Expensive Computers are Worth the Price

You should not be afraid to spend lots of money on a computer. All too often developers skimp on their computers. They balk at high price tags and try to save money by buying a less expensive model.

For example: A Samsung NC20 goes for around $500. A completely maxed-out 11.6” MacBook Air costs $1500. Most people look at those two prices and think, “Wow, I could save $1,000 by taking a small hit in performance and features.” Or worse, “$1500 is too much money for a computer.” That is the wrong way to think about it.

Here’s why: According to RescueTime, I average 10 hours a day on my laptop. Assuming I upgrade every 18 months, that’s 5,400 hours of use. Amortized over its life, a $1,500 laptop costs me 28 cents per hour. A $500 laptop would be 9 cents per hour. The important factor I haven’t mentioned yet is the amount of value I can create per hour. Let’s be extremely pessimistic and say I create $5 worth of value per hour on average. Let’s also say the $1500 laptop makes me 10% more efficient than the $500 laptop. That means I would create $5.50 worth of value each hour on the expensive laptop. Subtracting the amortized cost of the expensive laptop still leaves me with an extra 31 cents per hour.

The expensive laptop costs 3x as much and only improves my performance by 10%, but it still comes out ahead purely for economic reasons. This is because the amount of value you extract or create using a computer is much greater than the hourly cost of that computer. I’m not even factoring in more subjective things like ease-of-use or aesthetics. You shouldn’t be worried about spending too much on your computer. You should be worried about not spending enough!

I’ve followed my own advice here and bought a maxed-out 11” MacBook Air. I’m using it as my sole development machine. It’s amazing.

OK, I admit it. This entire post was just an excuse to brag about my MacBook Air.

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