Should I get a new computer?

In my role as an IT Consultant, one of the questions that I am asked most often is of the type “should I get a new computer?”

I am apt to answer with that most annoying of phrases – “it depends”.

Axeman and computerIt used to be an easier question to answer than it is now. With every new version of Windows, the hardware requirements increased, so buying a new computer was often essential to be able to run current software. That doesn’t really apply any more as Windows 8 and then Windows 10 have not required any more of the hardware than Windows 7. Also, it’s not that often that a computer completely fails. If an aging computer does physically fail, it’s likely to be a hard drive failure that brings an instant decision. Other than that, it seems that things just get slower and creakier (and possibly noisier), and it is easy to struggle on without any definitive event that forces the decision to replace an aging computer.

So, if you are beginning to wonder if defenestration is the answer to your computing problems, here are some guidelines that might help in your decision-making:

  • If you are running Windows Vista then it’s time to replace your machine however nicely it’s still behaving. Vista is being forced into retirement in April 2017 in the same way that XP was in 2014 – see the Windows lifecycle fact sheet.
  • If your computer seems irritatingly slow and it has a hard drive then replacing it with a computer with a Solid State Drive (SSD) will make a huge difference. It’s quite possible to replace a hard drive with an SSD and keep the existing hardware. I’ve done it myself on my Samsung RF511 and on my MacBook Pro. In both cases it made a huge difference. However, it doesn’t make economic sense for me to do this for you: it would be cheaper to just buy a new machine.
  • If your hard drive is running out of space then replacing the entire machine might be a better solution than fitting a larger hard drive. Note, though, that if you buy a new machine with a SSD (recommended) then this is likely to be smaller than your existing drive. Hmm. Maybe it would be better to keep your existing hardware and move some data off to an external hard drive, a large USB “pen drive”, or a large SD card. I’m fairly sure that we’ll soon see machines with both SSDs (to run Windows and the programs) and internal hard drives (to store data), but I searched in vain for such an animal when replacing my own laptop recently.
  • Shiny new laptopIf your machine has started sounding like a concrete mixer then that’s likely to be the fan on its way out. A replacement fan is probably only about £15-£20 but you’ve got to source exactly the right one and fitting it is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, I can’t think of a single one of my own IT support clients to whom I would recommend this course of action. My own Samsung RF511 spent the last six months of its duty without a working fan. I installed software to keep me appraised of the temperatures and everything was fine. Nevertheless, it made me slightly uneasy and a different laptop may well have run too hot for this to be an option (especially one with a hard drive rather than a SSD). You could take your laptop to one of those places offering “laptop repairs” to get a fan replaced, but I’d be very wary of going down that route.
  • If the machine is a laptop and the battery isn’t charging the way it used to, then that alone might push you into a computer replacement. A “genuine” replacement battery can be prohibitively expensive. A “compatible” might be be cheap but it might only last a year. If you use your laptop on the battery frequently, then it’s definitely worth factoring this into your decision.
  • While we are on the subject of laptops, if you carry yours around frequently then size and weight could be a factor. Laptops have become quite a bit lighter and thinner recently (while still offering the same screen sizes), so you might be quite surprised if you currently lug a five year old brick around in your bag.
  • If you are getting loads of software crashes and freezes, and you are running Windows 7, then “mending it with a new one” may be a better course of action than troubleshooting these problems. However, if you are runnng Windows 10, this is far, far, easier and quicker to re-install than previous versions of Windows and, although you may have to reinstall programs, you may not have to re-load your data if you reinstall Windows.

Black Friday ticketThis blog is not meant to be about what specification your putative new machine should have. Nevertheless, I’ll offer a few guidelines for free (since it’s the day after Black Friday and you may have just been tipped over the edge into splashing the cash):

  • Machines with solid state drives (SSDs) really are much faster than those with hard drives (but think about whether the SSD will be large enough and what you can do if it isn’t – such as external data drives).
  • Try to avoid machines with i3 processors unless you are on a tight budget. I5 processors are better (faster) and i7 better still.
  • As always, get as much RAM as possible. I recommend 8gb or 16gb.

And – don’t forget – if you need help setting up your new computer, transferring data etc, then you know where to come!