Making the upgrade

Andy Ihnatko, Macworld
14 August, 2011
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In a bid to both educate and entertain, I’m going to talk about the three different bits of hardware in my office that I recently considered upgrading, and how I walked myself through each decision.

Compact digital camera

Reason for upgrading. A maturing technology.

Last year, I did some work for a pal and he generously gave me his Olympus PEN E-P1 camera as a thank-you gift. I soon fell in love with the Micro Four Thirds system. I was also able to swap the lens on the Olympus’ body with Panasonic’s 20mm f1.7, meaning I nearly had the optimum travel camera.

One problem: the Olympus doesn’t have a built-in flash. Time to upgrade? Two years since the first Micro Four Thirds system models, I was eager to see how far cameras have come.

Olympus and Panasonic had made some upgrades: the new Olympus was much like the E-P1, but it had a flash; the new Panasonic was conveniently small. After a temporary dalliance with Nikon’s P7000 I knew it’d be one or the other.

What I did. I bought an external flash for my Olympus.

Why. I was hoping for a major advancement in Micro Four Thirds that would materially improve the Olympus, but I didn’t see it in the technical specs or advance reviews for either.

The clincher came when I learned that both cameras were using two-year-old image sensors. I want the next-generation component: the one that’ll allow next year’s Micro Four Thirds cameras to shoot gorgeous photos in low light. And, honestly, my big problem with the E-P1 was no flash. Sometimes you’re so enamoured with having The New Version that you forget that the point of the exercise is to solve problems.


Reason for upgrading. Er… it’s the iPad 2! That’s, like, one whole iPad better than my iPad 1!

What I did. I stuck with my original iPad.

Why. It’s not that the iPad 2 isn’t a huge improvement. Its CPU is a monster. One task that took my old iPad about three and a half minutes to process was completed by the iPad 2 in just 52 seconds. Whoosh!

Oh, yes, and the cameras and the Smart Cover and the gyroscope. I duly tested and wrote about it all. After I filed my review and I started thinking about the iPad like a consumer instead, I recognised all of those features as Nice Things that I didn’t really need. But the speed!

Yeah. Well, Apple does a great job maintaining iOS as One Platform. Any app written in 2011 and probably even 2012 will work on my iPad 1. In the end, the speed of the iPad 1 isn’t a handicap; the speed of the iPad 2 is a bonus.

MacBook Pro

Reason for upgrading. My current MacBook Pro is three years old. That’s like having 200,000km on a car. You don’t drive it to the scrapyard, but you know that it’s entered its Zone of Obsolescence.

My 2008 MacBook has an ExpressCard slot. In theory, it opens up a world of hardware enhancements. In practice, I wish it were an SD card reader. Plus, wear and tear is starting to show. The trackpad button no longer works and the battery lasts 15 minutes.

What I did. I bought a new MacBook Pro.

Why. I now have a CPU whose architecture is a whole generation ahead. Clearly Apple is investing heavily in Thunderbolt, too. If the standard takes off, my new MacBook will work with all of the new, high-performance hardware that’s coming.

The past month was a reminder that hardware should only be replaced if it’s about to stop working or if the new one can transform the way you work. Otherwise, you’re just being a dopey consumer.

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