General discussion

What is the Average life of an Average Desktop computer?

Nov 14, 2008 12:28PM PST

I am on my 5th desktop computer since 2000 (Y2K).

The most common thing that seemed to give out first (within 3-5 years) was the Power Supply, which I successfully replaced each time - with the recommended replacement.

However, it seemed like some (unidentified) components of the Motherboard(s) also failed on each and every one of my previous desktop computers.

Not knowing enough about computer hardware, I took a couple of my first ones to some folks that were in the business of repairing computers for a diagnosis and possible repair. (this is how I found out about the Power Supply?s)

After a few rounds of this, when the computer that I had broke down, I decided to just get a new one (in the $500 - $1000 range) and donate the broken one to a non-profit computer repairman that gave his repaired electronics to charities.

I have had as many as 3 desktops at one time, but never one for more than 5 years - even though I work to keep them in good condition (like vacuuming them inside and out ever 3 months, etc.)

I do realize that since BIC invented disposable lighters that it makes more sense to buy new rather than purchase fluid, wicks & flints. And - these days it costs less to buy a new digital camera than to get one repaired - But, is it Now also the same with the average desktop (generally better to buy new rather than repair)?

Whether or not that's the way it is these days, does anyone know - What the Average life is of an Average Desktop Computer? (Average = common brand name, $500- $800)

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Life expectancy
Nov 14, 2008 4:42PM PST

My experience would tend to suggest that 2-3 years would be typical for a PC.
Even if the machine is still working at the end of 3 years, the software and OS upgrades? will have slowed it down to a crawl.

In a networked environment, you could consider VDI or Terminal Services/Citrix etc and using thin clients. The thin clients will outlast the PCs and your hardware refresh will be limited to the server.

Some of our thin clients use as little as 7 watts, so you could be helping your fuel bills and the environment too.

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5 years.
Nov 14, 2008 10:34PM PST

With care of the usual moving parts such as keeping the fans and vents clean you find the hard disk makers rate their drives at "5 year design life."

But a desktop is unlike a laptop where we discuss the laptop life span at;forum-threads a desktop usually can be repaired for less than 1/2 the cost of a new desktop so you can get well beyond the 5 years.

"Usable life" however is another story. If you are a gamer then lifespan appears to be about 2 years as the newest games tend to want the latest hardware.

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Computer lifespan
Nov 15, 2008 2:55AM PST

The lifespan of a computer is going to vary. Depending on how often you use the computer and what you use it for is going to factor in the equation. Also, the original equipment of the computer is going to play a big factor. If you buy a low-end computer, you are typically getting dated hardware. Not used per se, but you'll typically be sold hardware that is 2 or 3 generations behind the newest hardware. And these lower end machines will obviously have cheaper hardware. The cheaper hardware won't last as long as the more expensive hardware.

The best way to make sure you get a machine that was have lots of longevity is consult with a local system builder. They will be able to outfit your machine with quality components with execellent life cycles. With a good foundation of hardware components, you'll be able to keep your investment going strong for many years to come. The last desktop that I bought was in 2000. I also bought multifunction printer at the same time. I still use both of them to this day.

Consult with a local IT profesional when you make your next purchase and you'll get the guidance you need to make a sound technology investment.

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how long
Nov 21, 2008 10:38AM PST

my computer is 6 years old.I use 12-14 hours a day.
It could fail tomorrow, so could any computer.

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6 yrs. old too
Nov 21, 2008 11:19AM PST

Mine's 6 years old too and running strong, although a little slower that new, but still very usable. I did just replace it, but because of want, not need. It will be going to my MIL soon for her use.

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Nov 21, 2008 5:39PM PST

I have a fully functional Atari 800, it runs as well as it did for the first 5 years of its existence. I start it up every year or so to plop in an old cartridge and marvel at some of the old games which were less mind intensive.

The only real reason for a new one, IMHO, is if you want to keep up with the latest graphically orientated software which usually only requires a better GPU but that the GPU you want is not compatible with your motherboard and the powersupply is insufficient anyway. At that point, you have to decide whether the cost of this sort of upgrade is worth it on your current computer.

Its the Graphics chip that rules the roost. The new bells and whistle upgrades to most of the old tried and perfectly function software which were not originally graphics intensive, have become so. And there are the Games...

I read somewhere that the lifespan of a harddrive averages about 10 years. Get an external one, make it your primary. Most of them will probably be bigger than that which came with your original purchase.

Who knows how long it can last if its not expected to be a Game console.

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Depends on what you use it for
Nov 21, 2008 10:55AM PST

If you want to keep up with the current games, you are probably looking at replacing or upgrading the machine every 1-2 years, as the games producers take advantage of the developments in graphics cards and processors. In these machines, the hardware is unlikely to break in its short life.

If you have a machine that you use for web surfing, email, Office type applications, you'll probably need to replace or upgrade in 4-5 years. During that time, you'll be replacing some components, HDDs, adding RAM, maybe adding a new optical drive and often this puts a strain on the power supply, which will run hotter and shorten its life. Most commercial machines won't be over generous with their power supplies, so keep an eye on anything you add to the system.

A self build will run for very much longer, I have a mini-tower that acts as my internet gateway and just a general web/email/smartsuite machine for anyone who needs it. I built it in 1997! Since then, it's had a new power supply, a couple of additional HDDS and more RAM but essentially, its the same machine.

If you go down this route, though, remember the story of the lumberjack who still has his original axe - of course, it's has 4 new handles and six new heads but it's the same axe!

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4 years because of obsolescence and performance,
Nov 21, 2008 12:48PM PST

Many will last longer, maybe till something breaks. After the four years many parts manufactures begin to discontinue parts for older PCs. Try this yourself, look up and attempt to replace a motherboard, RAM, or processor 4 plus years old. No luck, think dumpster diving.

PC hardware develops at a very fast rate, my guesstimate about 300% improvement a year. If you like waiting you can keep and old system around as long as you like.

Do yourself a favor and buy a new one after 4-5 years.

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computer lifespan
Nov 21, 2008 10:29PM PST

Agree. 4 to 5 years

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Life - is what u make it
Nov 21, 2008 5:28PM PST

If you paid $500 retail for a desktop - I would give it 16 months before something (usually the hard drive) goes out.
they are built with cheap knockoff, copied, boards.
I have been building pc's since my first - when the comodore 64 would
not do what I wanted. LOL
I always used quality name brand equipment (bragging rights type) - and was able to sell them cheaper than retail and still made a decent profit.
my first personal lasted 7 years - still runs fine with win 3.1.
just needed something faster than 12mhz.
my next lasted pretty much 12 years - with cpu, ram and video card upgrades. still runs fine and still use it, so add 3 years to that.
this one I built almost 3 years ago cause I wanted it to do more, and will probably last me a while. just depends on what happens in the world and my personal wants.
what I figure is the key to longevity - quality name brand equip - and getting some, like the power supply, larger than you really need.
if you run things to their max all the time - well, they will get a heart attack. by getting the ps larger, it doesnt have to work so hard to give you max performance.
With todays cpu's you need to keep them cool - add fans, 120mm with hight cfpm. at least 2 hard drives in the case and one outside for backups. the hd's are really the weakest link for failures since they have high speed moveing parts.
this last complete build I think ran me about 900 or so plus a new
24 in monitor - had to have it - LOL LOL
full tower case - one 750w power supply and one 350w ps - the 750 runs
the mobo, 2g ram, vid card w/512ram, sat tuner card, 2 250g hd's. The 350 runs the diskett, 2 dvd's and 5 fans. the fans are custom mounted to give better flow thru etc. cut holes in the case sides to mount one directly over the cpu fan and one on the other side that moves air
across the bottom of the mobo. all the places that air gets in or past a fan is filtered. keeps me from haveing to vac out the place like I used to.
ONE THOUGHT - do you have a lot of electrical brown outs or power failures ? this could be a reason that helped the ps's to go out.
I use spike and line filtered pluged to the wall - to which I plug in the APC 1500 UPS with all its protection. we have a lot of power problems here so this double shot keeps me sane.
let the cheaper strip eat it.
so... theres my two cents worth for today.

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Build yourself
Nov 21, 2008 5:38PM PST

If you want a computer that will last, you really should build it yourself. Otherwise, you don't know what kind of low quality components might be in use.

Some tips for you:

1. For longer working life and more tolerance to heat, buy motherboards with 100% solid capacitors. (you can recognise them easily - they are squat, not tall).
2. Buy RAM from a well-known manufacturer, and run Memtest 86+ overnight to make sure it's good.
3. Buy a brand-name power supply. If you buy a cheap and nasty one and it gives out on you, it can damage the motherboard. This includes power supplies that come with no-name brand cases!

Okay, so a solid capacitor motherboard will cost twice as much (or more) than one without. Brand-name RAM will cost about 30% more, and a brand-name power supply will also cost twice as much as cheap crud (no need to go overboard with the watts). But in the end, you'll have a computer that will last and last and last; and you'll be safe in the knowledge that everything that's in your computer is The Good Stuff!

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Thanks to everyone
Nov 22, 2008 12:36AM PST

Although I like 3rdalbum's reply the best (Very Good Advice), I extend my Thanks to everyone that has joined in on this subject

With appreciation

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buy junk and get a junk life span
Nov 22, 2008 1:01AM PST

Every one of my Apple Computers have lasted until I replaced them due to being outdated sufficiently to warrant a replacement. They never had a hardware fault other than my first which had an immediate calved hard drive. Failing power supplies mean cheapo components. There is nothing inherent about a power supply that should say...good for three years. Using undersized or poorly designed power capacitors is usually the issue here. There is a secret to the chemical coatings used in caps that some manufacturers did not know about after the electrolytic coatings formulae required were "obtained" from the inventors and patent holders but I understand that it was not the correct formula and so thousands of premature failures were the result of this. Corporate espionage sometimes results in the perfect pay off...Unfortunately that means that many people end with with junk PCs. Buy a name brand and this is unlikely or they will repair it if it is their fault. This is of course internet rumour but it seems to be the case. If your computer is a reputable brand, it ought to last ten years. All of mine have but they are so out of date by five years, it is likely time to upgrade due to slow response with modern software written for faster machines and graphics cards. The power supplies in name brand computers are built to deliver double their rated use. Cheap computers give you just enough so that in time the overheating of the components result in premature failure that might very well take out the motherboard. Buy the is cheaper in the end. The best by the way is an Apple Mac Pro but I know on this site I am talking to a different crew. In case you are unaware of this the Mac machines, one and all can run Windows Vista perfectly but you will have to buy a copy to do this. It is a no brainer to install it and then you will have BMW quality hardware for a change.

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Desktop Lifespan
Nov 22, 2008 1:11AM PST

A good computer should easliy last 4-5 years without a hardware repair. Be sure to get a name-brand computer.

500$ sounds too cheap for a serious computer, though Best Buy has a name-brand desktop for 400$ mail order.

The power supply should not go bad any time soon. I suspect you're buying cheap, no-name computers with a cheap PS. I suspect the tech you talked to couldn't find a good fault and gave you a stock answer.

Weren't there power supplies out a while back that were under-rated? These were third-party, but some might have gotten into a few low-end computers.

The only maintainance needed would be to blow out the insides, NOT vaccuum. Get a can of canned air and blow out the dust with the computer off and not warm from usage.

Maintain a good back-up.

Get a S.M.A.R.T. progtam to monitor your HD, though bear in mind you'll get all sorts of ignorable warnings. When it says your drive is about to go, get a new HD immediatly. Use the old one as a backup.

If you have pets, put the computer where any fur won't get sucked in.

Finally, one of my pet peeves: "this is how I found out about the Power Supply?s". That should be "power supplies", no apostrophe, and uncapitalized.

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A name brand doesn't guarantee much
Nov 22, 2008 4:21AM PST

A lot of HP's machines use noname power supplies. I have met a lot of people who have found that the PSU will die after 1-2 years. They seem just good enough to survive beyond the standard warranty and not much more. Meanwhile, I have found anecdotally a lot of white box machines with name brand PSUs seem to last 5+ years. I don't have enough data points to speak authoritatively, but I don't think the name on the outside of the computer is as important as the names of the components inside.

In that respect a BYO or a white box build by a knowledgeable local vendor may be a much better choice for reliability. Another slightly more expensive option is to buy a business model PC. They tend to cost slightly more expensive(10-25%) than their consumer edition versions for the same hardware, but they tend to use slightly higher quality components and their confidence in the quality of the hardware typically extends to the point that they have better warranties on the business models as well.

Consumer hardware tends to focus on value rather than reliability. Business users on the other hand aren't as concerned about performance or gee whiz features as they are in reliability. Business users still obviously want performance, but they aren't as willing to compromise reliability in order to get it.

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Every Five Years...
Nov 22, 2008 9:21AM PST

...I change out everything: hardware desktop, monitor, printer, and operating system. So I started with W95 in 1997, then XP in 2002, and now Vista. Each time I bought hardware components that were typical of the generation and capable of running the software. This way I keep everything compatible. I also go to the latest MS Office when I make these changes; right now I am using Office 2007. Whatever is current in 2012 will be my new system at that time. Usually after five years small things start getting flaky (a power supply, a DVDRW, etc.). I paid less for my Vista based HP system in 2007 than I did for the XP based HP system in 2002. And now I have a nice big 22 inch LCD monitor for these tired old eyes....

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Build a system with a good motherboard
Nov 23, 2008 3:59AM PST

I am still running daily on the system I built in 2001. I first tried a white box package from a dealer. My apartment building (at the time) had aluminum wiring. This made the computer very unstable. I upgraded the power supply to an Enermax 350 watt with no effect.

I went back to the dealer and had them swap to a ASUS A7V266-E motherboard. All the errors stopped. I think it has lasted so long because it has an onboard filtered power supply. It was consistently among the best performing boards on ARS Technica at the time. The only changes I have made were to replace the memory stick when it expired with one from Mushkin, and the video card when it expired recently. It has a 40Gb hard disk from Samsung. I have no idea why that that has lasted for so long. I have used Win2K ever since and have avoided most of the issues other have reported, first with WinXP and since then with Vista. I would love a new system but they are really not much faster than the one I have.

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My oldest computer (PSU died)
May 18, 2012 8:06PM PDT

My oldest computer has lasted for 18+ years, and the PSU died recently (18+ years) and all of the hardware (excluding my 2007 hard drive, and 2007 dvd burner) have been around for 18+ years. I'm just doing some diagnostics on my HSing Tech M912 v1.7 Motherboard & 230W Standard AT PSU to check and see which part is dead. I'm planning to buy a new power supply so that I can actually get this machine up and running again.

The motherboard only has 7 ISA 8/16-bit slots and 3 VLB 32-bit for video cards. The hardware I have installed are: WinBond I/O Card ISA, Sound Blaster 16 PnP ISA, S3 Trio64 Bahamas 64 Paradise 2MB VLB Video Card, AMD AM486 DX4-120 Processor, 24MB SIMM-72 memory, Acer AL1917W 19" Widescreen LCD Monitor, Logitech Keyboard hooked up with a PS/2 to AT keyboard adapter, and that's about it. The PSU is an LSI FR-230W AT PSU with the flip-switch, the hard drive is a WDC WD800JB 80GB Hard Drive with Ontrack Dynamic Drive Overlay installed (since the Award BIOS doesn't support hard drives larger than 8.4GB), and the DVD Burner is a Lite-On DVD RW LH-18A1P.

The one problem my system has is it does turn on but it doesn't POST (Power-On Self-Test), there is no video, no beeps, or anything else, except the hard drive powers on, the DVD burner powers on, and the heatsink fan turns on, and so does the PSU fan, not the motherboard.

I tested the PSU to see what the problem was, and I believe there was too much dust on the power supply board.
Here are the specs:
HSing Tech M912 v1.7 Motherboard
Logitech Keyboard
Sound Blaster 16 PnP ISA
WinBond I/O ISA Card
S3 Trio64 Bahamas 64 Paradise VLB Video Card
LSI FR-230 Standard AT PSU
WDC WD800JB Hard Drive with Ontrack(r) Dynamic Disk Overlay (32GB Windows 98SE, 42.5GB Data)
Lite-On DVD RW LH-18A1P DVD Burner
24MB SIMM-72 Memory
AMD AM486 DX4-120 Processor

I tested the PSU with the switch at 115V; the PSU thought it was at 230V (3A), but when I set the voltage switch
to 230V, the system doesn't power on. I used a voltage meter to test the connections, but the wires that connect to the voltage switch must have bad wiring due to aging and brown outs. This never occured to me with any of the computers I had in the past to today.
As for the motherboard, I tested the connections that the PSU connects to, and everything is all perfect. This PC was sitting in my back room for a long time since 1999 after we got a Pentium-Class (AMD K6-2/300) computer, which lasted for 10 years; the Processor shorted out and the motherboard was fried.
Does anyone know if its either the motherboard that's dead or the PSU?
I'd say an average is at least 20 years, if someone is lucky to have an old IBM XT PC from the 1980s.

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I would agree with the general 4-5 year concept
Jul 10, 2012 2:30AM PDT

The desktop itself can last much longer but like an exotic foreign car, once something goes wrong it is difficult and/or expensive to fix if you don't have a supply of matching parts. But with proper care, which includes keeping it clean, cool and protecting it from power spikes a PC will last 10 years. Seriously if you dont vacuum out your tower you PC will be wearing a sweater inside its case and a single power spike (unless it is from lightning) shouldn't wreck you stuff but the constant fluctuations which are common (especially if you are on the same circuit as anything with a compressor) will eventually render your hardware useless (assuming your software is not outdated by then).
The problem is that unless you bought a top end machine right after the latest OS came out your system will be slow and your software will become outdated and incompatible after 3-4 years add an extra year for the new OS top-end machine.
My advice is to always buy a middle of the road machine, unless you are a serious gamer (and then you don't need my advice), about a year after the new OS comes out. Let someone else pay for being the early adopter and you can get 90% of the performance for 50% of the price (or 75% of the performance for 20% of the price). As long as you upgrade to a new machine about every 5 years you will always be happy with your new machine, even if it is not super fast, it will be much faster than what you are used to.
Of course once they figure out how to put real power into a tablet the landscape will change.

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Life of my computers
Jan 11, 2014 2:43AM PST

I had one computer for 10 years and it was fine, just slower towards the end. I bought a Dell Dimension afterwards, and it is still great after 8 years. I think if you buy a good quality computer then backup and do regular maintenance, you can use your computer for years if you do not need more advanced technology than what you are already using it for. Hey if it's not broke, why replace it? However, I think 10 years with any computer, you might want to consider upgrading - but get the best that's out there in quality. The key is, do not buy a cheap computer, quality makes a huge difference.

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Seven and going strong!
Feb 10, 2016 5:15PM PST

In July of 2009 I purchased a $699 HP Pavilion. I haven't had to replace any parts as of yet (knock on wood), and it's still going strong. Many of the replies simply say: "it depends on what you use it for." but I use mine for a little gaming, a little email, a little surfing, etc and so forth. She's still going strong. I do have three external hard drives for all the things I want to save and backup to so that I don't need to worry what will happen to my music, movies or pictures when she does die.

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For number of years
Feb 17, 2016 12:08AM PST

Deciding when to retire desktop PC is the most complicated issue.It depends from how long time you are using that computer.Generally computer never give up less than four years.Even cheap machine also works for approximately 5 years.

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