Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Would you like to Super-Size that monitor?

Say what you want about “Godfather III”, Coppolla got one thing right: that moment when Michael Corleone realizes that in spite of all his efforts to legitimize the family business, only to find out that his ties to the mafia will never be severed. Michael clenches his fists and exclaims in vintage Pacino gusto, “every time I think I’m out, they PULL ME BACK IN.”

This is how I feel every time I try to make a purchase in the world of technology. Whether I’m shopping online, standing in CompUSA, or staring out over a brilliant sunset while weighing the value of the Canon S3 IS SuperZoom Digital Camera, I always have this little voice in my head, repeating the same phrase over and over:

“Can I value size that for you?”

Buying anything these days is just a variation on the world of fast food. You can never feel comfortable with what you want to buy, because you always know that if you can just eke out a little more cash, you can score a much better value. It’s the same with cars, cameras, and hamburgers.

It’s worst with computers. Buying a computer is like being a fair weather Cubs fan: you can never pick the right season to get on the bandwagon. You’re not even sure there will be a right season.

Somehow I’ve managed to use the same Mac desktop for the last six and a half years. If the dog-year-to-people-year ratio is seven to one, the computer-year-to-people-year ratio is seventy to one. That makes my G4 about 500 years old.

So now I’m looking for a new model to satisfy my insatiable techno-geek needs. This time around I need a DVD burner, some video editing software, more hard drive space, and enough expansion capacity to assure me the thing won’t be obsolete before I get out of the parking lot. I’ve at least got to make it to my own driveway.

Pretty much anything I buy new today is going to be a tremendous boost over what I’m currently running, so you’d think my decision would be easy. However, the usual questions still seem to crop up: is it expandable? Do I need the extended warranty? What if I decide to run two monitors? What if aliens land and threaten my life if I can’t provide them a DIMM card with at least 512MB of RAM?

One of my biggest hold-ups was price. Even if I could afford to throw $1500 at a new computer, I didn’t like the idea of doing it. I may not be dating Kate from “Lost” now, but what if I had to buy her an engagement ring? One big advantage this time around is that instead of using a school loan, I’ll be slapping down hard cash for this chunk of hardware. I just didn’t want the cash to outweigh the chunk.

For a while I thought I had my winner: the 1.83 Intel Duo Mac Mini, checking in around $850 with the requisite RAM upgrade. Sucker is barely bigger than the Sony Car Discman I had as a junior in high school, the technological fossil equivalent of a Stegosaurus these days. It’s just the entry-level Mac, but even with such small size, the Mini looked like the winner.

Then payday arrived, and I was faced with the reality of buying a computer with built-in limitations. A geek-crisis followed, and now I’m thinking of buying a refurbished 20-inch iMac with a lot more hard drive space, speed, and a pretty flat screen monitor for $1200 instead. It sounds kind of backwards, but I feel a lot more comfortable spending $1200 on the iMac than $900 on the Mini. It’s kind of like spending $90 on basketball shoes you know are going to be solid instead of $35 on shoes you never liked in the first place.

I made that purchase last February.

Of course, the iMac isn’t nearly as upgradable as the Mac flagship, the MacPro tower, even though the tower costs twice as much. Still, it’s reasonable to consider that down the road the tower will still prove useful even if the iMac is getting ready for the Centerville DI shelf. So maybe throwing an extra grand or two at the MacPro is really the smart way to go. But then again, the tower doesn’t come with a monitor, so I’d have to spend at least $700 to get a 20-inch flat screen. Even though they just lowered the price of the 30-inch cinema display to $2000…

Looks like Kate is gonna have to wait for that ring.

Every time I think I’m out…