Convenience or Performance?

A computer can become a hobby. Some people will spend two or three times as much money to get a 30% increase in performance. You can buy much more expensive CPU chips, or install water cooling and “overclock” a standard CPU. However, except for gaming there are few applications that need more power, and it is not clear that the improved game performance is worth the time or effort.

For household use, people buy a minivan instead of a muscle car, and they choose it for comfort, a nice sound system, and cup holders. Even if you are not looking for bragging rights, there are are few upgrades that you might consider.

  • Keyboard and Mouse. The keyboard is the one part of the computer system that arguably has gotten worse over the years instead of better. When IBM first designed its personal computer, they used the same keyboard technology used in other IBM devices designed for full time professional use. Some people believe that the old “clicky key” IBM keyboards of the 1980’s represented the peak of technology. Today a “keyboard” is a no-cost item you can select on the Dell Web page, and replacement keyboards are sold in computer stores for $15. Compare this cost to the medical expenses of a repetitive stress injury. Fortunately, keyboards are interchangeable across systems, and a good one never breaks (although it doesn’t improve if you spill pancake syrup into it). Simply choose one that is comfortable to use, especially over prolonged use.
  • Screens. As your eyes get older, you find that it is harder to see the small characters you get if you try to do your work on a 12” laptop screen. A 24” desktop monitor is better, but eventually it gets too small also. Today you have two choices. You can stick with devices called “computer monitors” and spend a lot of money for a 27” screen that will probably last forever, or you can spend as little as $250 (although maybe $400 is a better choice) and buy a 4K TV set in your favorite big box store. For computers, a 43” screen is a good choice. Anything bigger than 50” and you start to have neck strain looking from the top left corner to the bottom right. If you want a computer screen, buy the low end model of a reputable brand. It is not clear that computers benefit from features like HDR or “local dimming”. A TV may not last as long as a monitor, but they have the lower price of a high volume consumer product and they are perfectly OK. Make sure that you can adjust the brightness down for comfort. TVs are generally designed to be twice as bright as monitors so they can be viewed across the room, but that may be too much white light when you view it up close.
  • Disks. The new technology for “disks” is to use flash memory instead of an actual rotating disk. These Solid State Disks (SSDs) are now cheap enough that every desktop computer (that supports two or more disks) should boot off of one. Put the operating system on a 256 gigabyte SSD, and then leave a large conventional hard disk to store large files.

A comfortable keyboard and a large easy to read screen may be more important than running the CPU 10% faster.