How long can a computer live before it bites the dust?
The average life of a computer is between 4-5 years. Averages, by definition, are not a hard and fast number. In mathematics, an average is the intermediate number or degree.
What does that mean? That doesn’t mean your computer is going to self destruct between 4-5 years, and it doesn’t mean that your computer is even going to make it all the way to the 4 year mark. It’s an average.
Sometimes, when we tell a person what they should expect out of their computer in terms of usable life, they want to chime in and defensively say , “Well, I’ve got a Brand XYZ computer that I’ve been running for 10 years.”
That’s awesome! We’re sincerely happy that you’ve had great luck with that computer, and we definitely wish that upon you with all of your computing purchases, but that’s just not typical. So before you email us with your stories of your Commodore 64 that you’ve been running since ’82, we have not set that average, nor have any other managed service providers, it just is what it is.
We’ve seen it all from the Commodore 64 that still runs like a champ, to the fresh out of the box “lemons”. It’s the nature of our business.
Believe us, we understand the frustration. We can spend thousands of dollars on a computer, and it’s our nature that we want these things to work perfectly, indefinitely, but that’s just not reality.
One thing we are 100% sure about is that one cannot expect a computer that’s 4-5 years, or even middle aged for that matter to run as great as it did the day it was purchased, and there’s a number of reasons why:
- Each year, software gets more and more demanding of a computer’s resources.
- As computers get faster and faster, software makers write the software and its updates to take advantage of the new speeds, leaving your older computer in the dust.
- Sometimes a “tune up” can help. Sometimes the results are great, other times results are marginal.
- It’s a matter of fact that electronics degrade over time.
- There are mechanical devices in your computer.
Typically, the first items in your computer to fail are the mechanical components. What do we mean by mechanical components? We mean the moving parts, like the pistons in your engine, like the gears in a clock. That’s right; your computer has moving parts in it!
Unless very recently you dumped a lot of money into a solid state hard drive (no moving parts), your hard drive (the component that stores your operating system, programs, pictures and other documents) is more than likely a magnetic disk that spins extremely fast. That is known as the platter. In addition to that, there is the read and write arm that move across the disk at an extremely fast rate. The space between the platter and the arm is smaller than a human hair.
Always backup your important data! Because mechanical device, moving parts, whatever you want to call it, can and will fail. It may take the hard drive 10 years to fail; it may fail the week after you bought it. Just like you can drive a car off the lot and have the transmission go out.
Solid State Drives are subject to failure as well, but not for mechanical reasons.
Your computer runs extremely hot on the inside, and typically there are several fans inside the computer that help with cooling. These are moving parts, and subject to fail like any other mechanical device.
Most of your motherboard is inert, but an unfortunate recurring situation is what is known as “capacitor plague.”
What is a capacitor? It works a lot like a battery does in terms of storing voltage, but essentially it regulates voltage.
Rumor has it that “capacitor plague” is due to large scale industrial espionage gone wrong. A couple of capacitor manufacturers stole a flawed formula from a competitor, and sold millions of these flawed capacitors to all manufacturers across the board, Intel, Dell, HP, IBM, Apple, et cetera. The plague is not exclusive to computers by any means, as capacitors are used in all types of electronics. Regardless of this rumor, a capacitor is subject to failure over its natural life as well.
A capacitor can fail without there being any physical symptoms, but the most common capacitor “plague” symptoms are a capacitor whose cap is swollen (the top of the capacitor should be flat), or even burst (you see the electrolytic fluid, or “acid” coming out of the cap).
Get several burst or swollen capacitor and you have a whole heap of trouble. Capacitors can technically be replaced, but it’s typically cheaper, and easier to just buy a new motherboard.
When capacitors fail, your computer does not stop working all together necessarily, but you can experience a lot of constant or intermittent issues like, but not exclusive to :
- Random freezing
- Random reboots
- Random Blue Screens of Death
- Computer won’t power on
- Et cetera
Here’s a nice video with a lot of pictures of swollen or burst capacitors. Notice that the swelling is sometimes very light, but present none the less. The top to a capacitor should be flat.
Swollen or burst capacitors can occur the day or week after your computer, and as your computer ages, the likely hood of failing capacitors (if nothing else has failed up until that time) grows.
We hope this has been insightful, and also, don’t believe the hype. An Apple is just a computer, subject to all of the same failures as a PC.