Repair or replace an old computer?

Although we do a ton of computer repair in Lawrence, you’d be surprised how often we turn away computers.  Sometimes it’s just not worth repairing!  I hate to talk myself out of work, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

day 115 22.12.2008 live damnit live

After Three Years, Trouble Starts

After doing this for almost 30 years now, I’ve seen the lifespan of computers.  In the early days, computers cost a small fortune but lasted for a decade.  Now, we see them last about three years.  A good analogy is three years on a computer is like a car with 100,000 miles.  Not all cars fail at that point, but many start having troubles.  Part of it depends on usage and brand, but everything has a lifespan.  Some things last longer, some last shorter, but there’s always an average.

What Goes Wrong?

The Hard Drive

The most common part we replace after three years is the hard drive.  That makes sense because it has moving parts.  Parts wear out.  Some drives fail after two years and some after four, but three is the average.

While we have tests to determine if the hard drive is failing, the user is the best early warning system.  In these situations, the computer just randomly locks up and doesn’t respond. In a healthy hard drive, the activity indicator on the drive flashes. On a computer with a failing drive, the light stays lit.  The indicator is sold because it keeps trying to use the hard drive but fails.  You’ll sometimes hear a clicking or grinding noise but not always.

We can’t repair failing hard drives because they are sealed units.  We can replace them though.  Usually it’s about an hour of labor to remove the drive, put in a new one, and then install your operating system.  Reinstalling programs, configuring printers, and transferring your data takes extra time.

The Power:  Batteries, Power Jacks, and Power Supplies

If you have a laptop, eventually your battery fails.  It’s just like any other battery.  You can find cheap laptop batteries under $50, but we don’t recommend them.  We’ve seen too many leaking or exploding batteries in our travels.  Some airlines have proposed banning laptops because of exploding batteries. That’s like the ban of the Samsung Galaxy phone.  A quality replacement battery (we don’t sell them directly), is about $75.

The other part to go out on a laptop is the charging port.  It loosens up over time after being plugged and unplugged so often.  The replacement inside the computer is easy.  The hard part is taking the laptop apart and putting it back together.  It usually takes about an hour and the parts are usually about $25.

When a power surge hits a desktop computer, the power supply goes out.  That’s by design. It acts as a kind of circuit-breaker to prevent damage to other parts of the computer or to stop a fire.  Computer manufacturers don’t make it easy to find power supplies.  Each computer seems to take a slightly different one of these.  We often have to look through dozens of different types.  They range in price from $25 to $75.  To install them we basically have to rebuild the computer.  That takes about an hour.

Fans Stop Blowing

Computers run hot, so to cool them, manufacturers put in fans.  They have fans on the processor, on the video card, in the power supply in the case and a few other places I’m probably forgetting.  Each of those fans collects dust and debris from the environment.  If you smoke or have pets, the damage to the fans multiplies.  When the computer overheats it can shut down, or in rare cases, cause a fire.

We can replace those fans, but again, we need to find the right fan.  You’d think it would be easy to find, but it isn’t.  The other complex problem is figuring out which fan is failing.  We often have to replace multiple fans in a system.  Once one starts making noise, they typically all start doing it.  That makes sense since they all have the same moving parts subject to wear and tear and environmental hazards.

Keyboard, Trackpads and Screens

This problem is unique to laptops.  Eventually the more you type and click, the more things wear out.  Keyboard are usually easier to replace than trackpads.  Both wear out though and we need to disassemble and reassemble your laptop.  Since clicking and typing go hand in hand, pardon the pun, we often see that both need to be replaced at the same time.

Screens also have a limited lifespan. They’re like TV screens so they’ll stop being able to light up after a while.  That’s usually after about seven years, though. Newer laptops aren’t supposed to have these problems, but we’ll see.  We’re seeing fewer screens burning out, but it happens.

Is It Worth Repairing?

Given all these problems after three years, any one replacement might be worth it.  The problem is that actual value of a three-year old laptop is pretty small.  We’ve had clients try to sell working ones at garage sales and they can’t even get $50 for them.  After five years, they can’t even get $10.  If you look on eBay, you’ll find the same story.  If everything is working, you can expect to pay $50 for these systems.

The problem becomes, even if they are working, you can expect all this stuff to start failing. That’s why we never recommend paying for a used laptop without at least a year warranty.  Too much stuff could go wrong.

With new laptops averaging about $500 and all the repairs associated with a three year old laptop, repairs just aren’t usually worth it.  Most repair shops won’t tell you this, but it’s the right thing to let you know about.  It’s also why we have great reviews.  Some people get upset we decline to fix this stuff, but again it’s the right thing to do.  We’re in this for the long haul and will always try to do what is tin the customer’s best interest.  Sure we lose money with this approach, but we gain client loyalty.  That’s the key to long-term success and why we’ve been in business since 2003.

We’ll keep doing computer repair here in Lawrence, but occasionally we’ll tell you it isn’t worth it!

Photo by ardenswayoflife

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