Many people ask me, “How long should my computer last?” And I could answer rhetorically with “How long is a piece of string?” but that won’t satisfy. I can do better. Let’s go over some concepts and ballpark ideas that will help you plan and manage your expectations for your computer’s lifespan.
Things Fall Apart
Your computer is just a machine, with moving parts. Some components heat up and cool down. Other parts rub or flex. And even others compress and expand with daily use. When we consider a computer’s lifespan simply based on wear-and-tear, we can hope for 4 to 5 years under average conditions.
But that sort of estimate will vary from one person to another, and should also be considered as the middle of a bell curve. If most computers age out in the 4-5 year range, there will be some computers that exceed that and live to see their 10th birthday, and there will be others that fail to thrive and die an early death. (Thank goodness for Costco’s 2-year warranty on technology items!)
Things fall apart at different rates, due to other factors, as well. Experts guess that desktop computers endure wear-and-tear better than laptops, due to better airflow and the ability to keep cool. You may retire your laptop sooner than expected, because the various ports have worn out. You’ll certainly un/plug many more times to a laptop’s power and USB ports than you would a desktop’s.
And as components and ports wear out, the computer owner can certainly prolong the life of the computer with a repair. If it is worth it. On a young computer (<3 years), it may make financial sense to replace a broken screen panel, or have the power supply replaced. But once the computer gets into its golden years? It may not be worth the cost of repair. An expensive hardware issue may total the computer.
This can be a difficult judgment call to make. You can start by comparing the estimated costs of repair against the price of a new system. But that’s just a starting point.
Depending on the parts needed to repair a computer, they could be hard to acquire and/or expensive, due to age. Manufacturers often discontinue laptop parts after the 3-year mark, partly because they’d rather you buy another machine than repair the one you’ve got. Your repair technician can probably still find the pieces s/he needs, but it will increase your cost to do so.
Also, older computers have a tendency to turn into money pits. You haul your PC to the shop and the tech replaces the failing hard drive with an SSD. After that expenditure, the system still isn’t quite right. So you invest in a RAM upgrade. Better, but not quite perfect. Then, unrelated, the power supply dies and you have a new one put in. You review your expenses and wonder, Would all of these costs have equaled the price of a new tower? Should I have cut bait at the beginning? Just because a computer can be repaired doesn’t mean it should be. The money pit factor usually leads me to recommend people avoid sinking a lot of money into their computers.
Other Points of View
So far, I’m describing all of this from the points of view of the computer owners, and possibly the people who will repair your machines. Let’s branch out from those perspectives.
If your computer is a business asset, you may want to consider the tax liability of it. It looks like you get to depreciate and claim your computer for 5 years. I’m not a CPA, but if you have one, they may have relevant advice on this that will encourage you to move on from that 5-year-old computer.
Apple would have you think that their products will last longer than PCs. Debating that concept falls outside the scope of this post, but I have addressed that in years past on Facebook. But despite what Apple claims, they say otherwise in their Environmental statements. When assessing their greenhouse impacts and other metrics, they presume that you’re going to get about 4 years of use out of your iMac or MacBook.
CEOs and other big business leaders may refresh computers on a set timeframe, whether or not they need it. Many go by the 5-yr mark, but some do it sooner, on a 4 or 3-yr schedule. I’m sure this is done as a proactive measure, to avoid work stoppages and keep things efficient. If you have room in your budget and a need to stay productive, you might want to Be a Boss and decide when your computer’s lifespan is up. For the good of your business!
Most opinions revolve around the 3-5 year estimate for your computer. Here are a few last items to consider:
- Your wear-and-tear factor increases if the computer is in a very dusty or humid environment. Rough treatment and frequent transportation of a computer also shortens the lifespan.
- A computer’s usability can also be affected if the operating system reaches its end of support. For example, the Windows 10 lifecycle ends on 10/14/2025. There are plenty of computers that will be retired on that day, because they cannot be upgraded to Windows 11.
- I see a lot of chintzy and low-quality Windows computers coming out of Wal*Mart and Target. It doesn’t matter what brand name is on them. I know those companies are driving all of their suppliers for cheaper prices every quarter, and it leads to a loss of quality across many of the tech items they sell. So if your computer came from one of those stores, you may want to lower your expectations accordingly.