Computer Repair vs. New Computer: Should I Fix or Buy?
It can be frustrating to try to keep up with the latest and greatest new technology. Everything from cell phones to appliances seem to be out of date as soon as you get them home. When it comes to your computer systems, it can be hard to tell when you need to replace your hardware versus when you can repair (and maybe upgrade) your current machine. How can you tell if you should repair or replace your computer?
Do You Currently Need Computer Repair Services?
If your computers are meeting your business needs for the moment, you have the luxury of a little breathing room to evaluate your techneeds, see what’s available, and budget for new or upgraded equipment over time. If your computers aren’t meeting your company’s needs, either because they are malfunctioning or don’t have the speed, memory, or capability to perform necessary tasks, you must make a more immediate decision to repair or replace them. Consult an experienced IT repair professional to help you evaluate whether it makes sense to implement a temporary computer repair solution while deciding on and budgeting for a complete replacement or whether it would be better to bite the bullet and replace your hardware now.
What’s the Nature of the Problem?
The most obvious factor you’ll consider when deciding whether to repair or replace a computer will often come down to relative dollar cost. But this evaluation isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems. In some cases, it may be possible to work around a problem instead of getting it fixed. While we can’t recommend this for businesses who value “up time” and productivity, for some home users this may be a money-saving consideration.
For example, the screen on your laptop is cracked. It’s impossible to use because you cannot read anything in the display, but the machine is otherwise working fine. Your options may be to repair your laptop by replacing the screen or replace your entire laptop—or you may be able to connect your laptop to an external monitor display and continue using it.
Next, it’s important compare how much it’s going to cost to fix the problem to the computer’s current “market value,” as well as how much it would cost to replace the equipment. Your IT professional should be able to determine all of the above for you and offer these factors for your consideration.
Repairing the aforementioned cracked screen, for example, might cost $200—but if the laptop is only currently worth about $250, then it is borderline whether there is real value in having the computer repaired. You may be able to replace the laptop with a newer model for only a few hundred dollars more. But as we’ll talk about below, there are other “soft costs” that you may not realize need to be factored into the decision to get a new computer.
How Old Is Your Equipment?
The age of your equipment is actually an extremely important factor that many do not give full consideration. Just like cars, which many know will typically last for 150,000 to 250,000 miles until they start to have major issues, a computer has a measurable and predictable lifespan in number of years. Depending on the quality of the computer when originally purchased, this lifespan is between 3 and 7 years. The more expensive your computer was originally, the longer it will typically last. Buying a “business grade” computer instead of a “consumer grade” computer will also lead to a longer lifespan.
So why do computers have a lifespan? Shouldn’t they last until the computer no longer works?
- Processing Power – Computers update their software and the Operating System over time, and websites become more and more complex with visual and interactive features. These updates will require more computer “horsepower” to work properly.
- Outdated & Incompatible Software – Computers can only update their Operating System so much, as completely new Operating System versions come out that your computer will not be able to use. Without the newest Operating System, your computer will be more prone to virus infections, and many newer software programs and even websites will simply not work at all (i.e., will be incompatible).
- Frequent Breakdowns – Electronics have a “nature” of simply breaking down without warning. Many times there is no specific “cause” to identify. While this can happen even to a brand-new computer, the older a computer is the more likely and frequently electronics will break down. Hard drives are the number one hardware piece to fail in a computer, and each year of age actually exponentially increases the risk of a breakdown.
- Durability – Inexpensive computers get to be that cheap because corners are cut in how they’re made. The use of inexpensive materials leads to computers that can literally snap into pieces after only a few years of normal use. Inexpensive computers also have poorer cooling systems which can lead to their complete breakdown in just a few years rather than lasting 5-7 years as is typical with more durable computers.
Considering how the above factors affect the lifespan of a computer, we find that the “total cost of ownership” (TCO) often balances out to a similar “per year” cost. An inexpensive $400 computer can be expected to last you 3-5 years, which is about $100 per year. A $600 business-grade computer with the same performance specifications can be expected to last you 5-7 years, which is also about $100 per year. The important difference is that the premium $600 computer will operate better and more reliably during the time of ownership, which equates to more productivity and less frustration—two things that everyone could use!
In the case of our cracked-screen laptop, if it is more than a 3 years old and is a consumer-grade laptop, this is another reason to consider investing in a new, lighter, faster, more functional laptop rather than fixing the old one.
Evaluate the Soft Costs
There are many hidden “soft costs” that you may not realize are involved in buying a new computer vs. repairing.
- Software – Because software is “licensed” and not “owned,” you may not be permitted to transfer the software programs to a new computer. If your software is allowed to be transferred, you’ll also need your software’s “license keys” and sometimes the original CD or DVD. Did you remember to keep those filed safely away? Many times we don’t, which means you may have to re-purchase hundreds of dollars worth of software.
- Your data – For most users not yet completely in “the cloud,” all their personal files, documents, pictures, and music reside on the hard drive of their current computer. Transferring this important data to your new computer is an often overlooked yet vital expense that many forget to consider.
- Learning curve – New computers, even with a difference in age of only a couple years, will often have very different software that will take some time to get used to. This was a major hang-up for users moving from Windows XP, Vista, or 7 to Windows 8 or 10 as the differences were massive. You may not be able to “hit the floor running” with your new computer, which may cause some unexpected down time.
When evaluating the cost of repair vs. replacement, it’s important to consider not only the cost of labor and hardware but also the ramp-up costs involved with getting a new machine operational.
If you have very little software and data stored on the cracked-screen laptop, virtually no customization, and use mainly software-as-a-service (SaaS, or “cloud-based”) programs, you may lose a minimal amount of productivity by replacing your machine. On the other hand, if you have a lot of data and customized programs installed on your hardware, getting a new machine up and running may cause significant downtime.
Should I Fix or Buy New?
For some people, you may have a lot to consider in making this decision! For others, especially those who’ve taken the leap to “cloud computing,” replacing your computer may be a much simpler choice.