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Do I Need a New Computer?

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Question: Do I Need a New Computer?
The prospect of a new computer is always appealing; after all, who doesn't like the latest and greatest of a product line? Reality, however, often gets in the way. When money is tight -- as it is for most college students -- new computers are more of a luxury than a necessity. But how can you tell when you've crossed the line from wanting a new computer to really, actually needing one?
Answer:

Consider the cost. If fixing your computer is going to cost more than, or just as much as, buying a new computer, your decision about replacing vs. repairing is pretty clear cut. For most situations, however, it isn't so easy. How much will the cost of the repair be? Keep in mind that your final out-of-pocket expenses might include things like shipping and replacement software that aren't quoted in your initial repair quote. How much will a new machine cost, including taxes and software upgrades? If you trade in your old computer, will you get a credit? Can you use a student discount? Will purchasing a computer through your college, parents' workplace, or other membership-based place of business provide you with a lower price? For many students, too, time is their most precious commodity. Consider how long it will take for your computer to be repaired and what consequences you might face by being without your machine (and its data). While it sounds expensive, spending $200 to get that final paper off of your hard drive might end up being cheaper than having to retake the class for $2000 next semester.

Consider the functionality. Alright, so fixing your computer is less expensive than a new one. Will you have to end up buying a new machine in six months or a year, simply because of functionality issues? For example, if you do graphic design or run complex economic models on your laptop, you'll need the hardware to make sure you can keep up with current software needs. If you have to spend $400 to fix your machine but are pretty sure you'll need a new laptop in 6 months, it might be a better investment to put that same money toward a new computer.

Consider the long-term health of your current computer. One thing to keep in mind, too, is what things look like long-term in regard to the health of your machine. If you are constantly having problems with your hard drive, it might be cheaper in the long run to buy something more reliable. "The common computer component to fail is the hard drive, which stores all your data," says Paul Gabrielsen, a former Apple Store Mac Genius who now runs a computer repair and home theater installation business in the Phoenix area. Gabrielsen recommends something like "a solid state hard drive (SSD)," which "has no mechanical moving parts like a standard hard drive, so [it] is unlikely to fail and also can greatly improve the speed of the computer." Starting from scratch with something that's less likely to fail over the long-term might seem expensive at first but may end up saving you money during your time in school.

Consider how much longer you have in school. Your decision whether or not to buy a new computer can be greatly influenced by where you are in your studies. If, for example, you're just about to start college, buying a new laptop might make more sense than if you are 3 weeks away from graduation. Don't assume, however, that you'll be able to afford a new computer once you graduate or that you'll be given one through your job. For some students, it may make more sense to buy a computer after they graduate instead of during their time in school. Consider what you'll need your computer for, how up-to-date it is, how often you'll use it, and how important it will be for your daily routine both before and after you toss your graduation cap.

Consider wants vs. needs. It's easy to convince yourself you need a new computer when, in reality, you just really, really want one. Ask yourself some realistic questions -- and be honest with yourself when answering. What do you need your computer to do? What do you want your computer to do? If your current computer is fulfilling all of your needs, than buying a new one probably isn't necessary.

If, however, you do decide that you need a new laptop, use that college-educated brain of yours to make some smart choices. Gabrielsen suggests students "consider purchasing an extended warranty that includes coverage against accidental damages. Damage is the top cause of laptop component failure and isn't covered under the manufacturer warranty or a standard extended warranty plan." And, while Gabrielsen notes that "you can prevent damage by never placing drinks near your laptop and resisting tossing it around, especially when in a bag with books," it may also be smart to purchase some accessories to reduce the risk of having to purchase yet another computer because of damages. "Using a protective case or sleeve will add some extra protection," he advises. Because while it may be exciting to get a new machine during your time in school, things become much less novel -- and much more expensive -- when you start having to replace your computer time and time again.

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