Sweet Spot

Technology is moving so quickly that many products that are top of the line today are often middle of the road within a couple of months. This also means that the prices drop as an item travels down the product line and is superseded by a superior model. So how do you know what to buy, and when?

This regular new section in the magazine made its debut in the December 2002 issue and is designed to complement the Best Buys in assisting you to make your personal or business hardware purchases. Sweet Spot will be a component-based series of tables, starting off with current Motherboards, CPUs, System RAM and Graphics Cards. Other components will be added to Sweet Spot tables in subsequent issues to make your selection more comprehensive.

Sweet Spot example

To give you an idea of how Sweet Spot works, we’ve prepared this example. In this case we discuss CPUs but the same approach applies to other components.

You have outlined your PC needs to a techie friend, who recommends that you purchase either an Intel Pentium 4 processor or an AMD Athlon XP processor on which to base your PC -- and now you need to make a decision.

The trouble is there are currently seven models in the Pentium 4 line-up, ranging from the 1.7GHz to the 2.8GHz. Prices range roughly from just under $300 for the 1.7GHz to around $1200 for the 2.8GHz. There are eight models of AMD Athlon XP processor, from the XP 1600+ to the XP2600+, priced from well under $200 for the XP 1600+ up to around $800 for the XP 2600+.

The dilemma

Irrespective of whether you have chosen to go with Intel or AMD, you now need to choose which processor you want. It is a forgone conclusion that with almost all IT purchases, the highest-priced product within a product line will likely be the top-of-the-line model with the best available performance and features. In the processor example, these are the 2.8GHz Pentium 4 and the Athlon XP 2600+. If you can afford the top-of-the-line product, then you have no problem. If you can’t or don’t want to opt for the top product, then which product should you buy?

The solution

1. Using the top-of-the-line processors as benchmarks, we know that performance will drop as we travel down the processor chain.
2. We know that the price of the processors will drop in increments within the range until a price equalling roughly 25 per cent of the price of the top product is reached.
3. We know that the price differences between models within the same range don’t reflect differences in performance and features. In other words, a CPU that is half the price of the top-of-the-line model does not offer half the performance, but much more.

Therefore, somewhere among the remaining models within these two processor ranges is a model that provides close to the maximum performance and features of the top-of-the-line product for a substantially lower price than the top-of-the-line product. This is the model line’s Sweet Spot.