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What are the warning signs that any PC needs to be replaced?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / April 12, 2007 10:02 AM PDT

What are the warning signs that any PC needs to be replaced? Is it when a computer says open me in the safe mode? Is it a computer that cycles through the opening windows but never gets to the desktop screen? Is it when my computer won't let me print, or it corrupts my Microsoft documents when it tries to save them? Is there anything that can be done to give CPR to my computer and save it from the recycle heap? Or is it really just time to give it up and move on to new PC?

--Submitted by Janet H. of Rancho Cordova, California

Answer voted most helpful by our members:

None of the examples you gave are absolute signs that a computer has reached the end of its life and needs to be replaced, but rather that it needs some loving care and maintenance. Actually a few of these symptoms might be easily corrected by running a chkdsk /r from the recovery console, performing a virus scan or performing a system restore from safe mode. However, you always run the risk of losing your data whenever you start working on your computer, so backups are always mandatory. A computer is no different than your car, it needs routine maintenance. Thus, the more you drive it or surf the Internet, the more often you need to perform some maintenance. In my experience the number one cause of computer problems has been forgetting to renew antivirus software or ignoring security software expiration warnings. The answer to your question has more to do with your ability to work on your own computer. If you don?t have the time, interest or ability to maintain your own computer, then any of these symptoms could signal the end. I say this because the cost to hire someone to repair your computer, depending on who you call, could add up very quickly to nearly the cost of a new computer. Many of the problems you mentioned above could be and are most likely due to some form of virus, spyware, malware or Windows corruption and could be fixed with a few free programs, some updates and a couple of hours of your time. Probably the worst case scenario would be that your hard drive has or is starting to fail and needs to be replaced. If you replaced the hard drive yourself and reinstall Windows, you might be out $100 for the drive. If you had this work performed at a local repair shop, it could cost you $300 or more. If the computer, when it was working, met your needs and still does, then repairing it may make sense. But you should keep in mind that even though you may have paid $2000 or more for that old clunker, a new computer can be had for as little as $500 today.

I find the most common reasons people dump their old computer are:

? They just want a new one ? Many people just simply want a new computer even though their old one is working just fine. Maybe they want something a little faster or maybe want to make the switch from a desktop to a laptop. Or they just want to be the first on the block to have the latest technology.

? No longer meets their needs ? This could be for any reason including the need for more power to run more advanced games or maybe wanting to tackle something new like video editing.

? Repair Cost too High ? Something has gone wrong and the estimated repair cost is fairly high. If the computer is 3 or 4 years old, it may make more sense to just replace the whole thing.

? Complete Failure ? Something major has happened such as dropping a laptop or a lightning strike has taken out a motherboard.

Computer hardware today is actually very reliable and rarely fails with maybe the exception of the Hard Drives. There are actually very few moving parts inside a modern computer. You have the Hard Drive, the DVD or CD drive(s) and a couple of fans. Everything else is electronic and unless you have a lightening strike or let them overheat, electronic components should last many years (10 or more). Here is a list of possible hardware failures as well as typical cost of the hardware (not including labor):

1. Hard Drives ? $60-$200 - This is the most common type of failure. Hard drives typically last about 5 years for Desktop computers and about 3-4 years for laptops, but can fail at any time. It is actually surprising that they last as long as they do, spinning at speeds of up to 10,000 RPM.

2. Fans ? $9-$29 - I don?t usually see too many fans that have actually stopped working, however they can start making a lot of noise as the bearings or bushings get worn or the blades starts hitting the side of the fan shroud.

3. DVD/CD Drives ? $39-$69 - I don?t know if it is just a coincidence or they are not being made as well as they use to, but I am seeing a lot of failed DVD Drives this year.

4. Power Supplies - $30-$70 ? Many power supplies fail due to a power surge or lightening strike. Dust blocked vents can also lead to overheating related failures.

5. Motherboard/System Board Failure - $100-$300 ? Unless the computer is still under warranty, this kind of failure is usually not worth repairing.

6. Processor Failure ? $100-$500 ? Rare - I can think off only a few processor failures that I have run into and most of them where on homebuilt PC?s where the heat sinks were not installed properly.

Aside from the somewhat rare hardware failures I just mentioned, most all computer problems are software related. Assuming that you have backups of your data (you do have a backup, right?), the best way to completely resurrect and breath new life into a computer that is plagued by multiple problems and cannot be easily repaired with a simple virus or spyware scan, is to wipe it clean and start over by reinstalling the operating system. It is not to say that individual problems can not be isolated and repaired, but there becomes a point where nothing beats a complete cleaning and starting from scratch. And if you are experiencing all or many of the problems you listed above, this is probably the best way to go. There are several methods to perform a reinstall of Windows depending on your make and model computer:

1. Original Windows Installation CD?s ? This would be a Microsoft Windows CD and probably some driver CD?s from the manufacturer.

2. Recovery CD?s that came with your computer ? Some computers come with a set of recovery or restoration CD?s that will allow you to reset the computer back to the way it was the first day that you brought it home.

3. Recovery CD?S that you created ? Many new computers will prompt you to create your own set of recovery CD?s or DVD?s shortly after you set up your new computer.

4. Recovery Partition ? This is a separate recovery partition that the manufacturer placed on your hard drive. It is normally accessed by hit a key combination such as F10 or F11 while the computer starts. Check your computers manual or website for specific information for your exact computer.

5. Image File ? If you really planned ahead, you might have an image file that you can restore from. This image contains an exact duplicate of your hard drive at a specific point in time. You would have had to use some program such as Norton Ghost or Acronis Drive Image to get this image but it is a real time saver.

In most all cases, you will have to reinstall all of the software, printers and other items that you use as well as copy your data back to My Documents, favorites and email from your backups. This can be a big job for the faint of heart, especially if you did not plan ahead for this process. But you would have to do much of the same to set up a new computer as well.

Personally, I usually perform this process on every computer I own about once per year or two. It is the perfect time to do some real spring cleaning and remove some old email, dump programs that I no longer use and just start fresh.

Wayland Computer

--Submitted by Dana H. of Wayland Computer

If you have any additional advice or recommendations for Janet, let's hear them. Click on the "Reply" link to post. Thanks!
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reinstall windows
by postwick / April 13, 2007 9:00 AM PDT

Most of the issues you mention sound like indicators that you need to reformat your hard drive, reinstall Windows, and start over in that regard. You might have a faulty hard drive, but you can use software to check it - same goes for the memory. Over time, the Windows operating system files on a PC can become corrupted and cause the type of problems you are experiencing.

Keep in mind, of course, that you will have to make sure you have a reliable backup of all the data you want to save.

Technically, you never really have to replace a PC entirely. You could have hardware problems such as a video card or hard drive dying, and replace just that one component with a new one. It's like when the brakes wear out on your car, you don't get a whole new car you just fix the brakes. However, with PCs so cheap these days, unless you're an expert at building PCs it's probably just easier to buy a new one.

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Prefetch Files
by jawarters / April 23, 2007 2:36 AM PDT
In reply to: reinstall windows

One thing to try before resorting to a Windows XP repair or reinstall is to delete the "prefetch" files which WinXP uses to reduce boot up time and to load applications more quickly. These files are located (usually) in C:\Windows\prefetch and can number 100 or more. When one or more become damaged, they can actually increase boot up time or prevent it altogether.

Recently, I was unable to boot into anything except Safe mode. I believe the original problem was caused by a defective printer driver automatically downloaded and installed. Although I rolled back the driver and disabled its service, I had problems restarting WinXP.

Last Known Good Configuration and System Restore would not work. My PC would run fine in Safe Mode and in normal mode when I could get it started by Repairing the O/S. Unfortunately, using Repair is time consuming and requires re-downloading all updates between the time your install disk was created and the present.

Finally, I recalled that problems with Prefetch could cause difficulty starting WinXP. I deleted all (124) prefetch files (*.pf). WinXP automatically recreates these files if they are deleted. My PC then started without problems and ran faster than it had in some time. Something to try before resorting to a complete reinstall.

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For me it wll be when?
by tallin / April 13, 2007 9:23 AM PDT

XP/SP2 no longer is included in System Requirments so often stated when downloading anything worthwhile from the internet...then it will be time to move on/up to the next system either it be Laptop of PC desktop.

It is not hard to maintain ones current system with a stingent maintenance program. My computer is now just over two years old. It is a better system now than the day I purchased it, having it built professionally and customizing it myself with no programs on it that I do not use.

I must add that I received and still do receive so much help from C/Net in doing this and along the way learned extensively since I purchased my system in 2005

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When to replace your computer?
by gwhicks / April 13, 2007 9:32 AM PDT

While all the scenarios you envisioned could indicate that it is time to begin researching new computers they aren't necessarily an exact answer to your question. And truth be told, there is really no direct answer to your question beyond the simple, "Maybe."

Does your computer do everything you need it to do? Take away any of the "problems" you mention and answer the simple question of whether it still performs the functions you need out of a computer. Now add to that how old is your computer, and what operating system is it running? Keep in mind that just because your computer is 5 years old doesn't qualify it to the boneyard. The only person who can really answer your question is in fact you, and to help you come up with that answer let's talk about your options.

First if your computer is doing any (or heaven forbid ALL) of those conditions you mention then quite possible it is time to replace it. However, just one of those or another similar type of problem could possibly be remedied rather inexpensively (compared to replacing the system). Wanting to always open in safe mode could be any of quite a few different problems and the biggest issue is how to figure out what part of your computer is causing the trouble.

1) A bad power supply ($50-$75 generally) could make your system do all kinds of wacked out things. It might cause it to crash unexpectedly, never truly start up, or it might even get most of the way into windows and then suddenly freeze. I generally suspect the power supply when someone tells me about a multitude of problems (like your system is doing all those things you mentioned and not just one of them) as it will cause different things to happen at different times.

2) Failing hard drives ($50-$75)could show itself as corrupt data, the system wanting to boot into safe mode, random system freezes, or even the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). Now while all of these sound similar to the problems of a failing power supply the differences are there, but unfortunately unless you are a computer tech, you might not pick up on them. There are diagnostic tools you can run against your hard drive, but that would be a discussion for another day.

3) The RAM (memory) in your system has "gone bad" (about $100). While this is a less likely scenario it can happen and will again cause all sorts of different responses. As with the hard drives there are diagnostic tools to use to test your system memory.

4) Video card isn't working ($60). This is one of the easier items to detect as you will SEE what it is doing. When a video card fails it generally is fairly evident as your display will no longer show anything, or the text becomes all garbled.

5) Motherboard or CPU is beginning to fail ($200+). This one would most likely be a definite death sentence unless the system was less than a year or so old. However, this could be one of the toughest items for the casual user to determine as bad so it isn't too easy to make this call.

6) No bad hardware, just a tired old operating system (Free - maybe). Windows is a bit of a fickle operating system and over time it tends to deteriorate just from normal use. Installing and removing programs leaves traces of old software that can build up to quite a nasty mess. If you are diligent about backing up your data (you ARE right?!?!) then you could put in the disk that came with your computer and "wipe" it clean. If you have a name brand system (Dell, Compaq, Gateway, etc) then most of those have disks (you may have had to burn them yourself) that will restore the system to exactly the way it was when you first brought it home. BEWARE though that these disks do NOTHING to save your data, if you put the disk in and just run it without making sure you have everything copied off your system that you need, then you WILL lose your data.

Now, most of the prices I mentioned above are all just generalities, the true costs of any of those items could be much higher or lower, but overall I think you should be able to find suitable replacements in those ranges. Add to that the potential cost of having a tech do the work for you if you aren't comfortable digging around in your computer (any 1 of those items could bring labor costs of close to $200 from some repair shops plus the cost of the parts).

The bottom line is what do you want from your computer. Were you wishing (when it was still working "OK") that it was a little faster, or that it had this or that feature? If so then you probably want to look at something new. If it was handling all the tasks you wanted from it then maybe getting it repaired is a better alternative. Just as there are many possibilities to why your computer is doing something wrong, there are multiple factors into deciding to just replace the whole thing.

Hope that gives you a little guidance in making a decision. Just remember that somewhere around 70% (that number is made up by me, but if anything I would expect it to be low) of the computers out there are NOT utilized to their full potential and most 5 year old computers are still way more than capable of doing what most people need from them. Just like with a car, they need a little maintenance from time to time as they won't run indefinitely when ignored. Doing some routing servicing could get you several more years out of what you already have.

Greg Hicks

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tell me more about diagnosing RAM problems
by beelissa / April 20, 2007 10:14 PM PDT

Can I jump in here? The message above says there are tools that can be used to diagnose RAM problems. My computer is not doing any of the things this questioner listed, but it does seem to be the RAM. It's got 2 256 mb DIMM chips in it. It's an old compaq running Windows xp. 5 years old, but it was pretty much at the high end of what you could buy at the time. It was just shutting off by itself and the normally green light next to the power switch would blink red. Tech support from compaq said that indicated a problem with RAM and walked me through re-seating the memory cards or chips or whatever you call them. Since then, no more shutting down on its own, but now we get the blue screen of death at least once a day. My research says the messages are most likely RAM-related. The tech person at compaq suggested taking out one of the 2 memory cards, then running it to see what happened, then switching to the other one, to see if it was one of the cards or the motherboard. I haven't done that yet. If there is a tool I could use for free that would tell me more before doing that, I'd be interesting in learning about it.

My thought is, if it's the RAM, I'll replace it and upgrade to 1024 mb in the process, and if it's the motherboard, I'll get a new computer.


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Diagnose RAM problems
by daChief / April 21, 2007 12:46 AM PDT

>Give this a try:

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Janet: Re: Warning signs that a computer needs to be replace
by Watzman / April 13, 2007 9:41 AM PDT

I think it?s important to distinguish between signs that a computer needs to be replaced and signs that the computer is in need of repair. And when considering repair, we should distinguish between hardware repair and software repair (e.g. repairing or perhaps, ultimately, reinstalling the operating system (Windows)). Clearly a computer exhibiting any of the symptoms that you describe ... much less all of them ... is in need of some serious attention, but not necessarily replacement.

Pretty much anything that goes wrong with a computer can be fixed; it can ALWAYS be made "as good as it was when it was new". Almost all of the symptoms that you listed could be caused by either hardware failures or a corrupted operating system. If you brought the computer to me, the first thing I?d want to know is what is the vintage of the system and what components does it have, because assuming that I?m not working for free out of friendship, if you bring me a Pentium II or Pentium III system (or anything earlier, or anything that originally came with an operating system earlier than Windows XP), I?m probably going to tell you right up front that while I can fix it, indeed while I can make it ?as good as it was when it was new?, and while the cost may not even be all that high (say $75 to $150), it?s not worth putting even that money into what is now in computer terms a really vintage system. In fact, I?d probably give you that advice even for a very early Pentium 4 system (say made between 2000 and about 2002, with a clock speed under 2GHz). I?d only suggest putting repair efforts into something more recent than about a 2002 vintage Pentium 4 with a clock speed over about 2GHz.

Assuming that you are still game for a repair, I?d run a good memory diagnostic [Memtest or Memtest86] first, because bad memory can cause a multitude of problem, including all of the problems that you describe, and it?s relatively easy and inexpensive to diagnose and fix.

Once we got past that point, and in the absence of signs of other obvious hardware failure, I?d be inclined to reinstall the operating system (Windows), because even if a corrupted operating system hadn?t been the initial problem, if you are seeing this type and variety of problems, it?s an odds-on certainty that the copy of Windows currently on the hard drive has become corrupted and needs reinstallation. A corrupted operating system can cause all of these problems, but it can be either the cause or just an effect, in which case the actual cause could be hardware failure of any kind as well as virus?, malware (?adware?) and so on.

The act of completely reinstalling an operating system is actually a fairly good stress test for a PC, and by the time a complete reinstallation of the operating system is done (including installing your other software and fully updating everything), a good technician will have a very good feel for whether or not the system is ?stable? or needs additional diagnostic work to find additional hardware problems. [After memory, the most likely cause of hardware problems in an older PC is often the power supply.]

If the computer is not so old as to be inherently incapable of meeting your needs, the only real indication that it actually needs to be replaced as opposed to fixed would be a failing motherboard, which, in a sense, ?is? the computer. Short of that (and even motherboards can be replaced), nearly everything can be repaired, and the computer could be made as good as it was when it was new.

Very often, however, the only thing a computer needs to be ?as good as it was when it was new? is a reinstallation of Windows, followed by installation of your applications software and transfer of your data. While this is ?just software?, it?s time consuming (hours to as much as several days, depending on how much software, data and settings are involved and need to be transferred), and if you are paying for it to be done, there will be a real cost for labor, if not for actual parts. On the other hand, if you buy a brand new computer, it won?t have your software, settings or data on it either, and you may still be looking at a significant effort to get it to a point where it is loaded with your software and data and connecting to your internet provider and E-Mail. So even total replacement of your old computer with a new computer doesn?t immediately end or cap your computer issues. You still need to get your software, data and settings transferred and applied to the new computer.

I hope that this is helpful,

Barry Watzman

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Warning signs that a computer needs to be replaced
by mpala / April 20, 2007 8:39 PM PDT

Another thoughtful and thorough response from Barry Waltzman. I always look for and save his replies because he approaches the issue at hand in a methodical and straight forward manner, never feeding into the strident emotions that sometimes accompany the question (Mac or PC, for one recent example).

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Good advice
by mnedrow / April 22, 2007 9:07 AM PDT

You make good points and offer good advice to any computer user.

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I agree,been there.
by dorothyblu2 / April 30, 2007 6:42 AM PDT

Yes,I agree,definitely,that we "outgrow our computers",and that is usually the problem,they no longer serve our needs.YOU got it.

Graphics software is so "RAM-pigging-out"that I actaully go to websites that,as a member,let me use their art-software to do computer art,cause I got so sick of my Adobe Illustrator not even having enough memory to do art on my own computer...and I had just bought a new compaq,with tons of memory...but not enough for graphics software,which pig out on RAM like they want to eat up the Louvre in entireity!So,it does depend on what your "needs"are;some software is too needy.

I hardly ever use the Adobe Illustrator,now,cause the other websites(Japanese)have much superior art software.Take THAT,Adobe!!(Ok,so I prefer fine art.)

Oh,and those prices you quoted(or close to)are not bad,not bad at all,to replace all those hardware parts,even for a new harddrive.Amazing.

So if you really love your particular model computer,why should you give it up?I mean,if it really does the job,but just needs repair or RAM-addition,or maintenance,why give up a nice,hard-working,not-vintage computer,that is still up to the job?

I have a big,clunking,fat,wide monitor,not modern at all,except that the picture,colors,ect.,visually is wonderful,works so well,and never given me trouble,and makes my Sony t.v. look puny in comparison.(I love to watch episodes of "Lost"on it,great picture.)Who cares if it weighs a ton?I'm not using it for weight-lifting.But doing artwork on it is awesome.(I can't believe I just used that word.oops.)

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computer problems
by littlebucko / April 13, 2007 9:47 AM PDT

hi i have been doing an it technician course at college for a year now and have been making them for alot longer the problems you are saying about (safe mode / no boot / dead at boot screen or logon screen and not printing or saving data )
these are made by things such as microsoft windows to solve this you will need to reinstall your windows

the best way to see if you need to upgrade is if your system fails alot such as the blue screen of death or not starting alot

the make can do alot aswell i have a sony vaio laptop vgn-fs315m
and i must say it is the best i have ever had i did have a packardbell then blew on me

my mum and sister have now also got a sony vaio laptop each and they are also verry happy as sony are at the top of the computing market

if you need anymore help just e-mail me at

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Just a tip
by mnedrow / April 22, 2007 9:00 AM PDT
In reply to: computer problems

As a general rule I would ignore any advice from someone that does not use puctuation or capitalization when needed.

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RE: Just a Tip
by me4 / April 25, 2007 11:00 AM PDT
In reply to: Just a tip

My friends don't use proper grammar, capitalization, spelling, and punctuation, but they still have good advice! Some people (I'll assume) are just lazy (not to be offensive) or don't have the time and patience.

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when is it time to replace my PC.
by cyclenut / April 13, 2007 9:50 AM PDT


The problems you listed could be either hardware or software faults.

The hardware can be tested at most any computer shop. Back up your data first. I would ask for a hardware test, especially the RAM and hard drive, and make sure to ask them to clean any dust that might be trapped in the cooling fans and heatsinks.

Software is a bit more complex. I am going to assume that you have a good antivirus software and it is kept up to date. You will also need some ?anti spyware? tools as well and I don't mean someones ?Internet Security Package? as in my opinion none of them are very good at maleware other than viri. I suggest you use Ad-Aware (found at, Spybot Search and Destroy found at . There is also a good one found at It is a thirty day trial of the full (read payed for) version, after which it reverts to a manual removal tool only. Back up your data first. Install and then update them, and then restar the computer in safe mode, and use them in each account on the machine.

If that does not fix the problems, Back up your data first, and do a fresh install of your operating system. Reload your programs and then restore the data the you backed up (you did back up didn't you?). This last one is usually used only a last resort.

If this fails it is buy a new computer. If you buy a new laptop, or a brand name desktop get an extended warrenty, as out of warrenty these can be expensive if not impossible to repair.


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Replace... or Maintain?
by bkspeck / April 13, 2007 10:09 AM PDT

Being "in the business" of computer consulting, I'm asked this question a lot. Here's the "Reader's Digest" version of my typical answer:

Business PC:
Expect to replace your PC's every two (2) to three (3) years. If you can justify holding onto a computer longer than that, fine. Businesses do well doing what they do best, not worrying about old computers breaking.

Personal PC:
A decent computer should last at least three (3) years. You can get more usage from it, if you maintain it properly, and don't require newer, faster hardware. Expect to upgrade or replace some components after the three year mark. if you're good about maintenance, you should get five (5) years or more of use out of a computer; again, assuming that newer, faster hardware isn't required, and that you haven't had any major hardware failures.

ALL computers need to be maintained, business or personal. You can get by with what comes with your computer to do your maintenance, but if you want easier, better, and automatic maintenance done, you'll have to spend some money.

Keep in mind that most Broadband providers offer bundled software for free or minimal extra monthly charge. The bundles typically include Spyware, AntiVirus and other software.

Run the following in order when you have performance issues:

#1) Viruses
Every computer needs AntiVirus protection, and most computers come with some sort of virus protection. McAfee and Norton have long been the leaders in the field, but as of late, I've been recommending other AntiVirus software:
- AVG AntiVirus FREE Personal (not for business use)
- Trend Micro AntiVirus

#2) Spyware, Adware, Malware
This is the #1 reason I've seen a computer run slow, generate errors, or not run at all. Here's a few great FREE adware programs you can use:
- SpyBot
- AdWare Personal (not for business use)

#3) Clean It Up!
There's a very handy software title called CCleaner that does an excellent job of finding and deleting the junk files on your computer.
- CCleaner

#4) Fragmentation
Over time, your hard drive's files become fragmented, meaning that each file is broken into 16 kb fragments, and those fragments are scattered all over the hard drive, making file retrieval like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, with one BIG add-on: The 500 pieces of your file are mixed-up with thousands of other files' fragments! Run a Defragmenter at least once a month:
- Windows Defragmenter (free with Windows)
- Norton SpeedDisk (part of Norton Utilities or SystemWorks)
- DiskKeeper (set it and forget it features)

There you go. You can find most of these software programs on cNet's

After maintaining your computer for a few years, the time still comes when it's best to just get a new one. Don't buy the cheapest one you can find; try to go up a level or two. The "pricepoint" systems are typically very difficult to upgrade or replace parts on later.

I hope this helps you!

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Never Rid Yourself Of the Desktop
by hfwashington / April 13, 2007 10:17 AM PDT

I been involved in electronics since the 1970s. I was a hobbyist since I was a kid ( born in 1950). I Have been hit with viruses. I operate a wi-fi commercial network and many websites today. My three desktops contain redundancy backups of software that I have purchased over the years. I have had laptops to fail. Now, I maintain an external hard drive to capture all of my downloads from each desktop. If anything fails, I can salvage some, if not all, of my purchased programs. A laptop cannot do this alone.


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warning signs
by ezbesthost1 / April 13, 2007 10:21 AM PDT

Multiple component failure is a "too late" criteria to be a warning . So look for the system to have frequent errors, programs crashing, and bluescreens. Some other warnings are hot-smell, clicking or screaching noises, and shutting off without notice. Then total failure is on the horizon. Granted, some repair parts may be inexpensive, on the other hand, parts that match may be almost impossible to find. When a system will cost more than a third of the cost of a whole new computer to replace small hard drives, install PCMIA cards, upgrade the OS or otherwise repair or upgrade then you should consider a new PC. Old PC's can be auctioned for parts, sent to the recycler, or stripped for a backup drive and more.

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When you can't add any more RAM and you need to, replace
by Technojunkie3 / April 13, 2007 10:24 AM PDT

If you have a well maintained (virus/worm/spyware-free) PC, adding RAM usually has the biggest performance impact. You may have an old Pentium 3 PC that's limited to 512MB, or an old Athlon limited to 768MB. Today's bloated software packages combined with necessary background tasks (antivirus, etc) can swamp those limits. I buy used memory DIMMs on eBay and Craigslist to help refurbish old PCs. If you can't add any more RAM and your PC is still too slow, replace it. Adding a video card to a PC with integrated video often helps too.

If you don't have a well maintained Windows installation, wiping the HD and starting from scratch can do wonders. Even the Windows installations of PC experts can get bogged down by entropy after a year or two of software experimentation.

It may be more cost effective to simply give your old PC to a neighborhood teenage hacker with time on his hands, after backing up the Windows activation files ( for him and securely wiping the HD (, and buy a new machine. He might help you properly secure your new PC as part of the deal.

The right answer depends on your skills, time, funds, and desire for shiny new toys ;-).

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Time for a new laptop
by jedi2b / April 13, 2007 10:29 AM PDT

A lot depends upon your skill level with computers. If you don't mind opening up the case, you can do a few things. Also, how old is the computer? What do you use it for?

I would first of all backup all your data before trying anything. Put it in a media that you can use later.

Then do a format and reinstall of the operating system. Does it work better? Install the programs you need most. Does it still work to suit you? Then you have rescued the computer for a few more months or maybe a year.

However, if you still get messages for the hard drive, it's probably a good idea to invest in a new computer. The cost is low, the quality is good, and you can usually tailor your computer to your needs at a reasonable cost.

If you do buy a new computer, make sure you completely wipe the hard drive before donating it. There are a lot of programs available for this.

Hope this helps.

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Not so fast on replacing the computer
by Sith840 / April 13, 2007 10:31 AM PDT

You need to see what is causing it. It could be hardware problems, but is more likely infection (Malware or virus).
Step 1 should be to let the BIOS run a bunch of hardware checks. When you start the machine, the screen should tell you to press some key to enter the BIOS. This is usually F1 or Enter or Delete. Be careful what you change. You want to look at the "Startup" or "Boot" page and look for running tests; it is likely disabled. You enable it and let it boot. It will run memory and disk and heat checks. This will likely tell you if you have serious hardware problems. A lot of people skip this step, but the risk is that you run chkdsk and the like and end up ruining your hard disk (due to moving bad data around).

Step 2 is to run chkdsk. Let it do a full scan. To do this, bring up windows explorer (or My Computer). Click right on the C: drive and select properties. Click on tools and then "Check Now...". Select both check boxes and then press Start. It will tell you it has to reboot to do this. That is fine. This will find if it is a disk error somewhere. If there are problems (e.g. bad sectors), it may be fixable (it marks them as bad and stops using them). If not fixable, then you need to replace the hard disk, and that may be the time to change computers.

Step 3 is to look for viruses and malware. This is the most likely cause. Depending on how bad the infection, you may have trouble getting tools installed to fix it. You can use two free tools to help quickly check for common viruses and malware. One is from Microsoft:
You run this and it tells you if you have an infection. It will not fix it, but the 1st step is to find if you have one. Then run the McAfee Stinger detection program:
If these find something, you know what tool to use to fix it (you can usually use the Microsoft Defender program or buy or demo an anti-virus application from a major vendor or a lower cost one). You may also want to download and install "HiJackThis", which helps others help you fix your problem (it says what is running and hidden). It is from:

Step 4 if nothing was found is to see if you you can clean up your system and registry. This rarely just happens. But, if so, CCleaner is a place to start. It allows you to clean your registry. It tends to show suspect applications and DLLs and "hooks" (programs that are started when you use Explorer). It can be downloaded from:

After that, you should be finding more stability. Note that if possible, it is best to run these steps with your computer off the network (cable unplugged or radio off). This tends to thwart a lot of malware (many are using your computer to do things on the internet) and so give you a chance to get things cleaned up.

Best of luck.

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The Signs To Get A New Computer

The signs that you have to get a new computer are it crashing, corrupting documents, and it acting slower than it should. I encourage people to get new computers if you notice these signs, and if you are a mobile user, maybe go to a nice 17 inch laptop. I am currently running a Lenovo 3000 J Series, AMD 64 Atholon x2, and a nice 19 inch widescreen monitor, and Windows Vista Home Premuim. Of that sounds nice to you, it is! I DO NOT ENCOURAGE BUYING GETTING SMALL MONITORS ON YOUR PC OR LAPTOP. ON LAPTOPS, BIGGER SCREENS MEAN YOUR LAPTOP WILL BE A LITTLE, JUST A LITTLE HEAVIER. PC'S, THE BIGGER THE SCREEN THE BETTER. THESE ARE MY TIPS. I DID NOT USE CAPS LOCK ON PURPOSE, SO KEEP THAT IN MIND.

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new computer or not????????????????????
by sandgatefc / April 13, 2007 10:39 AM PDT

Hi Janet, I have five computers in my house, starting at a Pentium 11 up to a P4 3.2ghz and all of my old ones that my children are using are all running fine and as I am a computer technician they are cheap to fix for me, but if the computer is failing at the task entered by you then it is time to replace certain components in the computer, which can mean that a new one might not be needed, like the RAM, from 128mb to 256mb etc, a bigger newer hard drive, new graphics card etc or even a new cooling system can make the computer act better when doing multi tasks, most computers can take a bit of an up-grade, all you need is the make of the system and the manufacture can advise you to the extent of the components in your system, this doesn?t mean that you need to replace all the components in your system a simple up-grade may all that is needed. If you have knowledge of computers you can change the components yourself or just ask friends and one of them might know a reliable technician for you. Good luck Chris C

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pc CPR
by markske100 / April 13, 2007 10:42 AM PDT

what you describe is a quite unstable system, which can be caused by various defective components.

my best guess is that your pc is already a few years old and that your hard drive is starting to show signs of wear and tear, so back up your documents and stuff as soon as you can and install a new drive.

This can be tested using HDtune , which can be downloaded here :click her
If Hd tune detects any errors in its test for bad sectors , of its read/write rate is about 1MB , your hard drive is probably defective.

installing a drive really isn't tha hard when you consider these few simple rules:

first you need to find out how your drive is connected, there are two popular ways to connect a drive to your motherboard, IDE and SATA , IDE connects to your motherboard trough a wide 40 or 80 wire cable, SATA is a much more slender and way less wide then IDE , click here for an IDE cable plug on a motherboard
click here for a sata plug on a motherboard

one is SATA, which is simply plug and play, if you plug it in it should work.

The other is IDE. you should always turn off your pc when changing drives, most SATA drives will work plug and play, which means you can add a drive while the pc is still running, IDE (parrallel ATA) requires that you turn off your pc

you need to look at the size you current drive has. if you have a 40GB model now , it shouldn't be a problem upgrading to a bigger drive, however, if your pc is older than 6 years you might be experiencing some problems. The drive may not work at all or only a portion of the drive may be regconised.

if you have figured out what type of drive to choose and what size, you probably want to install your new drive. sata is quite simple to install: turn off your computer and remove the old drive, then install the new drive.

IDE is pretty much the same, but there is a catch: IDE had two drives on one channel: one master and one slave. usually your boot drive is master and the other one on the channel is slave (if there is another drive present). it would be wise to set the new drive identiwally as the old one: if your old drive was set as slave , set the new as slave also.

If it's not your hard drive giving you a headache, it must be something else: download a memtest86 ISO image to test your RAM. you let the test run for about 6 hours, if you get any error's, your RAM is faulty, and you will need to replace it.

the rest of your computer can be tested using an ultimate boot disk. verifying that your cpu is stable is required and thus it is recommended you run prime for an hour or two.

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"Obsolete" is now a verb
by ehymel / April 13, 2007 10:44 AM PDT

Janet, I think I had best answer your question from a professional perspective, though I have no way of knowing what kind of use you make of your PC. In general, by the time your PC is noticeably on its last legs - disk failures, spurious motherboard errors, I could do quite a list, it is actually way beyond where you should have replaced it. At that point it can, at any time, suffer a catastrophic failure, and most or all of the data you have is irretrievable. You don't want to ever get to the point that that happens.

So my solution is simple - I replace my laptop (I haven't used a desktop since the early '90s) when it becomes noticeably slower. This isn't normally due to old age, but to new software capabilities that the original architecture was not designed for - Javascript, Explorer 7, what have you, over time software becomes more complicated and begins to require more horsepower, and often more memory (this takes its toll on the hardware, too!). Upgrading diligently, as I am sure you do, and installing new types of virus scanners and spyware detectors, you'll notice over time that your PC is slowing down - to the point that you'll sit there and have to wait for it to open a Word file, it no longer "pops". Or perhaps you would like that shiny new 1600x1280 monitor, but the graphics adapter built into the motherboard can't get to that resolution.

That, to me, is the opportune moment to start shopping for a new system. Doing that on a timely basis will let you take the time to find a good deal - buying a replacement under the pressure of a failing system will normally ensure you spend more than you really need to. Then, too, file transfer becomes much easier - you install the new system, turn on file sharing on your old system, and you can take your time over finding your files, cleaning out what can be discarded, and perhaps you'll leave the old system sit there and function as a file and print server, it'll last forever for as long as you vacuum its innards now and again, and you can back up your new machine automatically every night and never have to worry about losing your data again.

Perhaps this isn't the answer you were looking for, but ask yourself this: when you bought a new car because the old one ended up in the shop three times in three months, didn't you think you could have saved yourself a ton of money if you'd replaced the old jalopy sooner? That is what it is like with cars, toaster ovens, as well as PCs. Don't wait until you "see the signs", because chances are you won't be able to use it at all the very next morning.

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More than one reason to get a new PC
by bethlowg / April 13, 2007 10:45 AM PDT

When hardware starts to fail, it can cause the computer to behave in unexpected ways. There are so many parts in one computer. One part may fail while the rest of the system continues to (mostly) function. But when, like a cancer, the vital organs start to fail (memory, video card, cpu, motherboard) you will need to operate.

It takes time and experience to troubleshoot problems like this. Many people opt to get a new computer at this point instead of trying to fix the old one. But you could save yourself a bundle of money by having a local computer repair tech take a look at your system. If your computer is new enough to still be under warranty (or extended warranty), then use it! Many people forget they have service agreements 2 or 3 years down the road. Make sure to get an estimate up front for any repair. If you spend $150-300 in labor, you may save yourself the cost of a new computer which could be 10 times that price. Maybe you'll get another 6 or so months out of your old computer before it absolutely has to be replaced.

If you do take your computer in for service and the tech recommends you get a new computer, then get a new computer. Usually these guys (and gals) will try to fix anything with circuits and a keyboard (so long as they don't make a big profit on new sales). There is a point where someone has to pronounce the patient dead.

Businesses often replace their computers on 3-5 year cycles. If your computer is nearing that age and you are contemplating buying new, then go for it and pass your old system on to a friend or relative who has an even older computer. Sometimes that's reason enough to trade up.

If instead you just have upgrade fever and a 1-year old computer is obsolete in your eyes (then you probably wouldn't be posting here on your own, only here at the intervention of someone close to you) then you don't really need a reason not to buy new.

Once you do decide to buy you are in for a dizzying array of options and add-ons that can make the problems you are having with your system now look simple. (that's why Macs were invented!)

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How old is this dinosaur?
by elbet3 / April 13, 2007 10:47 AM PDT

Hi Janet, I have never kept a computer long enough for it to do any of the things you mentioned but sounds like it is time for a new one. The prices are so low right now with new Windows Vista to look forward to and so many interesting new add ons, I'd just retire that thing and "drive" a new model.

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This is bad advice
by genotypewriter / April 13, 2007 11:02 AM PDT

She didn't say anything about her computer being a dinosaur. All her problems could be caused by not running Live Update and not having an anti-virus program. The same problem could come up in Vista if she does the same and nothing can stop computer-illiteracy from getting a computer user into this sort of trouble.

If her computer really is a dinosaur then she might be knowing a bit more not to take your advice. Do you at least sell computers or something?

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The signs...

Short answer: Your PC probably doesn't need replacement.

Long answer: Although I hate to say it... you might need to re-install Windows. Basically, you need to replace/repair the hardware of a computer (e.g. "the box" or what's in it) only when there is a hardware fault. A hardware fault is a lot more serious than what you've been experiencing and usually involves error messages as soon as you push the powerbutton (i.e. BIOS start-up screen) or nothing comes up on the screen at all, or involves funny "broken" or irregular sounds from within the "box" itself.

Usually, everything that comes up after saying "Starting Windows..." or similar is a problem with your software and a clean re-install of operating system (in your case, Windows) does the trick for most people. This alone is not enough if you don't know how to maintain a computer and the same problem will rise sooner or later even if you spend $5,000 on a brandnew PC.

Apart from hardware failure, the only other real warning sign that tells you to replace/repair/upgrade is when your fully functional software isn't functional enough for your computing needs. If you decide to get newer software, they might have hardware and other software requirements that might require you to replace/upgrade hardware.

If nothing (hardware) is broken, there's isn't a thing that even a 5 year old PC can't do today if you learn how to maintain it (i.e. reinstall Windows and run Live Update in most people's cases) and discipline your needs.

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Simple indicator
by vdblu / April 13, 2007 11:04 AM PDT

Let me put it in the simplest way.

If the recommended system requirements of software that you need to run is above what your system can handle, then it's definitely time to replace.

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PC Replacement
by thellar / April 13, 2007 11:07 AM PDT

Hi Janet,

No computer ever needs to be replaced unless the hardware itself is failing. As long as your current hardware configuration gives you the performance that you need, replacing your computer isn't necessary. If you want a faster computer or one with better graphics etc. then you will need to upgrade to a newer machine.

I have been working with computers for years, and I would say that other than hardware issues, or not being able to run newer software, there aren't any warning signs that a computer needs to be replaced. If your computer won't start up and is flashing zillions of warning signs across your screen all you need to do is reformat your harddrive with a recovery disk. The reformat will wipe your harddrive completely and take the Operating System back to its factory condition. The computer should run as if it was brand new again.

All the best,


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