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The rapid advancement of technology has made our computers smaller, tablets faster, and mobile phones more powerful, allowing us to travel, work, and communicate like no other time in history. And no matter what Moore says, it seems like those advancements are happening faster than our wallets (and perceptions) can keep up with. We don’t want to waste our money or carry around obsolete gadgets so many people, frequent travelers or not, often ask the same question. When do you really need to upgrade your travel gadgets?

various tabletsDepending On Your Devices, It Depends

My general rule and recommendation when purchasing new computer hardware is to buy secondhand, one full model, prior to the latest on sale. This not only helps insulate you from potential hardware bugs that a manufacturer has yet to sort out, but can save you money without compromising computing power. One “model” cycle can mean many things for different devices and companies but it simple terms – it’s when the guts of a device are overhauled and upgraded.

For example, the latest iPad 4 is a tweak upon the iPad 3, with minor changes and an newer computer processor inside. You want to upgrade when you need to, not simply because a new model has been released.

Companies often released tweaks or reuse parts from other members of their product line in order to release updates once or twice a year (i.e. the iPad Mini which is essentially an iPad 2 with a smaller screen). Total overhauls – true upgrades – often roll along once every 18 months or so. A good way to estimate when an upcoming major upgrade will be released is to look at a given manufacturer’s past version cycle. Wiki pages about various hardware (i.e. Windows laptops) will have dates and changes, giving you a good feel about what might be coming up next and when.

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Good Things Come In Two

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For upgrades, you generally want to think about doing so about 2 complete model cycles behind a new product release. The reason isn’t that the metal in your hand ages or becomes obsolete, but that software advancements (taking advantage of faster processors) begins leaving laptops, mobile phones, and other gadgets in the past. You’ve probably noticed how your devices “slow down” over time. Really, what you are seeing is software that’s meant to run on newer machines struggling to run on the equipment you own.

Also, more complex machines, specifically laptops, can be upgraded gradually – such as installing more memory – extending their lifespan and saving you from having to buy a completely new machine. When feasible, maxing out any (RAM) memory upgrades can add a year or two to the time when you’ll realistically need a new laptop.

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Know What You’re Paying For

Don’t forget, while most of us are rooting for faster, sleeker gadgets, manufacturers ofter release new products with slight improvements simply to make more money. Updates that occur quickly one after the other are usually more in the interest of bottom lines rather than breakthroughs in hardware development. Of course you can upgrade as often as you like and your budget will allow, but in the end, the key is knowing the difference between a luxury rather than necessity.