Rhodri Marsden: Cyberclinic

Is now a good time to for me to be buying a new computer?
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Established wisdom says that you get more computer for your money the longer you leave it. But is now a good time to buy?

Many of this week's replies cast doubt on whether it's ever a good time to buy a new computer. Catherine Mellor says: "There's always a new gimmick that we supposedly can't live without. But if your current system does what you want, why bother?" Mat Bowles agrees. "I've got a PC that was bought for £500 in 1999. I can manage websites, my office software works - what more do I need?" So the buying trigger for most people seems to be the death-rattle of their existing machine.

If you crave an additional surge of computing power, you could soup up your existing machine with add-ons, including extra memory. Some readers have, over time, constructed the equivalent of a Hollywood star after successive bouts of plastic surgery: improved results with barely anything left of the original. But the lure of a shiny new toy can prove irresistible; an old boss of mine would pay a premium for amazing new systems as soon as they were launched, even though he only used them for e-mailing.

One anonymous reader warns against the lurid offers in computer magazines. "If you compare specifications carefully," he says, "the cut price is what you'd pay for any comparable system." In addition, for power users and gaming obsessives, there's very rarely an optimum time to splash out. Prices fall, but the cost of remaining cutting edge stays fairly stable.

Some readers, however, are already planning their next purchase. "I'd buy just before the next Windows release," says Sarah Heenan. "Shops will be trying to get rid of stock - I once got £1,200 of computer for £600 this way." However, Mark Anderson from support specialists Somura says: "There's always something faster around the corner, so wait until you really need a new computer and go mid-to-low end; you'll be able to afford to replace it sooner." Sadly, Steve's advice comes one week late for Cath Rutter: "I just bought a stupidly expensive Mac, and Apple have now brought out a new range. I'm fed up."

cyberclinic@independent.co.uk

Diagnosis required

Next week's question is from Ed:

"At work, we've recently had access to various innocuous websites banned - including personal e-mail - with no real explanation. It's really irritating. What's the point?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be emailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk.

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