How old is too old?

Photo of computer

By Matt Bentley

When do you replace a computer? What are the obvious signs to look out for? There is no simple answer, unfortunately.

A lot of it comes down to how frequently you use your machine, what type of machine it is, and whether it’s actually misbehaving presently.

If it is misbehaving, you need to figure out why, or get someone else to do that for you. Because if it’s a dying hard drive (~70% of cases) or failing memory/power supply (~3% of cases) that’s easy and cheap to replace. No problems there, and if you replace the hard drive with a solid state drive (they’re cheap now) it’ll be a lot faster too.

You can also get problems with minor peripherals and add-on cards such as network adaptors, keyboards, etc. Those are generally easy to fix or replace. If it’s a software issue, you might as well sort that out, as replacing hardware won’t necessarily fix the problem. Sometimes CPU overheating can be an issue, and that’s usually easily fixed. The only things which aren’t really worth fixing are problems with the motherboard (reasonably common in older computers) or problems with non-standard power supplies.

Once a computer gets to around 8-10 years of age, you can start to get issues with vague instability and flakiness, due to components such as capacitors aging on the motherboard or power supply. You can also get micro-fractures in circuit substrates over time which occur naturally due to the heat-expansion/compression cycle of metal. But I have seen 20-year-old computers running fine (running Windows 10!) and 1-year-old computers fail, so much of this comes down to luck and how often the computer has been used. Hard drives are similar – while failures can occur in the first year, I have had drives which lasted 10 years with reasonable amounts of use before failing. And solid state drives (the newer breeds) tend to last longer generally-speaking.

So should you replace your computer every 10 years as a precaution? Well, bear in mind that replacing a computer and transferring all your data and programs onto the new one can be non-linear process, depending on what programs you were running, whether you were using a different operating system on the old computer, and whether the old programs will in fact run on the new computer. This is as relevant for Mac computers as it is for PC’s – older, 32-bit versions of applications on Mac won’t run on the newer operating systems. You may need to substitute different programs and learn how to use those, or just stop using certain programs entirely. So while it might seem straightforward and ‘the right thing to do’ to simply replace old computers, that’s not always the case.

My general rule of thumb: if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. If it is, fix it. If it’s too expensive to fix when balanced against the age of the machine, or can’t be fixed, replace it. If it’s simply running too slow and it has a non-SSD hard drive, put in an SSD drive and optimize the software side of things. And if it’s not any of those things, that’ll need to be covered in a future article.

Got a suggestion for a future article, or a computer issue you can’t figure out? Email Matt at info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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