A Faster Computer: What is your Time Worth?

Intel 486 Processor Cut Away

Cut away of a microprocessor. Every 18 months their power doubles.

Seems that computers users are always care about “economizing”. They want to save money when it comes to fixing or upgrading their computers, but most times they haven’t considered that their time is more valuable than the machines they have. It isn’t hard to see why. They paid a bunch of money for a thing they can see and touch. It has a price tag and the value is easy to understand.

Additionally, people get attached to their computers. Human nature makes them always seem to act the same way:

  • They have a financial investment. They paid good money for this computer.  If it is broken, they want to fix it because fixing something is always better than buying new.
  • As bad or as slow as it is, they are used to it. Like a comfortable pair of shoes, their computer has served them well. It is set up the way they want and that’s just fine with them.
  • They have a fear of change and the things they don’t understand. “What if I buy a new machine and it is a dud?  What if I can’t transfer over all my old stuff? What if I can’t set up a new machine like the way the old one was set up?” And so on…

So when their machine breaks, or they are faced with the fact that they need a new one, it is hard to show the value of getting a new machine. The cost of a new machine easily returns their money to them as savings of time.

A new machine is faster and more efficient and is a wise investment when the machine is 4 years old

Time is MoneyAlthough it may be easy to think of a computer as an appliance, like a toaster or a refrigerator, it really isn’t.

A refrigerator, unless it has a major failure, will work just as well today as it will work in 5 years. Newer models may have a bit better energy efficiency and maybe the design is more stylish or comfortable, but the main purpose of the machine — keeping food cold — hasn’t changed.  It will take the same amount of time for your warm can of beer to get cold in two average refrigerators purchased 5 years apart.

A computer isn’t the same. A computer is doing work (processing information) that takes time.  Every 18 months, the speed at which a computer can process information is doubled. This means that work is done faster. So the question is, what is this time worth?

Time is a commodity that has value. As a person gets older and has more experience, two things are true:

  • Increased knowledge gives a person greater value in that it should take them less time to do tasks. A brand new employee at at any decent business where information is processed is not paid as much per hour worked as a veteran of 5 years. Knowledge comes from experience that only comes over time.
  • A cruel reality is that the older you are, the less time you have to live, and therefore the less time you have to waste. This means that even though you may not be paid for work in hours, your time is more valuable because you have less of it. It’s simple economics. If you have less of a resource that you can not replace, it is more valuable.

If a person’s time is more valuable as they get more experience, it means that they will make more money in a shorter period. Therefore if there is a machine that can do the same amount of work in half the time it should be very valuable. But here’s the interesting part:

A new computer is twice as fast a a machine from 18 months ago, but its price is not twice as much! In some cases the price is half as less.

So if a person can buy time that is more valuable at a cheaper price, why don’t they do it?  To me, buying a new computer is like buying a time machine.  Let me prove it to you:

Today I started to rebuild a 10 year old computer for a customer.  For around $100 I reload the programs that came with an old machine, making it as it was new.  I understand that they couldn’t afford a new machine. Maybe they would change their mind if they understood the savings.

Maybe I can explain this with numbers that represents the time saved.

I looked up the speed of the processor or “brain” of this old machine, and the speed of the processor of the cheapest new machine that I could find.  For extra comparison I also looked up a new machine which is a bit more expensive and more powerful.

Dell Dimension 5150

Dell-3000s 1233Here is the venerable Dell Dimension 5150 being rebuilt. It is running an Intel Pentium D, Pressler 930 processor at 3.0 Ghz. This chip was new in 2005 and was pretty close to the top of performance of all machines into 2006.  When new it cost around $600.

The processor is the the chip that does the “thinking” for a computer and the geek speak for the make and model of the chip allows me to look it up here, which is what I did. At PassMark you can find all the processors of new and old machines. With their specifications and compare them as “apples to apples”.

Then I went to my local friendly computer store MicroCenter and checked the “Hot Deals” pages for desktop machines. I picked the cheapest Dell I could find.

For just about $300 I found an Intel Celeron G1840 Dual Core 2.8 Ghz and for just a little bit more an Intel Core i5-4460 processor at 3.2 Ghz.

Dell-3000 i5Look at the differences in the chart below. The rating number is determined by a bunch of factors so it becomes a quantifiable way to compare the chips. The new machine with the Intel i5 Pentium chip for $550 is about twice as fast as the new “cheaper” machine with the Intel Celeron chip at $300.The new Intel i5 Pentium machine is 10 times faster than the 10 year old Pentium D machine that I am fixing up for $100.

Think of the hours that are wasted waiting for this 10 year old to answer your problems. Unlike people, younger machines are smarter than older ones and the money saved by understanding this can be substantial.

Next time there is a decision to make about either fixing up that old machine, or getting a new one, remember this example. It is difficult to part with money for a new computer when the existing one is still working or is “fixable”, but the answer may be to just replace the machine.

Be sure to take into the most valuable thing you have — your time — when making a decision between fixing up that old machine or getting a new one.