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.