Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Cost difference? Off-the-shelf versus TCO

(Also published in PWAC Contact, newsletter for the Professional Writers Association of Canada)

I rely heavily on my computer. Besides writing, I use it for research, billing, taking care of my business and so forth – to say nothing of the entertainment value I (ahem) sometimes glean from it.

As my Dell Dimension desktop crept towards five years of age last year, I had to look at my options. Even though I got the mid-range model, capable of accepting more drives and cards, it maxed out at one GB of RAM. Installing Office 2007 pretty much sealed the Dell’s fate – time to look for a replacement.

Fortunately, knowing what I know (I write about technology for both businesses and periodicals) helped me avoid the most common trap non-techie computer buyers fall into:

They evaluate their choices based on advertised, off-the-shelf prices instead of the more realistic total cost of ownership.

Off-the-shelf is easy to understand. Pick up any electronics store flyer and those “low” prices leap off the page, dwarfing the small print that, all too often, does NOT fully explain what you get for those prices.

Total cost of ownership (TCO) takes a little more time to figure out, especially because of the still all-too-arcane knowledge necessary to understand the differences between computers.

So let’s look at TCO from a consultant’s point of view. Say, for instance, that a consultant charges $50.00 per hour. This consultant will buy either computer A for $500.00 or computer B for $1,200.00. The difference: $700.00.

Or: 14 billable hours ($700.00 divided by $50.00 per hour).

At what point does a cheaper computer become more expensive? In the example above, that happens when the consultant, having opted for the $500.00 computer, has accumulated 14 downtime/“slowtime” hours (and related grief) that the $1,200 computer would not have caused.

Computers may become unavailable to their owners for a time, thanks to things like malware infections and faulty hardware. They might even require support of the paid variety, which also eats into the shelf price difference.

Day-to-day, malware scans and real-time protection slow down computers on which malware protection suites run. (If you use any version of Windows, you probably know what I’m talking about.)

One other thing: given the increasingly graphic/video nature of computing, only mid- to high-end computers deliver the kind of performance most people find satisfactory.

The point: if you rely on your computer, make sure you get a computer you can rely on. Doing otherwise could cost you.

If you’re in the market for a computer right now, check out some of the most recent reviews and comparisons published on the web via the links below. And watch for a future blog entry, where I’ll attempt a brief, clear computer buying guide.

PC Magazine Annual Reader Satisfaction Survey reviews

“Cheap Laptop Reviews” (actually a bunch of reviews listed in one place)