Common Saving Strategies Put to the Test
Over the years, we’ve observed PC builders employing all kinds of interesting methods intended to save money or stretch a buck. Let’s ponder for a moment whether these strategies actually make sense.
Is Adding a Second Card Later Ever Worth It?
There’s a famous cheapskate maneuver that we’ll call the “Multi-Card Gambit,” where a consumer buys a midrange $250 GPU with the intention of doubling the performance a year later when the prices of the same card have been cut in half. The problem is the gambit rarely works.
The key to the gambit is timing. Do it too soon, and you really haven’t gained anything at all except suffering lower frame rates for six months. Wait too long, and it will make more sense to buy the next-generation card instead. An example of this is the GeForce 560 Ti dilemma. Originally $270, GeForce 560 Ti cards are now as low as $180. For a cheapskate, that’s cheaper than having to shell out the $400 for a GeForce GTX 670, and you will get a decent frame rate increase you can feel. Six months from now, however, the 670 will have dropped in price or a new card will replace it, making the Multi-Card Gambit a foolish move.
The Relevant Conundrum
Cheapskates know the best time to buy a 2012 car is after the 2013 models have been introduced. But does that same wait-and-see approach hold up for CPUs? We looked at several popular models of CPUs and found that while buying the last‑generation model can yield some savings, the tight controls the chip makers exert over their inventories can make this strategy unreliable. For example, the Core i7-2600K debut price in 2011 was $330. Today? It’s $290. Its replacement, the Core i7-3770 is $330. The even more popular Core i5-2500K came out at $225 in early 2011. Today it costs $220, and its replacement, the Core i5-3570K, is $229. Intel’s former top chip, the six-core Core i7-990X, made its debut at $999 last year. Today? It sells for $999. Its replacement, the Core i7-3960X, fetches $999. Even Intel’s ancient Core i7-870 hasn’t gotten cheaper over time after you factor in Intel’s price cuts to it two years ago. We simply can’t recommend paying $330 for a Core i7-870 today. Even eBay prices put the chip at $250 or more—and it’s two generations old at this point.
But what about in AMD land, where the controls aren’t as iron-fisted? There the prices are what you would probably expect when buying older hardware. Since its introduction, the AMD Phenom II X4 965 has made a stair-step drop from its initial price of $245 to $104 today. Even AMD’s FX-8150 has steadily dropped from its $280 introduction to $199 today.
The Real Hardware Hoarders of Orange County
Cheapskates, invariably, want to “stock up” on a good deal when they see one. Frankly, we think that’s a poor strategy to follow if not done wisely. Yes, such a move might look prescient in light of the Thailand floods of 2011 that caused hard drive prices to triple and quadruple overnight, but stocking up for future builds is often fraught with risks.
Take RAM, for example, which climbed in price late last year and seemed bound to climb higher following the bankruptcy of DRAM maker Elpida. The reality is, RAM prices are insanely low today. You can get four 8GB DIMMs of DDR3/1600 for $200. If you had stocked up on RAM last summer because prices were “headed back up,” you would have paid $150 for four 4GB DIMMs of DDR3/1600. If you stocked up on DDR3 DIMMs now for a build next year, they would introduce DDR4 just to spite you.
It’s far safer to bet on one constant in technology: It always gets cheaper, and it always gets better. So unless you’re sure it’s a killer deal you’re getting, it’s generally safer to wait until you need to buy it.
Four Clever Uses for Old Hardware
A true cheapskate never upgrades until his or her hardware is not only inoperable but irreparable. Take Gordon’s trusty ThinkPad. It’s so old it was made by IBM but has soldiered on with a new hard drive, RAM, and even CPU, and he still uses it every day.
Even the most reluctant upgrader, though, will occasionally find him- or herself with old hardware that still works to some degree—an ancient laptop, an old desktop, an aged MP3 player. If it ain’t dead, put some new life into it. Here are five ways to stretch the value and the life span of your hardware.
Make It a Media Center
If your old desktop or laptop has at least a dual-core CPU and a couple gigs of RAM (so it can stream HD video), turn it into a media center! If you already have Windows installed, so much the better! You can use web-based video (like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go), plus if you install XBMC you can play all sorts of local video and audio files from the PC or the network. Use a remote-desktop program on your phone or tablet to control it, and you won’t even need a keyboard and mouse!
Turn It into a NAS
If you just want plenty of network-attached storage for backup and media streaming, turn your old PC into a NAS by using FreeNAS. It’s easy to install and configure, and the latest beta of Version 8 contains support for plugins that will let you stream audio and video to the rest of your network via DLNA, UPnP, and iTunes.
Turn an Old Smartphone into a Media Player
Have an old smartphone you’re not using? Put it in airplane or Wi-Fi mode and use it as an app-enhanced media player! Plug it into your TV or stereo to access streaming music from the cloud, use it to read e-books and watch movies, and more! Fill it with games and give it to your kids! Many smartphone OSes include parental controls so you can disable Wi-Fi.
If you have old electronics that still work but you don’t need and don’t want to repurpose, consider donating them to a charity or nonprofit. There’s probably one in your area that could use the extra gear. If your stuff is nonfunctional or really obsolete (think Pentium 4 or earlier), take it to an e-cycler who can dispose of it safely. It’s what Captain Planet would have wanted.