If you have ever called me for help then you probably have heard me ask you that before just about anything else. The very next question I am going to ask is how do you connect to the Internet? DSL, cable or (gulp) dialup?
It's these two questions that pretty much dictate what direction the call is going to take. The dialup vs. broadband question influences whether the call can be handled over the Internet or will require a visit onsite. The age of the machine influences whether it's even wise to spend any money on repairs. Too old and it's cheaper to get a new one. Too new and it may just be covered under warranty.
You can tell a lot about a computer just by knowing how old it is. If the machine is within three years old then it probably has a gig or more ram, 100 gig-plus hard drive, Windows Vista or 7 (yes I do know that there are Macs out there, too) and possibly a valid warranty. Depending on the warranty status and what the problem is, it's usually worth it to do the repair.
If the machine is at or around the five-year mark (with no additional upgrades) then we can guess that it's got maybe 512 mb to 1 gig of ram, possibly a 60 gig hard drive and it's running Windows XP. Now, you can still do most everything with a machine running with these specs but there are a couple things to keep in mind.
First, forget about any warranty at this point.
Second, some parts have a five-year expected lifespan and when parts start to physically die (fans, power supplies and even hard drives) you have to ask yourself if we spend the time and money to replace this part, what's going to die next month? and let that weigh in on your decision to go ahead with a potentially costly repair.
The third thing to keep in mind when running older hardware is that you need a backup system in place. Sure, everyone knows they really should be backing up their systems but if you've got all your stuff on an older machine why push it?
Crucial parts (like your hard drive) can fail at any minute and if you don't take the time to set something up now you could lose it all. Again, that applies to all computers but if your machine is approaching the five-year mark and you have no backup in place then I think you're pushing your luck.
Let's talk about machines that fall into the seven to 10-year mark. A machine that was built in the early 2000s will often be equipped with 128 to 256 mb of ram and may be running XP, 2000, ME or even Windows 98. It will have faithfully maintained its post and adequately performed its duties for most of a decade. But when it breaks down or if you are wondering if there may be any way to speed things up, understand that it will never be up to today's standards no matter how much optimizing or memory you throw at it.
When it breaks down, gets infected with a virus or has some other issue that is going to require a service call, keep in mind that computer repair is often billed by the hour. Old faithful loses its charm pretty quick when the clock is running and the progress bar isn't.
When someone calls me and tells me that their old faithful box that's been running fine since 2002 won't boot up anymore I usually give them this advice; take the money that you would likely need to spend on repairs (often several hundred dollars) and get yourself a new machine. Period. Any new machine that you purchase in 2012 is going to outperform any machine born around 2002. And will most likely cost a fraction of what was spent back then, too.
But that doesn't seem to be very popular advice, I'm afraid. People don't like being told that their old faithful machine isn't worth the price to repair, but I don't like spending hours on a job only to get that awkward feeling when the repair bill comes to more than the price of a new machine. Worse yet is when something else fails a week later and I'm faced with 'it worked fine for years before you touched it.
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (888) 752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).