Since I build and buy serious computers for researchers, I feel like I have a rough idea about the costs of computing. A long time ago, say in the 1990s, whenever someone would ask me if they should buy some computer item, I would always say "no" unless it was critically needed. The reasoning was that if there was a way they could get by without it, the time they spent delaying would double the item’s performance and cut its price in half. It was always better to wait.

But for a while now, I’ve been feeling that this is just not true. I went ahead and plotted the numbers and, indeed, things are different today.


I took this data from the BLS Long-term price trends for computers, etc. It clearly shows that the value of waiting to buy tech gear has completely been nullified. Now, the trend looks like if you want some tech gear, you should buy it. You’ll enjoy a long operational life with it and it won’t be so dramatically made obsolete.

I’ve seen this in searching for upgrades to my personal computers and cluster hardware I manage. The main computer I sit at today was purchased in 2008. From Craigslist, used. I may have paid $300 for it and perhaps today I could pay $150 for similar performing (new) hardware. The reality is that power supplies and cases haven’t gotten that much more clever or efficient. The motherboards still need to hook everything up in a similar physical way that they did back in the 1990s. Storage is still descending in price/capicty but I treat storage separately anyway. That leaves the real areas for improvement in the CPUs and RAM and I just don’t feel like we’ve seen revolutions there. GPUs have brought some new cleverness onto the scene for those lucky enough to be able to take advantage of them (gamers, machine learning, molecular dynamics). I think the "TV" line is about right for what I’m noticing in monitors as TVs become monitors.

I can’t explain the audio equipment’s weird 2006ish drop. The cameras and internet seem to be pretty mild baseline tech trends. The real surprise for me here was the amount people are spending on software. As someone who spends almost nothing on software this steady rise in software costs seems pretty strange. Maybe there are subtleties of the way the BLS calculates these CPI metrics (well, obviously there are).

I’ve been thinking about buying some new hardware. I feel like at this point the good advice is don’t rush your purchase and don’t delay it. Focus on what’s convenient to your agenda and the price will remain stable.

UPDATE 2017-08-15 20:06: Well, that’s damn strange. I was using the 2008 computer I described in this post today and the neighborhood power went out. (Getting kind of 3rd world here with respect to power reliability.) I was actually shopping on-line for a new set of monitors at that exact moment since one of mine has been giving me trouble for a while and I just conclusively determined it was not the graphics card or cable, etc. While the power was out, I went out and bought a new monitor. When I came back the power was on; I fired up my computer and it wouldn’t boot! I’m pretty sure it was a motherboard failure or low power condition. So the day I write about how long all my ancient gear has lasted, a bunch of it dies of old age. Amazing. At least I have a clear excuse to buy what I need. I’ll have to choose carefully; I could have this stuff even longer!