I have a long history of writing about technology in the month of December. Two of my favorite old articles are Please Don't Hit Me With Your Modem that I wrote in 2010 and Computer Battle that I wrote way back in 2004. Technology (and my opinions) have really changed since those articles got published.
I have been in the technology business for over thirty-five years which includes almost twenty years at Apple. When you are a manager at a large technology company, you get spoiled with new technology. However, it has been over thirteen years since I left Apple and I have figured out how to do with a lot less. Essentially I do a quinquennial, once every five years, technology fresh and am happy with it. Looking at technology that permeates our lives at least that regularly prevents a lot of problems.
We all need technology these days, and if you just wait for things to break before upgrading, sometimes recovery can get messy. Sometimes we all need to buy something because of a death in the computer family but if I do my quinquennial refresh, that is rare.
I still know people that get a new computer every year or two but I do not feel that need any more than the need to get a new car every year. My main work computer is over seven years old but has had upgrades. Since I use five different computers most days (and that does not count my smartphone), I am not a normal computer user. Most normal people might just have only one or two computers in their household.
Our family technology refresh this year has included two new laptops, one for my wife and one for me. A new wireless phone set. A new small television and a new digital camera. A few things have been improved by switching to gear that we already had or by adding new components. I am really happy with the results. Our computers are all working great. The pictures coming from my new camera are outstanding. Our new Panasonic DECT 6 wireless phone sets are fantastic especially the paging feature which makes life simpler since my workspace is far from the rest of the house. We also bought a small $130 television set and added an Amazon Fire Stick for connectivity instead of connecting it to cable. The television provides much better quality than our expensive Sony that was installed eleven years ago.
You can translate all this into something useful for yourself. If you are buying a laptop this year and also only want to upgrade every five years like we do, expect to spend between $700 and $1,200 for a good laptop that will last five years or more. As I am writing this just before Christmas 2017, you should look for a minimum of an eight generation I5 processor, 8GBs of RAM, and a 256GB SSD (Solid State Drive). Your system should come with a touch screen and at the low end of the price range a minimum screen resolution of 1920x1080. At the upper end, you should be getting much higher screen resolution, double the RAM and double the SSD capacity. A system similar to these specs will last a long time.
Personally, I have had good luck with Lenovo, HP, and Dell laptops. My wife's system was bought in the summer a few months before eight generation Intel processors were available but it is fine for her needs. We both got both systems for less than the $1,999 price of one Mac Book Pro laptop with less impressive specs than mine. (Details in the geek section)
The one thing that might throw laptop purchasers who have been out of the market for a while is USB-C. The hub pictured at the top of the post is one of the USB-C hubs that are common. Some new laptops only come with USB-C ports now. My HP Envy has both USB 3 and USB-C. With the help of my hub, one USB-C port provides Ethernet connectivity, the connection for a monitor and an SD card reader. Expect to spend about $40 for a good USB-C hub. I consider mine more of a dock for the laptop when I am working at my desk as opposed to traveling.
My other upgrade to computers was to replace the last mechanical drive in my computer fleet with an SSD. Since it was an older I5 Lenovo desktop with only 8GBs of RAM, I also installed Xubuntu Linux as the main operating system. The system which was slow as molasses is now super speedy and very reliable.
While my son was visiting at Thanksgiving, he noticed that we had two wireless networks in our house. I had a wireless network with a router but it turned out that our relatively new cable modem had wireless turned on and was broadcasting DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) addresses. Without descending too far into a technology whirlpool, it was not good to have two WAPs (Wireless Access Point) competing for spectrum. I had not noticed since most of my serious computing is done in the wired portion of the network where my computers and printers are hooked up by Ethernet. My son said he got better speeds out of the one from the cable modem so I removed mine from the network and fixed the new wireless setup so it uses OpenDNS servers which provide a little bit of filtering.
The new television we got was an inexpensive 32" Toshiba for around $130. We bought it to replace an old-fashioned tube television in a bedroom but we are currently using it in our new family room until we can decide on (and afford) a new larger television. The picture quality is exceptional. We are hoping to get one of nice LGs at some time in the future. I needed a new computer more than a new television. Our home entertainment equipment with the exception of the new TV is hopelessly outdated but my wife is happy with it and I hardly watch television.
The camera I got this year is a PANASONIC LUMIX FZ1000 4K Point and Shoot Camera, with 16X LEICA DC Vario-ELMARIT F2.8-4.0 Lens, 21.1 Megapixels, 1 Inch High Sensitivity Sensor. The big selling point for this camera is 20 megapixels and the 1-inch sensor.
I still use a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX100S 4K and my Canon SX60-HS which was repaired once again. The SX60 is a refurbished replacement that I got when Canon could not repair my longtime favorite Canon SX50-HS. I am also still using the Nixon D3100 that I got in 2010.
We also bought a set of Panasonic KX-TGE475S Link2Cell Bluetooth Cordless Phones with Answering Machine. We had replaced the batteries more than once on an old Pansonic set which we bought eleven years ago. The phones were much cheaper from Amazon and the sound quality is noticeably better than our old ones.
If you are really interested in the geeky details of all the computers and how we got to do this about once every five years read the next section, but it is really written so I can remember the details the next time I have to do an upgrade.
Technical Specs and How the Quinquennial Cycle Evolved
The first priority this year was upgrading my wife's computer this summer. She was well past the five-year mark on her laptop though she did get a Chromebook a couple of years ago and it extended the useful life of her other computer which was a 2010 I5 HP laptop with 4GBs of RAM and a 500GB mechical hard drive. While her old computer looked brand new, it had become slow and there was little that I could do to fix it without starting to replace parts. We bought her laptop together with one for me back in February 2010. The two laptops together cost around $1500 after rebates. We considered Apple laptops but at the time we could not have gotten one Mac laptop for the price that we paid for the two HPs and the Mac laptops were stuck on an old processor. You can read the full reasoning behind those purchases in this Applepeels post.
The quinquennial upgrade can be traced to a couple of years later when my HP 2010 laptop got repurposed and sent to my youngest daughter. There was nothing wrong with it but she needed a laptop and I was starting a stint as a technology writer at ReadWrite Web. I needed new technology so I could write about operating systems and such. It was the fall of 2012 and on Black Friday that year we drove to Wilmington and I bought a Lenovo Yoga at Best Buy. It was $999 and had an I5 processor, 4GB RAM and a 64GB SSD (Solid State Drive.) It was a little of bit of a gamble since we did not know how long my technology writing career was going to last. The job seemed to go well so a few months later we bought a MacMini through a friend still working at Apple. That spring I also upgraded my main camera and got a Canon SX50 HS. The technology upgrades were more than paid for by the articles that I wrote, but turning out articles was like being on a treadmill and predicting what might be of interest to an ever-changing editor was not a lot of fun. It paid the bills but if you figured it as an hourly wage, it was scary. Fortunately, I had started my current job at WideOpen Networks the previous summer and about the time I burned out as a technology writer, the new company was coming up to speed.
I might have skipped this upgrade cycle but my main Windows desktop started dying on me this summer. Over the course of a few months, I managed to keep it going but it finally gave up the ghost and I took it to a computer repair shop. This was the first time in over thirty-five years that I have ever taken one of my personal computers to a repair shop so you have to figure that the system was in serious trouble. The shop finally determined that it was the motherboard but a new Lenovo motherboard was close to $400 dollars and more than I wanted to spend on an old computer. They assured me that they could order another motherboard for $150, put it in my case with my 32GBs of RAM and I7 processor and everything would be fine. A week later it turned out the third-party motherboard would not fit in the Lenovo case so we ended up ordering another case for about $100. Once the case came in and the motherboard and all the parts were installed, the computer would still not turn on. With the next step being a new processor at $450, I pulled the plug on the operation and felt lucky that my repair shop billed me zero dollars since they could not fix my computer. It does not take a technology expert to know that spending close to $700 on an old computer is crazy.
At that point, I needed a new computer to do my photographs. I wanted a system with an eighth generation I7 processor, 16 GBs of RAM, and a 512GB SSD, and 3840 x 2160 screen. I managed to find a 13 inch HP Envy at Costco with those specs for $1,099. Just to make certain that I was not making a mistake, I hauled my even-geekier son with me to Wilmington to make certain that I got the right computer for my needs. For comparison, my wife's system was a Lenovo 720 with the seventh generation I5, 8GBs of RAM, and 256 GB SSD. It cost around $800 with a touchscreen at 1920x1080 resolution. We got our two systems, both with touch screens, fingerprint sensors, and mine with the latest I7 processor, a 512GB SSD, 2GB NVIDIA GeForce MX150 Graphics and 16 GBs of ram for $100 less than one Mac Book Pro with an older processor and only 8GBs of RAM. Apple's laptop math continues to make no sense to me.
With a 13.3" laptop taking the place of my desktop, I wanted to make sure my ten-year-old Dell monitor was up to the task. My son took one look and said that it was losing its brightness. I took advantage of Dell's Black Friday's sale and got a new 27" Ultrasharp monitor for $395 instead of $595. All I had to add for everything to be complete was the USB-C hub that I discussed earlier.