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How do I know when it's time to replace my computer?


How do you know when your computer is ready to be replaced? Over
time (6 years) mine has crashed more and more frequently. It’s to a
point that when I re-format the hard drive and try to re-install XP, it
crashes halfway through the installation, usually with some sort of VxD
error. I only have 512 megabytes of memory. Would more memory help, or
am I just throwing away money?

Oh, I wish there were a clear answer to this one.

In reality it’s a complex equation involving your time and your

Let’s look at what you’ve shared about your computer specifically,
and then generalize a little into the things people should be thinking
about when faced with that decision.

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On the surface it seems like your computer is suffering from
hardware related problems. Specifically what hardware is beginning to
fail is hard to say: it could be your power supply, your RAM, your
motherboard, your hard disk – failures in any of these could result in
the symptoms you’re describing. What’s more frustrating is that the
problem could be a very inexpensive repair, or a very costly one.
There’s no way to know at this point. (And no, adding memory is
unlikely to help. 512 megabytes should be enough for an installation to

“The problem is that the ‘cost’ of replacing a
computer can be so much higher than just the money involved in
purchasing replacement equipment.”

You could start the do-it-yourself process by running things like a
memory test, or perform a more
thorough hard disk scan and
. But once you get past those kinds of diagnostics, it gets a
little difficult for the average computer user to actually diagnose
specific causes of failure.

That kinda sucks, to put it crudely, because this of course leads to
your first possible expense: paying a technician to examine your
machine, diagnose your problem and recommend a solution. Assuming parts
are available, their cost plus labor gives you your initial replacement

At this point you’ll have a number (cost of repair) that you can
compare to the cost of a new machine, and at this point my expectation
is that the cost of that shiny new machine is going to look pretty
good. It’s tempting to revert to the old adage: if it costs more to
repair it than to replace it, it’s time to go. The problem is that the
“cost” of replacing a computer can be so much higher than just the
money involved in purchasing replacement equipment.

Before you leap to that new machine, you also need to consider a few
additional costs you’re about to incur:

  • OS Setup – if the new machine comes with an
    operating system preinstalled, this is partly done. The hidden cost is
    the time you’ll invest in the customization that to make it work like
    you want it to. Depending on your own preferences this could be a
    little or a lot.

  • Application Install – it’s unlikely that the new
    machine will come with every application you’ve been using. So, plan on
    some time to reinstall those applications on your new machine, and
    perhaps even re-downloading some that you didn’t get on CD. (Even the
    “application moving” utilities that might do some of this for you will
    take time to setup and run.)

  • Data transfer – you probably have data on your old
    computer that you’ll want to take with you to your new one: email,
    photos, documents, what have you. Regardless of the techniques used,
    transferring this data will take time.

  • Disposal – this is relatively new to the
    discussion, but these days we also need to take into account proper
    disposal of old equipment. Some communities have free programs for
    this, others have a for-fee electronics recycling approach. In any
    case, simply discarding your old computer in the trash is no longer an
    appropriate way to get rid of it.

As you can see, the most frequently mentioned hidden cost is your
time. Moving to a new computer is a little more complex than, say,
getting a new car. The amount of effort spent in setting things up and
moving over is quite different.

And that’s why it’s a difficult question to answer. Depending on the
time/money tradeoff, getting your computer fixed and then not having to
do anything to move could be significantly more appropriate for some
folks. On the other hand, some are quite happy to use this type of
situation as an excuse to get a shiny new machine.

So when is it time to get a new computer? When the cost of repair
exceeds the cost of replacement, as long as you make sure to
count the entire cost of both alternatives when making the

And those costs will be different for everyone.

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7 comments on “How do I know when it's time to replace my computer?”

  1. Complicating the whole matter is the decision as to which computer to switch to. I’ve always used PC computers and been satisfied, but many people are now recommending I switch to Apple to replace my aging machine. If I want to stick with a PC, then I’m going to have to use Vista, which everyone tells me stinks. The result: paralytic indecision!!!

  2. One thing about moving data, I now store (and/or backup) my data on an external drive. So when I come to change to a new computer that should help. But I can’t help wondering if there a way perhaps of actually using the external drive to facilitate re-installing software more easily, as well. Maybe there’s an answer to that in your archives Leo, guess I’d better check!

  3. Not to mention hardware you may love and still want to use…like a joystick, printer, or scanner won’t be compatible with the new OS (like vista or linux). So your either gonna have to wipe the new OS and use the old one, Dual-Boot, or simply trash everything your used to and upgrade everything to the new OS. This all sux!

  4. I usually wait until the software I absolutely need for my various jobs/personal life no longer supports the OS I am using (or the machine can’t take the file sizes, or what have you). I always curse MS when it happens but have chalked it up as a fact of life, although I manage about 5 years between new machines, not bad considering the pace of software bloat and hardware improvements…

    This happened for me last year when my several-year old machine running Win Me reached that state – nobody supported Win Me anymore so I couldn’t do critical software upgrades. People were sending me 20+ MB files to edit that choked the memory capacity as well. And I rebooted several times a day.

    Since the cost of a new machine was comparable to upgrading the old (slow, etc.) machine with Win XP and more memory (considering what I got new in the bargain), and the timing was right as Vista was coming and I wanted nothing to do with it, it was a no-brainer at that point.

    But I still hate having to do it…PITA every time.

    The old machine is now doing time at our general store, where it frustrates my partners (and myself when I bother to get upset) no end by rebooting at random and refusing to load certain Internet sites, but is still an improvement over no computer at all :-)


  5. The best time to replace your old computer is when you change your car :-). If you think about it, why we changing our cars? The same answer goes to computer — New and fast HARDWER that will suit to our upgrade world and technology. GoodLuck :-)


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