PCs

Five tips for deciding when to replace an aging PC

You may not want to part with a system you like -- especially if you've put a lot of money into it. But sometimes it's the sensible thing to do. Brien Posey lists some clear-cut reasons to retire older hardware.

One of the sad facts of life is that even the most high-end PCs eventually become obsolete. If you have invested a lot of money into a system, you might be reluctant to retire it even though the writing is on the wall. Very often, it boils down to deciding whether to repair or upgrade the PC (again) or to replace it with a new one. Thankfully, there are some signs that will tell you when it is time to retire an old PC. Here are a few tips on what to watch for.

1: Parts become difficult to find

You may have no choice but to replace an aging computer if it becomes difficult to find the parts that are required to keep the machine running. I ran into this situation in a big way a few years ago.

I work out of my home, so I have to pay for all of my own computer hardware. I had one particular network server that was getting old, but it still met my needs so I had no plans for retiring it. The fact that this particular server was the most expensive computer I have ever purchased made me all the more committed to squeezing every last bit of life out of it.

One day, the computer's power supply died. Unfortunately, the computer used a power supply that is now extinct. Even though the power supply was the only thing wrong with the computer, I had no choice but to replace the system because of the unavailability of parts. One thing made me feel better, though: Technology had improved in the years since I had purchased that computer. The replacement system was more powerful and cost less than a thousand dollars.

2: The PC doesn't work well with newer operating systems

Sometimes, you may find that an aging PC won't work correctly with newer operating systems. For example, I have a PC in the attic that was considered extremely high end about eight years ago. My guess is that the machine would probably have sufficient memory and CPU resources to run a 64-bit version of Windows 7. However, I can almost guarantee that no Windows 7 drivers exist for the system because of its age.

When you can't even get drivers for your hardware, it may be time to move on and get something new. The only exception is that when a new operating system is released, it can sometimes take the hardware manufacturers six months to a year to create drivers for legacy hardware. If you are having trouble finding drivers for a brand new operating system, it doesn't necessarily mean that your PC is outdated. It may just be that the drivers are still being developed.

3: Ongoing maintenance costs are becoming excessive

Another sign that it is time to replace your aging hardware is that maintenance costs are becoming excessive. A few years ago, I had one PC that was just a lemon. I'm pretty sure I ended up replacing every part in the PC at least once. Eventually, it dawned on me that I could have bought a new computer with all of the money I had spent on replacement parts. The next time the computer broke down, I decided to cut my losses and replace it with a new one.

4: The PC is affecting productivity

It may be time to replace an aging PC when it starts compromising productivity. In my own organization, for instance, I produce a lot of video-based IT training products. Video editing is extremely CPU intensive and can take a long time on an outdated PC.

Last year, I replaced the system I used for video editing because it was taking up to three hours to compile an hour's worth of video. The three hours I spent waiting on the compilation process could have been better spent recording the next video in the series. After I replaced the computer, I instantly became more productive because I was able to compile videos in less than half the time.

5: The PC does not support 64-bit

If you have a PC that does not include a 64-bit CPU, it is time to replace it. Right now, it is still possible to find 32-bit operating systems and 32-bit applications, but that won't be the case for long. There is wide speculation that Microsoft is going to release Windows 8 as 64-bit only. If this seems unlikely, remember that almost all of the Microsoft server products that are being released will run only on 64-bit platforms.


About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

7 comments
zaespino
zaespino

I guess you should follow the replacement guidelines in some cases, not in a general sense. We use XP P4's in our bussiness and replacing them for 64 bit-dual core-superfast pc's would be a waste of computing power for our needs, not to mention a considerable investment...

Ron_007
Ron_007

I agree with your first 4 points, but emphatically disagree with the 5th. All things being equal, just because a PC can't run 64bit is irrelevant. Not running 64bit could be a check list item for a new PC purchase, but not a driving point for replacing an existing one that is working satisfactorily. There are still very few 64bit only applications. If you have to use one of those apps, 32 bit-edness is going to be only one of the hardware requirements that the old PC fails. It probably won't have enough RAM (an app that needs 64bit, needs it because it NEEDS more than 4gb (ok 3.???gb of ram) that is supported by 32bit) and probably does not have an adequate video card too. On your 1st point as well as being faster and cheaper to purchase, if you could do a comparison, the new PC would also use less electricity (ie be cheaper to run).

jasonemmg
jasonemmg

At my place of employment most computers are over 5 yrs old PIII's. Most people do data entry (A/R, payment processing) work so there is no need to have a more powerful WIN7, 64-bit PC. Ownership/management have had their PC's upgraded with the past 2 yrs so they're good to go for awhile. We did upgrade servers recently to 64-bit Server 2008 or 2003.

grohs
grohs

But what do you consider old? 3 years, 5 years, 10 years? We have staff doing minimal processes on 7 year old computers. The program is slow to load, but once in, does not affect productivity. So many of the really old computers are real work horses in terms of reliability.

jasonemmg
jasonemmg

I have a P4 Xp Home computer that is about 5yrs old now. I do not play games anymore although I do some home video/photo editing the computer runs fine except that I recently needed to purchase a larger main HDD. I upgrade when needed and plan to continue using the computer for now.

johnm41
johnm41

If office workers sit doing nothing else while their PCs are taking 10 minutes to boot up then sure, they affect productivity. Let's all be honest and admit that the real holdups to better productivity are human-based and not machine-based. I'd love to justify spending our hard-earned cash on a turbo-charged Windows 7 quad core 'beast', but until they break, they stay!

unhappyuser
unhappyuser

We look at how much time is saved in a day and factor that in over a year (we've done actual tests). If the cost savings is recovered in less than 12 months then we replace the unit. Example: A computer that saves a Secretary ten minutes a day (include bootup, logging in, response of apps, shutdown, etc.) will save you roughly 40 hours a year (10 min x 5 days x 48 weeks). Figuring in salary and benefits the cost is between $700 and $800 a year. Depending upon what PC you buy (no new apps or monitor) your ROI will pay for itself within a year. NOTE: You don't have to watch the user work all day. Compare times on the items mentioned above on an old machine and a new machine. Rough estimate your times and then calculate the ROI. EMD

Editor's Picks