How long should my computers last?

What is the effective lifespan of the computers in a business?  How do I know when I should replace one?

While there are no hard and fast ways to know how often you’ll have to replace computers, there are some guidelines that should make it easier to feel good about the decision when someone recommends a new machine.  Some of the factors to consider are how many people depend on the equipment for their productivity.  Servers are a particular concern because many, if not all of the computer users in your organization depend on the services provided by the server.  A workstation used by a book keeper is terribly important since the book keepers job is so clearly dependent on the computerized accounting system.   Laptops are vulnerable to repair more often than workstations because of their mobility.  Laptops also suffer from technical obsolescence more quickly than workstations as vendors become better at putting more power into smaller, lighter space. This makes it more valuable more quickly to invest in the newer laptop for the new features.
So what are the guidelines we have seen over the years?

1. Servers; 5 years

Servers are utilized by everyone in the company who are dependent upon computer services.  This frequently includes employees who never even use the computer. Payroll for instance, is typically dependent on services that stop if the servers do not function.  Most computer manufactures will call out 5 years as the “end of life” of server hardware and make it prohibitively expensive or possibly impossible to renew the warranty after that time.   Technology changes over a 5 year period frequently are such, that a new hardware refresh due to age, can also provide high levels of productivity improvement.  We recommend beginning to engineer the next 5 year solution starting 4 years after your last refresh.  You should recognize that for those companies using several servers the 5 year cycle may or may not be synchronized.

Desktop Computers; 5+ years

Desktop computers are, in many cases, made of a subset of the same parts as servers.  These parts, just like servers, tend to wear starting in the 5th year.  The difference here is that you can make a decision based on the cost of downtime that a particular computer-user can stand. The bookkeeper needs a reliable machine; unless of course you can send them home for a day or so anytime, even payroll, with limited detrimental results.  But many people who need a computer for their job often have a handful of things they can do while there computer is being replaced.  Our guideline for desktops is to expect them to last 5 years before you consider replacement, and then as long as it works after that, call it good.  You will likely get an average of 7 years, especially if you move the older machines downscale to the less dependent users.

Laptops; 3+ years

Laptops are mobile. Therefore, they take more of a beating than a stationary computer at a desk.  The laptop is typically an integral part of a user’s job as well or they wouldn’t need the mobility.  We recommend considering replacing your laptops anytime there is a new requirement and/or the laptop has a problem after 3 years.  We don’t believe you have to instantly throw it out at 3 years, many times particular laptops in particular jobs will last much longer, sometimes as long as 5 or 6 years.  But if anything happens requiring any real money to be invested in a laptop over 3 years old it is time to strongly consider replacement instead.

Printers; 7 to 10 years

The good news is that a good printer should last a very long time.  I have seen original HP Laserjet II printers still in service after 15 years.  If it’s working, keep it.

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