PCs

Use these four questions to determine how often to replace Mac workstations

Erik Eckel has some rules of thumb about how often an organization should replace its Mac hardware. Use the answers to these four questions to help you focus in on your requirements.

It's a question with which enterprise administrators, managers, CIOs and even finance types struggle: how often should Mac workstations be replaced? Unfortunately, the answer depends upon several factors. There's no one magical formula that will work for everyone.

Typically it's fair to say that support costs for a system from years four through six will exceed the costs of a new machine. The older a system, the higher the likelihood components will begin failing. Even if components don't fail, subjected to four or more years of users installing unnecessary applications, programs and utilities, combined with the inevitable onslaught of patch and OS upgrade management, systems begin slowing.  Noticeably.

As a result, enterprise administrators, often pressured by the suits in Finance, sometimes choose to add RAM to systems to try extending their useful life. Maybe they go a step further and wipe systems clean in favor of a fresh OS install. As a consultant supporting hundreds of companies and thousands of clients, though, I've become less enamored with refreshing systems older than four years. The process just doesn't seem to pay off. Too often I've seen four-year-old systems with fresh installs and a new memory upgrade suffer failed motherboards, hard disks or power supplies within six or eight months. Then, all the upgrade parts and labor costs become simply money that was thrown away.

What's an enterprise admin to do? Easy. Ask several questions:

  1. How critical is a system's uptime? If an organization just can't afford for a specific system to be down, that workstation should never be more than three years old. Further, Apple's AppleCare Protection Plan, which extends hardware warranty coverage to three years, should be in place for that system.
  2. How important is performance? If an organization is dependent upon a Mac workstation to perform demanding and intensive tasks, such as video editing, scientific calculations or similar operations, the system should be replaced every three years. Only by regularly refreshing such workstations can the organization ensure that motherboard performance, memory amounts and speeds, CPU capacity and similar factors are kept relatively current.
  3. Do some users require state-of-the-art performance? If some staff, such as those performing graphic or video editing tasks, require the fastest performance possible (as is often seen with many Mac shops), those users should receive a new Mac workstation at least every 18 months or two years. The pace of innovation dictates this pace, as CPU, motherboard, RAM and disk performance regularly increase. These users' old systems can then be passed down to other workers within the organization until their reasonable lifecycles are reached.
  4. Does the organization require a predictable and consistent technology budget? If so, plan to replace a quarter of the organization's workstations every year. Give the new machines to the staff that perform the most intensive tasks, passing one-year old systems to the next tier of users and on down the line. If 25% of an organization's Mac systems are refreshed in this manner annually, the organization will never have a system in operation that is older than four years. Budgets benefit, too, because costs remain essentially fixed each year with no tremendous spikes occurring every four or five years when it becomes necessary to replace workstations en masse.

There are myriad complex formulas and opinions regarding hardware lifecycle management. But asking these four questions helps organizations cut to the chase and ensure its business needs are driving enterprise planning and not other factors.

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About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

21 comments
Gis Bun
Gis Bun

You forgot: "How long will Apple support the current OS"? Do you have to pay every year [or so] money to upgrade the OS because Apple doesn't want to support an old OS?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

There's nothing here that doesn't apply to other boxes, including 'Wintel' systems. Why have 'Mac' in the title? Decent info, though.

WasabiMac
WasabiMac

I haven't noticed Macs slowing down over time with any significance as long as the default cron scripts are allowed to run and the user makes some attempt to keep the drive from being over stuffed. They will certainly seem slower compared to the new stuff, but I would argue this is more perception than reality. Also, we have very few hardware failures until well past the 5 year mark with the exception of laptops. I have an SE30 I keep under my desk to read old 400k floppies when people show up with them and it was used daily for 7 years without a hitch. The newer stuff seems to either fail in the first three months or run forever or until the hard drive fails which is usually five or six years. The main reason we update is to keep up with the requirements by Adobe. Their stuff is great, but it is always happier on the newest hardware it will run on. Maybe TVA just provides super sweet power to us and it keeps the Macs really happy. (Although you would think that would keep the PCs happy as well, but they certainly fall into your described pattern.)

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I need the exercises in hitting the Spam Button. So i never stop. Col

robo_dev
robo_dev

There is the issue of hardware obsolescence. In a nutshell, many macs simply cannot be upgraded to the latest and greatest OS. For example, a Mac G3 can only get to OSX 10.2.8, no further. Do you need OSX 10.4 for an application? Sorry, buy a new computer. A Mac G5 can only get to OSX 10.5. My neighbor's old Powerbook G4 laptop can only run OSX 10.4, not 10.5 or later. Macs tend to be very stable and reliable, and part of the reason is that the OS and the hardware were developed and tested by the same people, under the same roof. But from a long-term asset management perspective, it's these obsolescence issues that are a big factor in hardware replacement. People want and need the latest software, and if the computer won't run the latest and greatest, you buy a new one that does.

spuy767
spuy767

Got a 2006 Mac Pro Quad 3.0GHz XEON, with the Exception of Adding an insane amount of Memory, 16GB, and shoehorning a PC 4870 into the GPU slot, I've done nothing to the machine and it's still faster than most new PC's. Contrast it to the Bargain Basement PC's that i'm generally cobbling together for people, and over its lifespan, it starts to look a lot less expensive.

wacker
wacker

The general consensus is that newer Macs will not last as long as their yesteryear counterparts & the price to replace out of warranty parts (logic boards for example) is prohibitive..

seanferd
seanferd

I thought you said spool.

Jaqui
Jaqui

a spoon, Monty Python style. :D

Jaqui
Jaqui

I would rather kill them for real, with a rusty spoon.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Particularly if I use a sword and their is blood and screaming and stuff. Makes me feel warm and happy inside. Carmageddon was such an awesome series.... So much blood...

Jaqui
Jaqui

I just never really got into games. well, not playing them at least.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I hate console gaming.

Jaqui
Jaqui

just spent the $15.00 US to be able to install elive. a GNU/Linux distro using E17 desktop and it looks / feels like osx. [ GNOME is macos classic in look / feel ] then you can have 75% of the bad mac ui design and be even further ahead of the mac fanbois. :D

Jaqui
Jaqui

ahh, you must be a windows "fanboi" ;) it would be a huge step backwards for me to go mac. :D [ admitted Linux fanboi here :D ]

Slayer_
Slayer_

I can't either, all that money to end up just slightly behind where I am now...