When do I Need a New Computer?

Sometimes I’ll get asked the question: “How do you know when it’s time to buy a new computer?”. Even though my job is technology and I’ve been pushing hard towards and am nearing convergence (goal is to have all television, DVD, audio, written work, and more in a single computer with a single large monitor and speakers) I am actually quite pragmatic; my main workstation is currently 4 years old and I have no immediate plans for replacing it.

I use my computer all day every day. As I type this I have 11 programs open: PhotoShop, Mail, iTunes, Safari (11 tabs), Adium, Address Book, Calendar, Clock & Track, BBEdit, Transmit and FireFox — and it is critical that they all work, quickly, and without crashing. If this machine was hindering my productivity I certainly would replace it, but the fact is, it’s fast enough and is stable as hell. It never crashes. It doesn’t panic under constant heavy load.

As a matter of fact, that is how I judge if I need a new computer: load factor.

I keep a little application called “Activity Monitor” (found on Macs in /Applications/Utilities/) running in my dock. It tells me how hard my computer is working at any given time. If I go through a day where the CPU is spending most of its time at 90% usage or more it’s time for an upgrade or a new machine. Servers can easily handle this kind of stress all day and night (I work with machines that do this), and a workstation certainly could, too — but at this point you start to notice tangible slowdowns in your applications which lead to loss in productivity — and that’s what this is about, after all: being as productive as you can for your dollar.

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