Future Proofing: Spending less and getting more

 

Future proofing, at least when it comes to technology, is a philosophy that revolves around buying the optimal piece of tech at the optimal time. The overall goal of future proofing is to save you money in the long run by purchasing devices that take a long time to become obsolete.

But, you might ask, what exactly is the philosophy? Sure, it’s easy to say that its best to buy tech that will last you a long time, but how do you actually determine that?

There are four basic factors to consider when trying to plan out a future proof purchase.

  1. Does what you’re buying meet your current needs, as well as needs you might have in the foreseeable future?
  2. Can what you’re buying be feasibly upgraded down the line?
  3. Is what you’re buying about to be replaced by a newer, better product?
  4. What is your budget?

I’m going to walk you through each of these 4 ideas, and by the end you should have a pretty good grasp on how to make smart, informed decisions when future-proofing your tech purchases!

Does what you’re buying meet your current needs, as well as needs you might have in the foreseeable future?

 

This is the most important factor when trying to make a future-proof purchase. The first half is obvious: nobody is going to buy anything that doesn’t do everything they need it to do. It’s really the second half which is the most important aspect.

Let’s say you’re buying a laptop. Also, let’s assume that your goal is to spend the minimum amount of money possible to get the maximum benefit. You don’t want something cheap that you’ll get frustrated with in a few months, but you’re also not about to spend a downpayment on a Tesla just so you can have a useful laptop.

Let’s say you find two laptops. They’re mostly identical, albeit for one simple factor: RAM. Laptop A has 4gb of RAM, while Laptop B has 8gb of RAM. Let’s also say that Laptop A is 250 dollars, while Laptop B is 300 dollars. At a difference of 50 dollars, the question that comes to mind is whether or not 4gb of RAM is really worth that.

What RAM actually does is act as short term storage for your computer, most important in determining how many different things your computer can remember at once. Every program you run uses up a certain amount of RAM, with things such as tabs on Google Chrome famously taking up quite a bit. So, essentially, for 50 dollars you’re asking yourself whether or not you care about being able to keep a few more things open.

Having worked retail at a major tech store in my life, I can tell you from experience that probably a little over half of everyone asked this question would opt for the cheaper option. Why? Because they don’t think that more RAM is something that’s worth spending extra money at the cash register. However, lots of people will change their mind on this once you present them with a different way of thinking about it.

Don’t think of Laptop A as being 250 and Laptop B as being 300. Instead, focus only on the difference in price, and whether or not you think you’d be willing to pay that fee as an upgrade.

You see, in half a year, when that initial feeling of spending a few hundred dollars is gone, it’s quite likely that you’ll be willing to drop an extra 50 dollars so you can keep a few more tabs open. While right now it seems like all you’re doing is making an expensive purchase even more expensive, what you’re really doing is making sure that Future_You doesn’t regret not dropping the cash when they had an opportunity.

Don’t just make sure the computer your buying fits your current needs. Make sure to look at an upgraded model of that computer, and ask yourself; 6 months down the line, will you be more willing to spend the extra 50 dollars for the upgrade? If the answer is yes, then I’d definitely recommend considering it. Don’t just think about how much money you’re spending right now, think about how the difference in cost will feel when you wish that you’d made the upgrade.

For assistance in this decision, check the requirements for applications and organizations you make use of. Minimum requirements are just that, and should not be used as a guide for purchasing a new machine. Suggested requirements, such as the ones offered at UMass IT’s website, offer a much more robust basis from which to future-proof your machine.

Can what you’re buying be meaningfully upgraded down the line?

This is another important factor, though not always applicable to all devices. Most smartphones, for example, don’t even have the option to upgrade their available storage, let alone meaningful hardware like the RAM or CPU.

However, if you’re building your own PC or making a laptop/desktop purchase, upgradeability is a serious thing to consider. The purpose of making sure a computer is upgradeable is to ensure that you can add additional functionality to the device while having to replace the fewest possible components.

Custom PCs are the best example of this. When building a PC, one of the most important components that’s often overlooked is the power supply. You want to buy a power supply with a high enough wattage to run all your components, but you don’t want to overspend on something with way more juice than you need, as you could have funneled that extra cash into a more meaningful part.

Lets say you bought a power supply with just enough juice to keep your computer running. While that’s all fine right now, you’ll run into problems once you try to make an upgrade. Let’s say your computer is using Graphics Card A, and you want to upgrade to Graphics Card B. While Graphics Card A works perfectly fine in your computer, Graphics Card B requires more power to actually run. And, because you chose a lower wattage power supply, you’re going to need to replace it to actually upgrade to the new card.

In summary, what you planned to just be a simple GPU swap turned out to require not only that you pay the higher price for Graphics Card B, but now you need to buy a more expensive power supply as well. And, sure, you can technically sell your old power supply, you would have saved much more money (and effort) in the long run by just buying a stronger power supply to start. By buying the absolute minimum that you could to make your computer work, you didn’t leave yourself enough headroom to allow the computer to be upgraded.

This is an important concept when it comes to computers. Can your RAM be upgraded by the user? How about the CPU? Do you need to replace the whole motherboard just to allow for more RAM slots? Does your CPU socket allow for processors more advanced than the one you’re currently using, so you can buy cheap upgrades once newer models come out?

All of these ideas are important when designing a future-proof purchase. By ensuring that your device is as upgradeable as possible, you’re increasing its lifespan by allowing hardware advancements in the future to positively increase your device’s longevity.

Is what you’re buying about to be replaced by a newer, better product?

This is one of the most frustrating, and often one of the hardest-to-determine aspects of future proofing.

We all hate the feeling of buying the newest iPhone just a month before they reveal the next generation. Even if you’re not the type of person that cares about having the newest stuff, it’s to your benefit to make sure you aren’t making purchases too close to the release of the ‘next gen’ of that product. Oftentimes, since older generations become discounted upon the release of a replacement, you’d even save money buying the exact same thing by just waiting for the newer product to be released.

I made a mistake like this once, and it’s probably the main reason I’m including this in the article. I needed a laptop for my freshman year at UMass, so I invested in a Lenovo y700. It was a fine laptop — a little big but still fine — with one glaring issue: the graphics card.

I had bought my y700 with the laptop version of a GTX 960 inside of it, NVidias last-gen hardware. The reason this was a poor decision was because, very simply, the GTX 1060 had already been released. That is, the desktop version had been released.

My impatient self, eager for a new laptop for college, refused to wait for the laptop version of the GTX 1060, so I made a full price purchase on a laptop with tech that I knew would be out of date in a few months. And, lo and behold, that was one of the main reasons I ended up selling my y700 in favor of a GTX 1060 bearing laptop in the following summer.

Release dates on things like phones, computer hardware and laptops can often be tracked on a yearly release clock. Did Apple reveal the current iPhone in November of last year? Maybe don’t pay full price on one this coming October, just in case they make that reveal in a similar time.

Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to future proofing.

What is your budget?

 

This one is pretty obvious, which is why I put it last. However, I’m including it in the article because of the nuanced nature of pricing when buying electronics.

Technically, I could throw a 3-grand budget at a Best Buy employee’s face and ask them to grab me the best laptop they’ve got. It’ll almost definitely fulfill my needs, will probably not be obsolete for quite awhile, and might even come with some nice upgradeability that you may not get with a cheaper laptop.

However, what if I’m overshooting? Sure, spending 3 grand on a laptop gets me a top-of-the-line graphics card, but am I really going to utilize the full capacity of that graphics card? While the device you buy might be powerful enough to do everything you want it to do, a purchase made by following my previously outlined philosophy on future proofing will also do those things, and possibly save you quite a bit of money.

That’s not to say I don’t advocate spending a lot of money on computer hardware. I’m a PC enthusiast, so to say that you shouldn’t buy more than you need would be hypocritical. However, if your goal is to buy a device that will fulfill your needs, allow upgrades, and be functional in whatever you need it to do for the forseeable future, throwing money at the problem isn’t really the most elegant way of solving it.

Buy smart, but don’t necessarily buy expensive. Unless that’s your thing, of course. And with that said…

 

…throwing money at a computer does come with some perks.