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Future-proofing is a common term when talking about computers and it simply refers to making sure that your computer will be able to adapt to new developments years down the road.

If you’re buying a new PC (or even better, building a new PC Is It Still Cheaper to Build Your Own PC? Is It Still Cheaper to Build Your Own PC? How much does it cost to build your own PC these days? Compared to pre-built models, are the savings worth the effort? We investigate. Read More ) then you want to know that it’s not going to get outdated anytime soon, right?

But is it really worth the effort and costs to future-proof a PC? Considering the rapid pace of change in the technology world, can a computer actually be made future-proof? Or would it be better to simply replace your old PC as it wears out 7 Warning Signs It's Time to Replace your Old PC 7 Warning Signs It's Time to Replace your Old PC When should you buy a new computer? Read More ?

Here’s why you may want to reconsider.

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1. Not Everyone Needs Future-Proofing

The basic understanding of future-proofing is this: a PC that you buy now will still be able to run programs just as smoothly and efficiently — and be compatible with new technologies — a few years down the line without needing any upgrades or replacements.

Of course, this is open to a lot of interpretation.

future-proof-your-pc-no-gaming

First, the programs you run. A PC is more likely to stay future-proof if all you do is browse the web, watch some videos, and work on Microsoft Office. However, a PC may have trouble running new games at the best possible graphics settings or multiple operating systems simultaneously What's the Best Way to Run Multiple Operating Systems on Your PC? What's the Best Way to Run Multiple Operating Systems on Your PC? Undecided between Windows and Linux? It's possible to run multiple OSes on a single machine either by dual booting or using a virtual machine. Let's find out which one is best for you. Read More .

Second, “new technologies” is a vague term. If your PC ships with support for Wi-Fi 802.11ac Should You Buy A Wireless 802.11ac Router? Should You Buy A Wireless 802.11ac Router? 802.11ac promises blistering speeds, but many consumers are just now getting around to upgrading to 802.11n, leaving many to wonder if the new version is worthwhile. Read More  or USB 3.1, which is the best possible right now, you might be left out of the loop if everyone ends up defaulting to 802.11ah or the promising USB Type-C What Is USB Type-C? What Is USB Type-C? Ah, the USB plug. It is as ubiquitous now as it is notorious for never being able to be plugged in right the first time. Read More . It’s simply impossible to predict what the new standards will be in a few years.

Long story short, future-proofing is unnecessary if…

  • You’re fine with playing newer games at sub-optimal settings.
  • You mostly use your PC for Web browsing, email, office work, and movies.
  • You don’t care about having “the latest and greatest”.

2. Most Warranties Can’t Keep Up

If you’re spending on a top-of-the-line system, then most future-proof builds are expected to last four years or more — but that period is longer than what your warranties will cover, and computer parts will certainly fail Every Computer Dies In The End: Learn What Parts Can Fail, & What To Do About It Every Computer Dies In The End: Learn What Parts Can Fail, & What To Do About It Most computers develop problems over time. Learning what they are and how you can deal with them is important if you don't want to be paying through the teeth for professional repairs. Don't worry though... Read More .

Motherboards, processors, and graphics cards are the three most expensive parts of the computer What's Inside Your Computer: The Story Of Every Component You Need To Know What's Inside Your Computer: The Story Of Every Component You Need To Know Whether you're buying a new computer or building your own, you're going to be subjected to a lot of acronyms and random numbers. Read More . Yet, Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and their major partners only offer warranties up to three years max.

future-proof-your-pc-no-motherboard-warranty

The other major expenditure is the Power Supply Unit (PSU). Depending on the model, you can get a warranty up to seven years, but those are usually only for the top-of-the-line PSUs.

Funnily enough, the things you can upgrade most easily and most affordably are covered for a longer time by warranties. Hard drives and RAM, for instance, are usually covered by three-to-five years of warranty, but these are made obsolete so quickly that they aren’t prime components for future-proofing.

3. Technology Has Mostly Peaked

In some ways, processor technology has peaked. Unless you’re running a server or setting up virtual machines Testing A New Operating System? Stay Secure With A Virtual Machine Testing A New Operating System? Stay Secure With A Virtual Machine Read More , you don’t really need that extra horsepower any more.

Techspot compared Intel processors over eight years and found that, with a four-year difference, the new processor was only 32% faster in Excel, 25% faster in 7-Zip, and 17% faster on average when comparing gaming performance.

Furthermore, a two year gap between Sandy Bridge and Haswell “shows reasonable gains at times, but for the most part the difference is minimal” and “in gaming tests, virtually nothing separates the two processors.”

future-proof-your-pc-no-psu-fan

Things are similar in the RAM department. The baseline for RAM is 4 GB How Much RAM Do You Really Need? How Much RAM Do You Really Need? RAM is like short term memory. The more you multitask, the more you need. Find out how much your computer has, how to get the most out of it, or how to get more. Read More , and you will see significant improvements with 8 GB RAM — but between 8 GB and 16 GB, you aren’t going to see much improvement in real-world performance. The only exception, again, is when running virtual machines.

According to the current trend, manufacturers are making technology more power-efficient so that laptop batteries can last longer and PCs can draw less power. Concepts like Moore’s Law have run their course.

4. Future-Proofing Doesn’t Always Work

future-proof-your-pc-no-pc-cases

Reddit has an army of tech junkies Gadgets, Robots, Tech: The Best 5 Subreddits Gadgets, Robots, Tech: The Best 5 Subreddits You want to talk tech? Then you ought to check out these subreddits. Reddit is the melting pot for discussions and shout-outs, and these subreddits aren't for geek nerds only. Read More  who know what they’re talking about. In 2013, one Redditor asked future-proofers from over four years ago about their experiences and the responses are telling. Here’s a quick summary of commonly agreed-upon points:

Graphics cards, especially, are upgraded most often. If you’re a PC gamer, then your graphics card is not going to stay relevant for four years if you want state-of-the-art visuals. Some say it depreciates drastically in two years, so periodic upgrades are better than future-proofing.

Although it’s five years old, our article on what to look for in a graphics card How To Choose The Right PC Video Card [Technology Explained] How To Choose The Right PC Video Card [Technology Explained] Read More still holds true.

5. Future-Proofing Is Cost-Inefficient

future-proof-your-pc-no-double-screens

Old hardware is just one of the possible reasons that your computer is running slow Can't Stand The Slowness? The Top 10 Reasons for Poor PC Performance Can't Stand The Slowness? The Top 10 Reasons for Poor PC Performance Has your computer loaded this webpage yet? If it has, you’ll be halfway toward working out just why it seems to be running so slowly. There are many reasons for desktop and laptops to chug... Read More . If you are buying a new PC and you deck it out with top-of-the-line specifications, there is no guarantee it won’t slow down in the future.

Like the aforementioned advice about graphics cards, upgrading periodically is better than binging the first time. Instead of buying beyond your needs “just in case”, the wiser option is to get a system that meets your needs right now and save the rest of what you would’ve spent. Invest that money to buy stuff when you can get the best deal for it The Secret To Getting The Best Deals On All The Stuff You Want The Secret To Getting The Best Deals On All The Stuff You Want If you make frequent online purchases using big-name retailers, such as Amazon, BestBuy, and Walmart, then you probably know about the deal finding sites SlickDeals and Fatwallet. A little known secret is that all the... Read More .

In the Reddit thread, the best advice, in my opinion, came from u/crimson117:

With a $2,000 budget that needs to last 4 years you’d usually be better off in the long term spending $1,000 now and then $250 in upgrades once a year. Careful long-term budgeting (is more) reliable than one big splurge.The only exception is a computer that can’t be upgraded easily, such as a build for a family member who lives too far away.

Future Proofing vs. Rolling Upgrade

I’m sure many of you readers are future-proof enthusiasts, and I’m sure there are just as many who are against it. Are you ready to battle it out?

Give me your best reasons to future-proof (or not) and your experiences down in the comments!

  1. Divyank
    November 18, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    I have a 1st gen processor core i5 650 with 1156 socket 1333hz RAM, bought it in 2010 so i definitely think that whatever i should buy must last me until 2022.

  2. John M
    June 19, 2016 at 11:07 am

    If I could get by with a middle of the road i5, I believe it's a good idea to "future proof" with a better psu, mobo and cpu so I can add extra drives, hdd's, memory or upgrade the gpu and not bottle neck myself. There are also programs that get upgraded, and I'm not talking photoshop 9 to 10. Perhaps photoshop 7 lite was all I needed for the last 5 years but I want or need to upgrade to the full blown PS-11 because my casual point and shoot photography turned serious amateur with a 26 mega pixel DSLR. Over time adding programs, program upgrades, data, pictures, videos even Web browsing becomes more resource hungry and buying just enough computer to do what you need today will leave you wishing you had more in a short time.

  3. John M
    June 19, 2016 at 10:25 am

    I hate when people say it obsolete a week after you bought it, they have a very narrow view.

  4. Adrian
    March 7, 2016 at 9:00 am

    As long as you have a decent CPU and a decent amount of RAM, tweaking the machine for a long life is easy.

    I say this after my last two rigs both ran for more than 7 years of constant usage. And trust me I played MMOS.

    It's true though that HDDs, Cooler Fans and Power Units should be considered expendable.

    My last righ received an SSD more than a year ago and an upgrade from 4 to 8 GB of Ram DDR3 more then 3 years ago. Always consider small upgrades as future proofing... It bad to want everything from the start for more than 3-4 years.

    • Adrian
      March 7, 2016 at 9:01 am

      Forgot 1 thing: It also received a Graphic Card upgrade about 2 years ago as well. Never the top... just enough to give it a boost so everything remains comfortable.

  5. ringhalg
    November 12, 2015 at 7:40 am

    The problem is incompatible hardware. You can't use a Sandy Bridge CPU in the latest generation motherboard, the socket types are different. If you want to upgrade the CPU or motherboard, you have to buy both. What happens when DDR4 memory is released or there's a new type of PCI?

    Personally, I only buy laptops which are mostly non-upgradeable, but I do upgrade Desktop systems for other people.

    • likefun butnot
      November 13, 2015 at 2:35 am

      @ringhalg,

      You realize DDR4 has been available for desktop systems for over a year now, right? Haswell-Es aren't incredibly common, but Skylake is what's big for the upcoming holiday season.

      As far as CPU upgrades: Who cares? An actual CPU upgrade on the same system board is a vanishing rarity and insofar as it's possible, the biggest in 2015 will probably be more a result of shifting to a different product line (i3 to i7)than to a different CPU generation (Sandy Bridge to Skylake).

      At the point that someone wants to move to a new CPU socket, you're functionally giving them an entirely different PC, even if no other component is changed. That's just the nature of motherboard upgrades.

  6. Matt
    November 12, 2015 at 6:04 am

    When it comes to laptops, I always go a little extra and get top of the line in terms of cpu and max supported ram (not what the OEM officially supports, but what tests show will actually work, which is always more). I have used laptops only for years and I have always gotten 5 or 6 years out of them before I begin to notice any performance issues that are caused by newer operating systems and other software, whether it is Linux or Windows. My i5 Asus that I paid $700 for over 5 years ago is still just as relevant today as it was then. I don't game, but I do work with a lot of cpu and memory intensive audio software and I never have issues. I am also a tech, so I can open my machine and clean out the dust, which the average user won't do - so that is something to consider as well.

    My previous laptop was a Dell Inspiron with 3gb RAM and an Athlon 64 and I ran from XP all the way through Windows 7 with no issues, again using memory and cpu intensive audio software. My kids are still using that same Dell laptop for Netflix and youtube today and it is fast enough for what they do.

    Overall, unless you are a gamer, spending a little extra on new laptop purchases is not a bad thing and should get you years of life.

  7. fcd76218
    November 12, 2015 at 12:59 am

    "3. Technology Has Mostly Peaked"
    Sounds like a statement attributed to Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Patent Office, who, in 1899, supposedly said 'Everything that can be invented has been invented.'

    "4. Future-Proofing Doesn’t Always Work"
    When you come right down to it, future-proofing never works because as soon as you finish building the PC, it is already obsolete. All you can do is not get too far behind.

  8. likefun butnot
    November 11, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    As a point of order, someone who bought a first-generation (Bloomfield) Core i system in Q4 2008(!) still has a completely usable PC in Q4 2015. An 8-thread i7 920 is in most respects the equal of a ~2014 4-thread Ivy Bridge i3 4360 from a performance standpoint. The i3 is around 50% faster on a per-thread basis, but given the six year age difference and the the fact that the old guy supports twice as many threads, it's a surprisingly strong showing.

    That old i7 can use the same RAM and peripherals available to the contemporary i3 and it would be very hard to distinguish the two systems in most subjective respects, given identical graphics hardware and disk subsystems.

    ... which really goes to show how completely ridiculous Core i is in general and specifically how ridiculous i7s have been through the entire duration of the product line.

    • Armstrong01
      January 30, 2016 at 6:06 pm

      Thanks for the interesting comment. In what way do you mean i7s are ridiculous - that they are worth buying because their performance, the hyperthreading will demolish the future?

  9. null
    November 11, 2015 at 6:27 pm

    Laptops lack the option to change out CPUs and gpus in exchange for portability. Just buy a new one.

  10. Jon Glass
    November 11, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    I think this only counts for desktops. What to do with laptops?

    • likefun butnot
      November 11, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      @Jon Glass,

      Laptops are functionally disposable. Laptops sold on the basis of high end performance characteristics, particularly if there's some sort of graphics hardware involved, are even more disposable.

      The features that make a computer a desirable performance system are antithetical to portable computing; fast CPUs and GPUs generate huge amounts of waste heat, which will shorten the life of an attached battery and basically any other component in close proximity. Cooling involves elaborate engineering of coolant media, be it a metal surface, air or liquid.

      It's my experience that high end notebooks live exactly as long as their cooling subsystem lasts.

      The takeaway from this is to not bother buying more performance than you need.

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