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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Upgrade Game

Keeping your gear up to date is part of the business of being a professional in the digital age. The decision on when and how to upgrade comes down to determining how to make the most of what you have.

The Upgrade Game For some components, you may feel pressure to upgrade at certain intervals. The best example of this is the computer you use for your digital imaging work. While it may be the fastest machine out there when you buy it, over time it will start to seem slow by comparison. Part of this is just a perception issue, as over time we tend to gradually feel the same performance simply isn't good enough anymore. This is made worse as your skills operating the computer and software improve and you start to recognize situations when you're waiting for the computer instead of the other way around. Also, each new software release tends to put new demands on computer hardware, calling for greater processing power, more memory, faster-performing and higher-capacity hard drives and more.

While we're often anxious to get the latest updates, sometimes it makes sense to be patient. You've probably heard stories about glitches with new camera models, bugs in software or operating systems, and other issues that might make you regret being first in line to buy a new product. By waiting a little while, you can get a better sense of any problems affecting the new update and possibly wait until a firmware or software fix is issued to resolve any such concerns. There are also bundling issues to consider with some upgrades. For example, when a new operating system is announced, it can be sensible to wait until you need a new computer so you can buy one with the new operating system pre-loaded rather than performing the upgrade yourself.

The Digital Darkroom

The computer you use for your digital imaging work is often seen as a focal point in your digital workflow. In fact, there's a good chance you spend more time working on images on your computer than you do capturing them in the first place. We certainly notice when our computer isn't performing as quickly as we'd like (but, then again, have you ever truly felt a computer was fast enough?).

When you decide the time has come to upgrade your computer, the first decision you need to make is whether to upgrade your existing computer by adding or replacing components or buy a new computer (though for laptops it's almost always best to replace, as there aren't as many upgrade options). The right choice depends on the specifications of your current computer. If it has a fast processor and hard drive, and only needs some additional memory to get up to speed, it probably makes sense to upgrade. If such an upgrade would only be a stopgap measure to tide you over to your next computer, it might be time to replace the whole computer.

Replacing components is attractive because it's less expensive than buying a whole new computer, but if you consider all the components you'd need to replace in order to get the benefits offered by a brand-new machine, you may find the savings aren't there. Most photographers end up replacing their computer about every two years, so use that as a rough benchmark to help you make your decision as well.


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