When is a computer upgrade worth the investment? I will try and answer this question using the price of electricity. Welcome to the world of technology, where the allure of the latest computer hardware is hard to resist. Promises of enhanced performance and reduced power consumption make upgrading seem like the obvious choice. But, let’s pause and consider the cost implications before we jump on the upgrade bandwagon.

Electricity vs Hardware Costs

Disclaimer: This analysis focuses solely on electricity cost savings and doesn’t consider other potential benefits or costs linked to system upgrades.

When answering the question ” is a computer upgrade worth the investment”, why am I limiting to desktop computers? Is it because laptops offer limited upgradability? Or perhaps mini PCs fall into the same category? And what about Raspberry Pi? Its smaller user base and typical use in labs, workstations, or storage servers might not make it the best fit for common office or home environments. While all of the above are valid points, I have another reason:

In India, laptops and desktops reign supreme, with mini PCs (or small form factor PCs) only recently gaining popularity in the used market.

In this post, I’ve chosen to use my personal experience as a reference point, rather than relying on hypothetical scenarios. I penned this article during Amazon’s sale in November 2023, so the hardware prices mentioned reflect sale prices, indicating a lower Return on Investment (ROI). Keep in mind, prices during non-sale periods will be higher, extending the ROI timeline even further.

My Desktop Scenario

I’m currently using a highly modified Lenovo Thinkcentre Tiny M 900 desktop. It has an Intel i5, 6th generation processor (i5 6500T), with a 65-watt TDP.The computer has 24 GB or DDR4 RAM at 2133 Mhz, and 3.4 Terabytes of storage.My desktop runs 24 hours a day, with peak usage of about 2 hours for audio editing and 2 hours for writing. The computer remains idle for most of the remaining time, because my Lenovo ThinkPad is my primary workhorse.

I’m considering an upgrade to either an i3 12th generation processor or an i5 10th generation processor, both with a maximum 35-watt TDP. Alternatively, I might go for a comparable AMD processor. So, what difference will a 30-watt TDP differential make in electricity use? And what’s the cost impact?

If I weer to change the processor, I will have to change the motherboard, power supply, possible RAM (unless I get a motherboard with SODIMM RAM slots). In other words, my hardware upgrade cost will vary between INR 15,000 and INR 20,000.

Let’s assume the hardware upgrades for a desktop will cost INR 15,000 for a new processor, motherboard, and power supply.  The computer runs for 20 hours per day at optimum speed and 4 hours at maximum power. So, what’s the simple ROI in terms of months or years?

In India, the average cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) is nearly INR 8. This means that for every 12-15 hours of use, it costs approximately INR 8.

( Assuming desktop is idling for about 20 hours a day, and in use for 4 hours a day)

Crunching the Numbers

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario where a new processor, motherboard, and RAM are estimated to consume 100 Watts less than the current setup.

ROI on Electricity costs- computer upgrades. Blog post on computer upgrade Worth the Investment
ROI on Electricity costs only

If we consider power savings from processor alone,

  • Annual electricity usage difference between 65W and 35W TDP CPUs (running 24/7): ~260 kWh
  • Over 2 years: 260 kWh x 2 years = 520 kWh
  • Electricity rate: Rs 8 per kWh
  • So over 2 years, the extra electricity cost for using the 65W TDP CPU compared to upgrading to a 35W CPU would be:
520 kWh x Rs 8 per kWh = Rs 4,160
In summary, if you continue using a 65W TDP desktop CPU instead of upgrading to a 35W TDP CPU, you would end up spending an extra Rs 4,160 over 2 years on electricity costs alone.
however, cost of a new CPU is over INR 8,000. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t add up in favor in either scenario (processor, motherboard and power supply upgrade, or replacing the CPU alone). To make the computer upgrade worth the investment, I will have to change my work routine, or type of work (say, from audio to video editing), hypothetically speaking.

E-Waste Considerations

The rapid advancement of technology shortens the lifespan of computer hardware, leading to a surge in e-waste. In countries like India, where e-waste management is still developing, improper disposal can pose serious health and environmental risks. While hardware upgrades may seem cost-effective, it’s vital to weigh the environmental implications. E-waste, laden with hazardous materials, presents significant disposal and recycling challenges. Therefore, frequent hardware upgrades should be reconsidered in favor of sustainable tech choices, such as regular maintenance, repairs, and energy-efficient models.

Final Reflections: Is Computer Upgrade Worth the Investment ?

Is the cost of electricity in India a valid reason for computer hardware upgrades? It’s not a straightforward answer. While electricity savings might be enticing, one must consider the long-term ROI and environmental impact. There are alternative ways to enhance computer performance and cut electricity use without hardware upgrades, like optimizing settings and regular system maintenance.

As conscientious individuals and businesses, we should prioritize the environment in our decisions. For most individuals,the answer to the question “is a computer upgrade worth the investment” may vary,. For Businesses, it might make financial sense because of tax benefits on leasing or depreciation. However, instead of incessant hardware upgrades on a 3 or 4 year cycle, we can adopt sustainable practices like buying energy-efficient devices and proper e-waste disposal. These actions not only benefit the environment but also our finances in the long run.

Conclusion

When considering computer upgrades based on electricity costs and possibly e-waste generation, it’s clear that a thoughtful approach is needed. Potential electricity savings from hardware upgrades must be balanced against the environmental impact of e-waste. By making sustainable tech choices, we can minimize this impact while maintaining optimal performance and efficiency.