Doing computer repair for a living, I get allot of questions. One my favorites has to be "Should I repair or upgrade my computer or just get a new one". So, let's take a look at whether to repair or upgrade an existing computer or just buy a new one.
First off, let's start with the three (3) theories I follow when it comes to computers and their components.
- Infant Mortality is the belief that if it will run for a day (24 hours), it will run for its lifetime. It is also the start of what is called the Bathtub Curve.
- The Bathtub Curve refers to the expected failure rate of electronics over time, as it resembles an end-to-end section of a bathtub. The failure rate starts out high at the beginning of life (Infant Mortality) and then drops to almost nothing until rising again at the end of life.
- The definition of the Lifetime of computer components, from my experience, is three years from start of service. At three years or older, it's not if it will break down, but when will it break down. But there are exceptions to this rule, mainly how well the electronics have been taken care of.
To repair or just replace
With that said, let's start with the repair or replace scenario. Most of the time, if the computer (desktop or laptop) is within the expected lifetime, repairing is the best the way to go. Now the exception is with the price and availability of replacement parts.
Now with computers over three (3) years old, you have to take a look at the cost of replacement parts and labor versus the cost of a new system. If the parts and labor total more than $200, I will usually ask a client at least twice if they are sure they want to replace the part(s).
You also have to look at whether the replacement parts are new or refurbished (fancy way of saying used). For laptop bases, lids and bezels, refurbished will work quite well. For motherboards and IO / daughter boards, a refurbished unit may or may not work out.
Keep in mind that if a particular component has a flaw that caused it to fail, a refurbished (used) part may also have the same flaw and could fail just like the component you are replacing. I've had about 50 / 50 success rate with refurbished parts, with some parts lasting only months and some lasting years.
Hard drives, memory modules, desktop DVD drives, power supplies, laptop displays, laptop keyboards and laptop fans are some of the more common parts that usually need to be replaced. These parts are normally easy to find and purchase. Laptop parts like hinges, display bezels, display lids (tops) and bases can be tricky to find. A quick Google search for computer model + part name should yield some results.
The availability of replacement parts
In my experience finding replacement parts, I have found that the age of the computer has allot to do with being able to find parts.
- If the computer in question is under 1 year old, the only way to get replacement parts is through the manufacturer. And you can be sure that you will pay full retail price for them.
- If the computer is 1 - 3 years old, the cost of replacement parts should go down, as the supply of parts should get better. At this point in time, people are starting to 'part-out' failed systems and posting the parts on eBay.
- If the computer is 3 - 5 years old, the cost of replacement parts will be at their lowest. The supply will be high and you will be able to find multiple vendors carrying the same parts. It's a buyer's paradise.
- If the computer is 5 years or older, the supply of parts starts to dwindle and prices go up. I had a client one time that wanted to replace a motherboard with bad capacitors that was fifteen (15) years old. I found one (1) refurbished motherboard at almost $500. We had the board recapped for a whole lot less.
To upgrade or just replace
Now when it comes to upgrading a computer, there are quite few things that can be done to desktop and laptop computers. The one thing with the most bang-for-the-buck is memory. Allot of systems come with a nominal amount of memory and can easily be upgraded.
The problem with upgrading memory is that many manufacturers will purchase smaller memory modules and then fill up all of the memory slots with them. For example, let's say you bought a computer with eight (8) gigabytes of memory installed. The motherboard has four (4) memory slots and each one can handle a 4 gigabyte memory module (max.), for a total of sixteen (16) gigabytes (max.).
But when you open up the computer, you find that instead of using two (2) 4 gigabytes memory modules, the manufacturer used four (4) 2 gigabyte modules. So, to upgrade the memory to sixteen (16) gigabytes, you have to replace all of the 2 gigabyte memory modules with 4 gigabytes modules. Why do they do it? They can get the smaller memory modules cheaper.
How to upgrade or add more memory to your computer
Another way to breathe new life into a computer is to upgrade the hard drive. You can go with a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) that spins faster or a Solid State Drive (SSD) that has a faster transfer rate. Either of these should give you better performance. Combine it with a clean installation of Windows and you will feel like you got a brand new computer.
How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer
How to upgrade your computers hard disk drive to a solid state drive
Now if you have a desktop computer and like playing games, upgrading the graphics card may be an option. Just make sure you know what the motherboard specification is for the PCIe slot(s) (version 1, version 2, etc.) and use a graphics card that is compatible. Also, make sure you have enough power connector(s) (6-pin or 8-pin PCIe).
The bottom line
You are the only one who has to decide whether to repair or upgrade an existing computer or replace with a new one. If it has sentimental value or runs a program you cannot reinstall, then maybe you should repair or upgrade it. But if the cost of fixing it is more than the total value of your existing computer, then maybe you consider just replacing it with a new computer.