Monday, June 4, 2007

Depreciation blues - cars or computers?

Seems that someone in Silicon Valley has bought an old Cray Y-MP to use as a kids climbing frame in their house. Original 1988 price was listed as being approx. $5m, but the knock-down bargain "once in a lifetime Sunday special" figure they paid for it wasn't given. Regardless, it seems reasonable to assume that there must have been a big chunk of depreciation built into the deal or else these are people with enough Google pre-IPO stock to wallpaper a bedroom with.

By way of comparison, I tried to figure out how much a car with similar credentials might go down over that period. Seems to me a top Mercedes sports car might fit the bill - fast, well engineered and with a specific purpose in mind, but not something that will achieve a rebound in valuation because it's a classic like a Ferrari or a Lambo say.

The 560 SL, a 2 door roadster, cost approx. $61,000 list price in 1988 and on the used market I found one, in average nick, for about $10,000. Allowing for taxes and extras, let's say the original price was therefore $70k and you got $10k back for it 19 years on. All-in-all, a depreciation of around 86% then.

By that measure, the Cray should have been $700,000 which, with the caveat above about Google stock, I'm willing to bet it wasn't! A few k at most I'd guess.

Therefore, the overall conclusion has to be that I'm better off buying a new car than a new high-end computer. Excellent - just the answer I was looking for! Isn't maths a wonderful thing?

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