Bells And Whistles

One decision I’m facing when it comes to my impending computer build (no really, it’s happening!) is balancing budget with upgradeablility. I tend to approach computer purchases as investments; I’m willing to spend a bit more money up front so that they’ll remain usable for longer. Case in point: my current laptop cost me $1500 when I bought it in 2008, but it’s been going strong for just under 6.5 years. My previous laptop cost me $3000 back in 2002 (my family sold the piano no one was using to help cover the costs), but I used that fairly regularly for nearly seven years; in fact, I wouldn’t have upgraded when I did if I hadn’t decided to go back to grad school.

And while there was a stopgap surplus desktop in between the two, both of my big personal computers have been laptops, which as a platform are not known for their expansion options. With desktops, you at least have the option of somewhat rolling updates: a graphics card here, more RAM there, maybe even a new processor down the line. So I really want to take advantage of that possibility.

I’ve also chosen to limit myself to around $1000 for this build. The problem I now find myself facing is that while I can definitely stay under that budget, if I want a better choice of expandability options that tends to push me over. And honestly, some of the features are ones I might not even use right away.

The two big ones I’ve come across are overclocking and SLI. Overclocking allows you to artificially speed up your computer’s processor beyond the manufacturer’s rated spec. It strikes me as not only a good way to add some longevity to a build, but also a fun way to tinker with the insides of my PC. Of course, “unlocked” Intel processors (those that allow easy overclocking) are more expensive. SLI involves connecting two (or more) graphics cards, allowing for better game performance, especially at ultra-high resolutions. This of course involves purchasing multiple graphics cards (they have to be identical), but also requires having a compatible motherboard, which of course adds to the cost.

So that’s kind of where I am: the enthusiast part of me wants cool and awesome features, while the frugal part of me wants to avoid spending money on features I’m not going to use. But by spending that money now, I might have more upgrade options down the line, saving me money in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to completely future-proof my build. That’s impossible; I could spend $4000 and still need to upgrade in three years. No, what I want is to have a build that is “future-ready,” one that doesn’t leave me wishing I had spent just a little more money at this point.