On walkabout in life and technology

Top of the Line

I’m not rich, but when I buy technology, I always get the top-of-the-line model within my product range. Why? Longevity and Productivity. I choose the range to suit my needs and skill levels. And the long-term benefits of productivity and time savings way exceed the short-term incremental cost.

All my devices last forever because I purchased the top-of-the-line within the range I needed. In 1998, I purchased the best Dell Inspiron laptop, it lasted until 2003 when I moved to the best Titanium PowerBook, which lasted until 2009 when I acquired my current MacBook Pro. In each case, I maxed the CPU, RAM and Disk size, allowing me to operate them without suffering any performance penalties. And these devices each handled several generations of operating system upgrades without changes or noticeable loss of performance.

That’s 3 laptops in 14 years, folks! Most people replace their computer every 3 years (which means I am almost 2 units behind). It could be argued that buying 5 bottom-of-the-range laptops over this time would have cost the same as the 3 biggies, but you shouldn’t look at the price alone, you should also examine the value of your time and your productivity. The performance of the top-of-the-line laptop has always been significantly better than the bottom, especially for a power users like us. More RAM means no delays running applications and switching between them, faster CPU and disk means faster loads, fewer beachballs of death, no delays from background processes and faster execution.

As the tech guy, I am always being given other people’s new laptops to install stuff on, and I am amazed at the slowness of these brand-new el-cheapo units. I wonder why people value their time so badly. Think of all the time you waste waiting for the computer to boot or for Excel to load. Then value that time. It’s a lot.

Another example of longevity, my primary monitor is a 23" Apple Cinema Display HD circa 2003 (the old pinstripe and clear plastic one). It was the best monitor in the world at the time, not cheap and one of the first to offer 1080p. And it’s still going strong (I’m using the ADC to DVI adapter to keep it alive). It’s better than the 2008 Dell 2408WFP I have from my previous job because the Apple display anti-aliases properly with Snow Leopard (the newer Dell does not), and it renders colors better.

I run a Nikon D80 DSLR camera. When I purchased it in early 2007, it was the top-of-the-line DX (prosumer) camera available (I could have gone for the D40 for half the price, or split the difference on a D60). I chose the DX range because I am a photo hobbyist not a true pro. My previous Nikon was an F60, the classic built-to-last replacement for the venerable journo F50. I used the F60 from 1998 to 2007. In its day, the F60 was the top-of-the-line body for the amateur learning SLR photography.

I chose the prosumer range for my photo gadgets because they were the most usable by me (a beginner and a hobbyist) and by my fiends (they have a point-and-shoot mode). I could be productive with them, given my lack of skill, and they could also use it. The pro cameras were too heavy and required too many settings and tweaks to make them usable at the time. It helps that the D80’s dials and settings run pretty much the same as the trusty F60. In comparison, the bottom-of-the-line DSLR at the time was slower, had harder to use dials and far fewer features, which would have made me less productive. And the pro devices were beasts.

I believe in picking the right range to meet my skills and needs. I do not believe in skimping on the gadget model within that range just on price. I choose the top-of-the-line because I get the best usability and productivity out of it. The value of my long-term productivity and time by far exceeds any short-term savings I could eke out by getting a cheaper, lower end model.

Think about it.