in Friends, Technology

$4,000 Budget for 4 Years – What Do You Do?

Hypothetical situation 1 a friend is struggling with that could use some nerd advice.

The Situation

You’re employed at a job that allows you to, more or less, decide what pieces of technology you’re going to use with the following limitations:

  • You have a $4,000 budget
  • The $4,000 has to last 4 years


Disregarding all sorts of questions that this kind of question inevitably brings up (What happens if your computer breaks down? What if there’s a nuclear war?), here’s a few assumptions and limitations:

  • It’s a Mac environment. 2
  • Cell phone device/contract also comes out of the budget. Cell phone is required.
  • Mobility is important but not critical.(i.e. an iPad for mobility with a desktop computer is an option)
  • The ability to do presentations with a projector (projector already in place)
  • Let’s just pretend that taxes and extra cell charges aren’t included
  • The office already has a printer, network, internet, etc.

What I’d Recommend

  • 11″ MacBook Air ($1,199, 1.6GHz i5, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
  • 22″ Monitor to leave at the desk ($260?)
  • iPhone 4S ($159 purchase price, 3 year data plan $50×36 months = $1,800)

You’re at $3,418 so far and haven’t picked up any extra software, mouse, bag, etc. The 11″ MacBook Air, to me, gives you the best trade-off of a portable (i.e. iPad) while still having the full functionality of a computer. Plus the ability to hook it up to a projector or larger monitor if that’s needed is nice. 3

It’s a tough task to try to account for technology over 4 years. It’s good to think about and have restrictions – but $4k over 4 years feels a bit unrealistic for a modern office worker.

What Would You Recommend?

I’ve temporarily turned on comments below because I’d love to hear some discussion on what people would do.

Comments of “buy a Linux laptop with Windows 98” will be properly filed.

  1. That is not at all hypothetical. 
  2. I’m really happy you enjoy Linux/Windows/etc. & that you can save money by buying something with poorer quality components and more viruses. But I don’t really care. 
  3. Keynote iOS is nice but it’s not there yet for the average user who still wants more than Apple’s minimal vision for what presentations should look like. 
  1. I’d probably try and spend more for a 13″ but you’re spot on.

    3 years would be more realistic for something like this. 4 years is a long time in computing.

  2. I think you've done a good job on the spec. You say cell phone is necessary, but is a phone with a data plan necessary? If you can skip the data that would add more to the budget for expenses down the road like the SSD in that Air going dead a few days after the warranty period.

    Too bad the operational budget of the phone has to come out of the same pool as the initial expenses.

  3. A "dumb phone" could be an option – but the guy does a lot of texting so it's painful to see someone texting on a regular phone when it's so much easier on an iPhone/smartphone.

    In a perfect world – an iPhone with just a voice/text plan would be ideal. So I guess you could buy an iPhone 4 / 4S outright and just sign up on a voice plan. Save $1,080 ($30 less for the monthly plan * 36 months) but have to spend $548 on an unlocked iPhone 4. Not a bad way of looking at it.

  4. Man, I am in a very similar predicament right now. I'm nearing year #6 with my old MBP 15", and it's getting finnicky.

    I always assumed I'd need a new MBP as a replacement, but Daryl was bugging me about a MBA. I love the form factor (small and light) but I don't know about the screen size, plus the video specs on it seem underpowered. Do you have the 11" or the 13"? You find the screen real estate is enough? Do you think your hypothetical friend will find that the MBA performs well enough in its third and fourth years? There will no doubt be more OS and general program upgrades, which result in a higher demand on the hardware. He would hate to have to ask for an early upgrade, I'm sure.

  5. I've got the 13" MBA and love it for 95% of what I use it for. The other 5% I use a 24" iMac at home.

    It's certainly not a powerhouse for gaming/etc. but the i7 processor is just fine for encoding and ripping video – again, hypothetically speaking if one were to download a video and want to convert it to AppleTV format, it works really quick. Hypothetically.

  6. I have an 11" Air with the i7.. I don't think I could handle it as my primary computer – I'd at least need it hooked to an external monitor. But it makes for a great secondary computer. If I was going to spend anymore than a few hours a week doing real work on it without an external monitor I'd really suggest leaning towards the 13" – it doesn't weight much more and has a better resolution than most consumer 15" laptops these days.

  7. This is a really great blog post, Chris.

    After a day's thought, I would do $1849 for the MBP 15", and the same $1800 cell phone plan, leaving $350 for accessories.

    I really think the better video card will extend the useful life of the machine, given that many OS innovations are relying more heavily on using the video processor for other tasks. I also find the 15" monitor to be enough for me. It's not to heavy or too big, but I do realize it will suck to not have more desktop space that an ext. monitor would provide. Aw heck, I may as well admit that I'd want to upgrade to a high-res matte display for the extra $150.

    The other reason I'd want this machine is for the HDD space. I suffered with a 120GB drive on this computer for 5 years, and it was never enough until I upgraded to a 320GB drive. I'd rather not worry about which files to delete and have more breathing room.

    Plus there's the hypothetical chance that I may want to hypothetically play some hypothetical 3D games on this machine. Hypothetically.

    So hypothetical friend, choose this option, because it has better horsepower!

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