The great debate: buy a laptop now, or wait?
With Intel's next-gen CPUs arriving late spring/early summer, and Windows 8 coming to new PCs sometime around October, it's easy to recommend that laptop shoppers hold off on any new purchases until one or both of those are available.
Or, is it? We've opened up the question for point/counterpoint debate, with Scott taking the position that you should definitely not buy a laptop right now, and Dan saying we shouldn't be slaves to a release calendar, and just buy what you want, when you want it.
Of course you should wait for a laptop. Isn't it clear? Intel's Ivy Bridge processors are just around the corner. Nvidia has a new graphics platform for laptops. Windows 8 may still be a ways off, but the underlying hardware is set for a significant CPU upgrade in a matter of mere months, which will affect future Apple laptops as much as Windows ones.
Sure, you can buy a perfectly good laptop right now...but why would you, when the benefits of Ivy Bridge seem significant, especially for integrated graphics? I wouldn't have recommended you buy an iPad in February, and for the same reason I wouldn't recommend you buy a laptop now, unless you don't mind owning a product that feels outdated by May.
If you wait, you'll get more computer for the same money. Plus, there's a good chance that some significant redesigns will emerge, with thin ultrabooks on the rise and Windows 8 emphasizing touch screens and larger touch pads.
The first thing you learn in this industry is that there's always going to be something newer and better (and possibly more expensive) -- and it'll usually be released just as you're pulling the shrink wrap off the gadget you just bought.
Case in point: on the very day last fall that Apple announced a series of modest MacBook Pro updates, a reader wrote in to ask if he should get the new model, or if an even newer one was right around the corner. My longtime rule of thumb has been: if you want or need something like a new laptop, just go out and get it. Otherwise, you'll spend your entire life worrying about whether something newer or shinier is about to come out.
Besides, the next-gen Intel Core i-series processors don't look like they're going to be as revolutionary as the last leap. Integrated graphics will be better for casual gaming, but they've said that about every Intel update for years -- and gaming still isn't great on systems without a dedicated GPU. And, Windows 8 has some fun widgets and different views, but how many people do you know still rocking Windows XP (hint, a lot)? It turns out that an OS update is one of the things a lot of people find they can live just fine without.
When you're this close to a new product release -- as we are with Ivy Bridge, which should hit somewhere between late April and May -- you'd kick yourself if you bought a last-gen model with less impressive specs for the same price. You get more each year, and not just in terms of processor: sometimes, that means more RAM or more hard-drive space for your money, too.
You can't chase new technology forever, but don't be stubborn and ignore an upgrade that's literally around the corner. I guess if you're desperate for a computer now and your laptop is just plain dead, go ahead. What's the hurry, can't wait a month or two? Newer operating systems and software have a way of eating up resources, and using them on new hardware, rather than installing them on your current system, can always help stave off the Spinning Wheel of Death just a bit longer.
Yeah, Ivy Bridge is reportedly coming in April/May, but only for the high-end quad-core versions. The everyday computers are coming even later than that, and who knows when your favorite laptop is actually going to get an upgrade; some PC makers take six months or more to roll out new models.
Finally, here's the unpleasant truth about most people's laptop habits. Today's laptops are more than enough for what you need. Last year's laptops are also fine. You can probably even go back another year or two before that.
Why? Because you're not doing genome sequencing or running a CGI render farm. You're on Twitter. You're sending a few e-mails. You're watching Netflix. Maybe you're playing the latest farm simulator on Facebook.
For years, people have bought too much laptop, and it's time we all stop worrying about specs, and start worrying about finding a laptop that works for your lifestyle, whether it's one that's easy to type on, light enough to throw in your bag, or one that just looks cool.
What do you think?
Should someone in the market for a new laptop buy now? Or wait for next-gen CPUs or Windows 8? Vote in our poll, or let us know what you think in the comments section below.