I’ve been there. Something cool – really cool comes out. It just sets of that itch inside you, that gotta have itch that only plunking down your credit card and installing that shiny new piece of hardware can scratch. Case in point: graphics card. If you’re a PC gamer like me, a new GPU emerging from the mists of NDA-land and onto store shelves sets off that gotta have itch more than any other PC hardware. You just know in your heart of hearts that the new graphics card will make your gaming experience 1,000x better.
No, it won’t. Unless you’re coming from really old hardware, a new graphics card will only incrementally improve performance. If your system is several generations old, you probably have more performance issues than a new GPU will solve. If you’re running last generation’s graphics, you’re probably in pretty good shape. So you should hold onto that credit card for now.
That’s not universal, of course – someone somewhere got a reasonable price. But it’s generally true. There’s always some pent-up demand for a hot new graphics toy from the fanboys who have been waiting for the next great thing, credit cards ready.
Let's take a look at recent history. When AMD launched the Radeon HD 6870, it’s suggested price was around $250, but you’d have to plunk down $270 or more to get a card for several weeks after launch. Now, you can find them for $240, across a variety of brands.
Here’s my general philosophy for buying graphics cards, painfully learned after leaving too much money on the table with online retailers: wait until the next product launch.
I don’t mean wait for the launch of a major new architecture, or even wait for the next launch from your favorite company. This is not a “wait one generation” pitch. After all, if you wait a year or more, prices will be lower. What I’m suggesting is that you just wait for the next big public launch. When AMD launches the Radeon HD 6970, they’re trying to you to develop buying fever for an HD 6970. So now is a good time to buy an HD 6870. Actually, when Nvidia shipped the GTX 570, that was also a good time to buy an HD 6870.
So you don’t have to wait for the next AMD launch to buy an AMD card, or the next shiny new thing from Nvidia to buy a new Nvidia-based card. Any big launch will likely mean better pricing on anything older – even if it’s only a couple of months older.
But most of the time, that’s not true. Now, does this apply to other tech gear, like CPUs, or memory, or hard drives? It depends. The pace of CPU launches tends to be steadier and more predictable. You can always know that Intel will drop prices once or twice a year, though you can’t count on Intel dropping its price on a specific CPU.
So that’s my general philosophy as to when to upgrade. My other general philosophy: never buy top of the line. I’m intrigued by the Radeon HD 6970 and the GTX 570 cards – not so much the Radeon HD 5970 or Nvidia’s GTX 580. In actuality, the most appealing card is probably the HD 6950 – it hits a performance sweet spot – near high end performance and under $300… after a few weeks to let the demand die down a bit.
(By the way, Loyd isn’t telling anyone that he preordered a shiny new Nikon D7000 the day it was announced. No, he won’t admit that to anyone. After all, it’s just not the same thing. Really. It’s not.)