Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Why bother upgrading?

My office is having new windows put in (at last!) which will mean its no longer unbearably cold in winter (yay) or unbearably hot in summer (yay), so I am currently sat at a laptop, researching the current state of abortion legislation in the USA for Democracy 4.


The laptop I’m typing this on is a nice shiny Asus Intel core i7 laptop. To be precise, its an Asus zenbook ux303ua i7-6500 12GB RAM, running windows 10. I mainly use it to surf, check twitter, watch the odd TV thing, blog and do forum posting, plus the odd casual game now and then. I bought it in 2016 for £767.

Its fine. In fact its great. It runs fairly fast, The screen is still fine, the keyboard still works, it doesnt crash, it doesnt lag. I had to reinstall windows once (repair from the existing install), but thats it, in four years of owning it. I cannot think of any real justification for getting a new laptop, other than the fact that my wife’s laptop is newer, and bigger, and theoretically better.

Four years might not sound old for a laptop, but it is for me. As a developer, I can get the benefit of claiming the VAT (sales tax) back, plus its a business expense. So no VAT (saves 20%) and effectively saving another 20% on the tax. Plus I LIVE for computers and online stuff, so its easy to justify a new PC at the most flimsy justification!

How Much Is Your Old Vintage Apple Mac Computer Worth? | TurboFuture

But…not any more. Its four years old and its an i7. Whats new these days? The i9? sure you CAN get them, at 4x what I paid for this laptop, but are they four times better? even three times? twice as good? Even a noticeable difference? I dont think so, unless you want to play an FPS like Battlefield V with HDR and so on, laptops that are used for work are basically very happy with an older, cheaper i7 or even i5 chip. Even the 12GB RAM is overkill tbh. I upgraded my desktop from 8->16GB and noticed very little difference.

I am not one to trot out the ‘640k is enough for everyone’ line. I am a developer, and my main PC is pretty decent (still just an i7 though), with an RTX card and a monitor the size of Texas. I get it, but most people are not software devs, and even most gamers are not playing super-demanding games. I am pretty sure I could play minecraft or fortnite on this laptop, even league of legends and football manager, so thats 99.99% of gamers covered right there!

I think we have reached a bit of a plateau where laptops are simply overpowered. The reasons to upgrade are minimal, and it shows! if I check amazon for just ‘laptop’ I’m recomended the best seller at £159.99. Thats hilarious. Laptops used to always cost a thousand pounds or more…

Asus VivoBook 14 X412FJ-EB023T - External Reviews

Its not only laptops, but many things seem to be going that way. I’ve had the same ‘smart’ TV for five years and despite checking regularly there seems to be little benefit to an upgrade there. Even my bleeding edge car (tesla model s) is from 2015, and the only possible reason to upgrade would be to get a slightly smaller one, or with extra autopilot cameras. Quite hard to justify even for me, a tesla fanboy.

This is actually *not a bad thing*. Maybe if we were better at designing economic systems, somehow things would shift from selling increasingly over-specced gadgets to the wealthiest, to just get ‘adequate’ tech to everyone. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world who would love that £159.99 laptop, or a modern low-power-usage TV, or even a decent fridge. The question is how to shift the focus of an economy in that direction, in a way that people accept.

I dont have any answers. I’m a capitalist, and believe in the free market, but believe it needs a nudge now and then. Maybe its actually a good thing that western tech companies have manufacturing based in relatively poorer countries, as at least some of that money then goes into the pockets of those very people who would be an eager market for the suddenly-affordable tech. Like everything though, the inter-relationships of that business model are all over the place. Should we really be shipping physical goods all over the world by container ship? what happens to the US economy when all the USA manufacturing jobs go to china?

There are no easy solutions, and even modelling some of this stuff in Democracy 4 gives me a headache, but I guess at least its a good thing that a really decent laptop no longer requires people to sell a kidney.

9 thoughts on Why bother upgrading?

  1. The i5, i7 and i9 are just brand names; you need to look at the model name after (e.g. i7-7700 vs i7-9700). They’re actually up to ix-10xxx now (10th generation). But they’re lagging far behind AMD at the moment in terms of core clock and manufacturing process.

    1. But are modern i7s much better than four-years-ago i7s?

      They seem to have switched to packing more cores in, which is of dubious benefit for games and the like, and reducing power consumption. The single core speeds aren’t shifting much.

      This site: shows the latest i7 is about 18% faster than a 6700K from 2016. That’s not exactly Moore’s Law level improvements.

      The next trend is actually to make the CPU less powerful. The next lot of Apple models where they move over to glorified iphone chips will need to rely on heavier GPU support to make up for the cut in CPU power.

  2. My old job had me developing on a Core-i9 and loads of ram. Pretty sweet. Especially for a project requiring multiple visual studio instances. Also if you have bad code and static analysis tools it takes a lot.
    My current job is using a macbook with vscode.
    I think the bigger difference is your ssd. If the memory load is slow, then it bogs down the system.

  3. The magic word here is battery life. AMD-powered laptops offer way better battery life and thermals, two things which always hold back laptops.

    Intel didn‘t bring much into the market in the last five years.

  4. I think RAM speed is probably holding back the performance of computers more than it used to.

    What could be worth the upgrade is faster SSD/XPoint technology that would boost overall performance at least until faster RAM technology is made.

    Still waiting for Memristor (Mem) technology to happen myself as this will fundamentally change computers as we know them think FPGA style computers with Mem tech allowing for the cores to adapt to the workload making the programs run as hardware as fast as possible.

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  6. I would like to upgrade to a lower priced gaming laptop but that’s still pretty far away. For now, my old Lenovo IdeaPad will have to do and it does pretty much everything I need it to do. It’s not great with games and it’s slow but it does well enough to play the Democracy series of games and other older games.

    Then again, I’m not a huge pc gamer so it might not make much sense to upgrade to a gaming laptop but there are at least a few games that I’d like to play that don’t run very well if at all on my current laptop.

  7. I had very different experience upgrading. And it did upgraded from i7 to latest i9. However I do use Unity and I’m making a semi-open world 3d game. My upgrade improved my productivity and working comfort significantly.

    If you’re interested in details:

    I always had an opinion that game developers should use best possible hardware for game development. Because powerful PC can significantly cut down development time and make game development a much more pleasant experience. At the same, while my PC was pretty decent, in 2019 it was far from bleeding edge. The main thing that was stopping me from the upgrade is the fact, that I wasn’t sure that better hardware will improve my workflow with Unity. There were some signs that it might not. For example, on my friends PC with overclocked AMD Ryzen 7 2700X, Unity Editor performance was virtually the same as on my much older PC with Intel i7 3770k . The second thing that was stopping me is the fact that I need to move to new and clean installation of windows and I understood that it will take away weeks of my time to install and configure all software that I use. Which looked like hell to me. But in the end I’ve decided to bite the bullet and build new PC. I’ve moved from PC with Intel i7 3770k to PC with Intel Core i9-9900K. I’m still in the process of moving to a new PC and reinstalling and configuring all software that I use is as time consuming as I thought, but I’m happy to report that it was worth it! Unity became much more responsive and performant. By my rough estimates, on objects with lots of components Unity interface is now 42% more responsive. Code compilation in empty scene became 3 times faster! Although code compilation, when my main scene is open, became only 25% faster.

    I also moved from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and so far I’m really enjoying it. It seems that Microsoft fixed almost all interface problems that I had with Windows 7, although DPI scaling still isn’t perfect, but it is much better compared to Windows 7. I also updated my main monitor from 27 inch 60 Hz Fullhd IPS monitor to 27 inch 144 Hz QuadHD IPS. But after two weeks of using it I’ve returned it to the shop and bought 27 inch 144 Hz FullHD IPS monitor. There’s several issues that I’ve encountered with 27 inch QuadHD monitor. But the main issue I had with it, is that I don’t have good eyesight. So when I don’t use Windows scaling everything is too small for my eyesight. Theoretically Windows scaling feature should fix it and for most apps it does. Unfortunately in Unity, even with 150% scaling there’s still some text in Unity editor that is one pixel thin. And one pixel thin text on 27 inch QuadHD monitor is too small for my eyesight. I also tried 27 inch 144 Hz FullHD TN Asus monitor, but picture quality was too poor, so I had to return it. 144 Hz is the main reason why I’ve decided to buy new monitor. My friend has 85 Hz monitor and even that feels much more smooth compared to 60 Hz monitor, especially in PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS. I’ve always was very sensitive to FPS and smoothness, being able to tell the difference between 55 and 60 fps. So as soon I tried to play on 85 Hz monitor, I knew that I will greatly benefit from a 144 Hz monitor.

    I didn’t sell my old PC. I will now use it as another test machine and probably as a retro gaming PC with Windows XP/7/10. By the way, for everyone who has more than one PC nearby, I would recommend software called ShareMouse that will allow use to share mouse and keyboard between two PCs, if both of those are connected to same network. You can even share it between MAC and PC.

  8. Yeah we take tech for granted… apparently apple mac’s are going ARM based! and win10 already has an ARM install.
    What do you do with old tech?
    I try to repurpose it, with linux.. a media center or server ;)

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