Charleston Tech Support News

How Long Should My Computer Last?

Today I had a customer ask me over to take a look at her computer for a routine check-up. She then popped the question – she wanted me to tell her how long it has to live. It sounds very morbid, but unfortunately in my line of work that question comes up quite a bit. The answer is not always a simple one either.

Every computer user has different needs, but not every computer is designed to specifically fulfill those needs. Furthermore, as time goes on and life does what it does best and steers you into different directions throughout its course, your computing needs may change as well. A journalist may take up photography and then their underpowered netbook they used for word processing and email is no longer sufficient to run a program such as Photoshop. A photographer may move on into the world of motion pictures and now their requirements to run an Avid workstation are a bit higher than when they were just pushing still pixels.

Back when I worked for MTV Networks we had a policy to determine the life cycle of a computer. Basically if the hardware failed after the 3 year warranty expired, we replaced the machine. If a machine didn’t die of natural causes, eventually it would fall off of our supported standards list and get replaced, so we didn’t have many machines older than 5 years running. This might be very aggressive for the average home PC, or it might not be aggressive enough for someone who’s whole livelihood is based on how fast a computer can do its job. The idea of such a policy is to minimize the downtime suffered by computers that fail in the middle of an important function (such as producing a live TV show). It is a good idea to create your own personal policy to address future problems before they happen.

Apple computers can tack on a couple of more years to their expected life because they really don’t sell budget machines. That’s right, if you bought a $300.00 computer from WalMart, don’t expect it to run forever. If you bought a $3,000 Mac Pro, well, I think you should expect a good six year usable life from the beast (but maybe only half that if you’re a creative professional who uses it to make their living).

OK, so let’s get into the math of this. If you own a computer for your home and you’re just getting online, checking email, and balancing your checkbook, you really don’t need a very expensive machine. In fact, I would advise you to buy a cheaper computer in this situation because if your path in computing changes, you’ll be able to jump into a newer computer without much of a financial loss. If you go and buy an expensive computer to do menial tasks, you might find that when things change you’re either behind the curve or your computer isn’t right for the specific job anyway. For some people, the idea of change is downright scary and they want their computer to run for 8 years. That is perfectly OK, just buy the more expensive decked-out computer because it will show its value when it is still running reliably after a cheaper computer would normally start to fail. Another scenario is the hobbyist or creative family who uses a computer to create home movies and store and edit photos and music. In that case you want a “prosumer” type of machine such as an iMac or media PC. These machines are in the mid-range of pricing and are great for doing said tasks. These are usually good for about 5 years before they start showing their age. See how complicated the question of life expectancy is? You need to figure out what your computer is going to be used for before you buy it, and what kind of return on your investment you plan to get.

So, what happens when you have purchased a computer that fits your need and at some point before the time you planned to replace it something breaks. Well, the decision of whether to repair or replace is simple now, isn’t it? If your hard drive fails after two years and you only had a one year warranty, and you planned to keep the computer for four years, then by all means call us up and let’s get that hard drive replaced. Now if the same thing happens closer to four years, you might consider replacing the whole computer instead of throwing good money into an outdated machine.

What do you do with your old machine after you replace it? Let’s face it, computers at the cheap end are becoming like cell phones – they get replaced so often that there is a stockpile of unused machines that are going to waste. Contact your local Salvation Army or church and see if they would like it. Most major manufacturers will also recycle your old computer when you purchase a new one from them. Just make sure you securely erase your hard drive or remove it completely before you give it away!

As always, feel free to contact us if you need some help determining your needs and what the best computer for you may be within your budget.