When is a computer too old?

In this post we discuss some general (and proven) guidelines to knowing when it is time to replace you hardware (Laptop, iPad, iPhone, or Desktop).

Desktop Computers

Typical Desktop Computer
Typical Desktop Computer

Generally desktop computers fail more often than laptops. Why is that? Well a desktop depends on getting power direct from the mains (AC input 240 volts) and thus is likely to be exposed to voltage spikes and sudden outages from the power lines in your street (or weather effects on the power grid). Laptops have a battery, and it is charged by an external charger pack.

Effectively, the battery on a Laptop acts like a “shock absorber” against voltage spikes arriving from the main power. So unless your Laptop has physically removed or a defective battery, it is likely to be more immune to glitches from the power grid.

Laptop Power System

The power supply unit (PSU) and the motherboard in desktop computers are exposed to more electrical stress than a laptop. Also some “home-brew” desktop computers (also some “local shop” computer built from “just parts”) have cheap Taiwanese parts (motherboards) that have a much shorter useful life than most brand name laptops.

In my long term experience, Gigabyte, MSI and Asus Desktop motherboards are not very reliable for more than 3-4 years. Brand names such as HP Desktops tend to have a longer useful life and less prone to failure.

HP and Dell Desktops
HP and Dell Desktops

Generally when a desktop computer older than three years has a motherboard failure, it is generally A) hard to get a replacement as motherboard technology changes so much and so often, and B) it is expensive. So unless you have a top model Desktop such as HP or Dell, do not keep it (or get it repaired) if it is older than 5 years. It is common for a HP desktop computer to last 10 years (or more).

Desktop Performance

Technology in desktops generally changes more rapidly than with Laptops, so if you are seriously Desktop orientated it would be good to consider recycling sensibly your old desktop and have a look at some excellent range of HP and Dell “All-in-One” desktop computers. Some great innovations are made with the option of wireless keyboard, mouse, WiFi, Camera (Skype use) and touch-screen.

HP and Dell Desktop "All-in-One"
HP and Dell Desktop “All-in-One”

One advantage of the newer Desktop “All-inOne” is the larger sizes of the monitor compared to a Laptop.

Laptop Computers

As discussed previously, good branded Laptop generally have less failure and a longer life than a typical desktop. Though one weakness often seen with the older laptops is the mechanical vulnerability of a Laptop to be dropped or upset by pets. Older Laptops have (just like older Desktop Computers) a mechanical hard drive that when the Laptop is powered on (running) is sensitive to sudden shock, heat and vibration. But for most people (taking safeguards against dropping the unit), generally, a good Laptop will outlast a Desktop.

Modern Laptops
Modern Laptops

Also, as previously discussed, Laptops have a natural safety margin against sudden power loss from the power grid (A/C mains) and generally have less electrical stress. The only part of a Laptop that will lose it’s efficiency is the battery, but the expensive of replacement is not that high, and even a old battery will hold a charge long enough to shut down a Laptop safely after a major power outage from the grid (mains supply failure).

Laptop Reliability

Based on my long experiences, generally, the normal life of a Laptop can be expressed this way; A Good (older) HP Laptop will generally run for up to 12 years without any serious issue and most of the older HP range will happily run Windows 10 fine. A Good (older) Dell Laptop will have a typical good life of 8-10 years and run Windows 10 fine. Older Toshiba Laptops will generally hold up for about 7 years then wear out. Older Acer Laptops will generally hold up for about 6 years then fail. For brands not mentioned here, the typical life of a generic Laptop is about 5 years and less than this if it is a Taiwanese model like “Asus” or “MSI”.

Both Dell and HP have produced some rugged Laptop models that are more of a business class model. These Laptops often have a much stronger frame.

Apple & Dell Laptops
Apple & Dell Laptops

Laptop – Cooling

One important maintenance thing to do for your Laptop is to be sure that the internal cooling fan has sufficient ventilation. Over time, dust will build up internally in the fins of the internal cooling system.

Inside view of excess dust in a Laptop cooling fan
Inside view of excess dust in a Laptop cooling fan

Often this can be simply improved by using a vacuum nozzle over the point on the laptop where fresh air enters (usually underneath the Laptop – see image below – the green rectangle area is usually where the dust is trapped – the red circle is where to try to vacuum the dust out).

Home remedy - remove dust with a vacuum
Home remedy – remove dust with a vacuum

Note that this simple “home remedy” using a vacuum to remove dust is not always 100% effective, only a workshop service where the Laptop is dis-assembled can clean the cooling system 100%.

Apple (macOS)

With Apple we have a useful life of about 6 years, and you have the “upgrade” problem that a Apple computer made before mid-2012 will not have the hardware required to upgrade or run the latest macOS Mojave.

Apple's macOS "Mojave"
Apple’s macOS “Mojave”

Apple (iOS) iPad & iPhone

The iPad 2, iPad 3, and iPad Mini cannot be upgraded past iOS 9.3.5. The iPad 4 does not support updates past iOS 10.3.3. Later iPads can be upgraded to the latest iOS (13.1.2).

The definitive iOS 13 compatible iPads are:

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro
  • 11-inch iPad Pro
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • iPad (6th generation)
  • iPad (5th generation)
  • iPad mini (5th generation)
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad Air 2
  • 10.2 iPad (7th generation)
Older iPads NOT supported by the latest iOS
Older iPads NOT supported by the latest iOS

Notes: Most of the above obsolete iPads are still able to download and run a large range of compatible apps from the App Store, browse the web, display e-books, access Facebook, and keep track of emails.

The definitive iOS 13 compatible iPhones are:

  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone Xs
  • iPhone Xs Max
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone SE

The iPhone 5 and older, are currently not able to update to iOS 13, and have to remain on various older iOS releases (see image below).

iPhone Support for all iOS releases
iPhone Support for all iOS releases