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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Designing and Specifying PC Systems and Components | Component Specification Issues ]

Component Lifetimes and Budget Priorities

Every PC buyer--well, every PC buyer I know anyway--has a budget to deal with, a limit on how much money can be spent on the various parts that make up the system. There are a number of different issues involved in dealing with your budget, which I discuss in this section on requirements analysis. Whatever you determine your budget to be, you will at some point need to decide where to allocate your funds amongst the various components that make up a PC system.

This entire design section is intended to point out the various performance, capacity, expandability and quality tradeoffs you will have to address. Another issue you will want to keep in mind is that some components have a longer lifetime than others. This refers not just to the service life of the component in terms of how long it will last before it wears out or burns out, but also how long it takes until the product needs to be replaced due to obsolescence or changes in technology. For example, most system processors will continue to work for a decade or more, but they are usually functionally obsolete within about five years.

Here are some good rules of thumb for deciding how to allocate your budget between the various components in a PC, looking at issues of component life specifically:

  • Lifetime Length: The longer the component can reasonably be expected to be used in the PC, the more it makes sense to "invest" funds in it. Good examples are monitors, keyboards, mice and power protection devices. These are components you can sometimes use for five years or more and easily move from your current PC to your next one in most cases.
  • Cost and Difficulty of Upgrading and Expansion: The more difficult or expensive it is to upgrade or expand the component, the more it makes sense to invest a certain amount of money in ensuring you "buy right the first time". For example, you don't really want to buy a new system case, power supply or motherboard for an existing system because they are difficult to replace (and not that expensive to begin with). On the other hand, CPUs are easy to upgrade and memory is easy to add to an existing system.
  • Technological Change: Some components evolve much more frequently than others within the PC. CPUs and video cards, for example, have new iterations multiple times per year. Other devices may only change every few years. The latter type of component is a better place to put your money.
  • Interface Standardization: The less frequently that changes occur to the interface between a given component and the rest of the PC, the less likely that part is to become obsolete, and the more you should spend money on it.

So what's the bottom line? Hey, there isn't one. :^) I'm sure you realize by now that there are no simple answers, and I can't tell you where to spend your money and where not to. (I don't even know if you care about component life at all--many people don't.) I do know that if I take the various issues and put them together, it makes it clear to me where spending my money makes the most sense: good input and output devices that let me use my PC in comfort, that I can take with me to my next system, and that aren't likely to become obsolete in a matter of months. This applies especially to monitors.

Tip: For more on the subject of component life, see this section on PC repair.

Next: Component Revisions

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