The Average Life Span of a Personal Computer

Everything breaks eventually: refrigerators, washing machines, televisions and yes, even computers—basically, anything electronic or with moving parts will eventually die. Some things need obvious and regular repair, like changing your oil every 3,000 miles or bringing in the repairman when your furnace sounds like it’s about to explode. Other things are less obvious. A computer that’s on the way out could be exhibiting a number of symptoms.

While some parts could last decades under the right conditions, many of the most essential computer parts aren’t designed for the long haul. Computers don’t last forever, and with the abuse we give our laptops it’s a miracle they years and not months.

The first sign that something is wrong is often obvious: strange noises could indicate that a fan is clogged or dying, or that a hard drive is about to give up the ghost. Because they have moving parts, things like fans, and drives (including CD/DVD) are the first parts to fail on many computers. While keeping the insides of your computer clean can help fans to last for several years longer, there’s really nothing you can do to extend the life of a drive. While I have hard drives from the 1990s that still run just fine, I’ve also had hard drives go bad after a few days. There’s simply no way to predict when a drive will fail, which is why frequent back ups are an absolute necessity.

On a laptop, everything is integrated which can mean that a single part can render an entire machine unusable. On a desktop, a failed monitor can be easily replaced, and since prices are always falling this typically means you can get a larger or higher resolution display for the same price you paid the last time you upgraded. While the backlights in modern LED displays will outlive the displays themselves, monitors with fluorescent backlights will already be showing their age and appear significantly dimmer than brand new screens. But no matter what kind of screen you have, the one on a laptop will take the most punishment—opening and closing the hinge exposes the cable that connects to monitor to the motherboard to significant wear. Users who are on-the-go will open and close their laptops several times a day, which translates into a thousand or more times every year. In such conditions, it’s not surprising to see a monitor flake out every 2-3 years.

Other parts could last forever. Solid-state computer components like motherboards, RAM, video cards, sound cards, and more have far fewer vectors of failure. Sure, a $2 capacitor could explode, water damage and power surges are always possible as well, but in ideal conditions these kinds of parts often have life spans of decades. They’re far more likely to become ancient technology than they are to fail.

Often, we feel pressured to upgrade because we need the latest tech: faster ports, faster processors, bigger hard drives and monitor sizes. Other times, we need to replace something because it’s failing or has already failed. Smart users know that their automobiles and appliances need regular maintenance. With computers, the number one priority isn’t if your computer is running, but rather the integrity of your data. If a computer dies it’s an inconvenience. If your hard drive fails and you lose pictures of family or important business contracts, it has a significant toll not just on your wallet, but to your mental health. So understand this: while different components last for different lengths of time, your computer is nothing more than a vessel for your data. Backing it up with a cloud storage service like Norton Online Backup makes that process virtually painless.

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