra -- time spent researching something before you lay down a load of cash for it.

Did you mean extra, or did you mean


?

cheesy

Definitely a +1 or even a ^10 on that one. smiley

Take some of the simplest things out there and the amount of knowledge that you need to have in order to actually understand what you're doing/using. Daunting at best.

Getting the best value? Tough stuff. Is there a difference between the white label, the store label, and the brand label? If so, what? And is it worth it?

I wish "advertising" were "consumer education".

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« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2011, 10:45:32 AM »

Some systematic errors in mainstream tech shopping that bug me

- thumb down buying on screen size not resolution. Resolution matters (imo) at least as much as screen size.

- thumb down buying cameras on MP. Once we passed 5MP it becomes far more important to have a good lens, good zoom, good sensors to produce good images. Yet we see cameras making worse images (as in the new model makes worse images than the previous model) but with more pixels, because people buy the MP.

- thumb down ignoring antenna power and battery life on mobile phones.

My main rule? buy things that are at least 6 months out, perhaps even a year. Reviews are always super positive in the first week/month, then the hairballs come out
« Last Edit: May 22, 2011, 10:47:59 AM by iphigenie » Logged
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« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2011, 01:05:26 PM »

Agree with all the comments about staying away from the leading edge. That said, I'm sometimes there (eg to get USB3, SATA3) because the timing of my build meant it was either leading edge of not having those options (which I knew I did want).
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« Reply #15 on: May 22, 2011, 05:29:17 PM »

One buying philosophy rarely fits all things. For most stuff, I stay well behind the curve and patiently await 'bargains'. For a limited number of items, I buy the very best I can afford. Things that really matter. In my tech life that means:

- computer monitors (always good iPS monitors)
- audio speakers (hi-fi system, not computer)
- espresso machine (hugely over-engineered for domestic needs. Will outlive me. A daily joy to use)
« Last Edit: May 22, 2011, 05:36:49 PM by johnk » Logged
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« Reply #16 on: May 22, 2011, 05:35:37 PM »

- espresso machine (hugely over-engineered for domestic needs. Will outlive me. A daily joy to use)

This was one of the first things I bought when I got to Australia~! Its importance cannot be overstated! smiley

http://www.breville.com.a...ble-espresso-machine.html

By my third double-espresso cappuccino, I'm pretty wired.  Grin
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« Reply #17 on: May 22, 2011, 11:32:16 PM »

Really?  I have only seen charging from corporations that really don't WANT to deal with it but are forced to.  I know our municipality holds regular collections free of charge

Yup! Here's the handy-dandy infographic my town has so helpfully undecided provided it's residents:
 <image removed>
They do have two "hazardous waste" days per year where you can bring the usual stuff (pesticides, lawn & pool chemicals, small propane tanks, non-latex paints and thinners, etc.) in for free disposal. But they won't accept electronic components or devices. The only exception to their "no electrical items" rule is dead car batteries.
Yeah, we have something similar from our waste management group.  That is why they brought in the electronics recycler through.  I am still stuck on the batteries and light bulbs, however.  We have plastics picked up weekly, along with most metals (though I keep them and recycle them at the local scrap yard myself) and we have multiple HAZMAT dropoffs throughout the year for paint, oil, etc.; but the batteries and bulbs are a real bind if you are to follow their strict guidance.

As a side note, I asked the waste management official what we SHOULD do with these items.  Guess what his answer was?  "Pitch them in the trash.  We are more worried about corporate disposal of these items."  So much for concerned citizens...  Now I only buy rechargable batteries.  They are slightly more hazardous, but they are reusable for quite a while and therefore reduce the overall hazard.
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