Business owners planning computer replacement often ask us “how long does a computer last”? Here are 5 tips to help them plan.

Robert Jolliffe, Owner, MicroAge Kitchener

As a computer service company, we are often the bearers of bad news about old computers.  Planning computer replacement is a very important part of making sure your business risks are kept under control. Too often MicroAge have had customers who kept computers running critical software way past their useful life.  It’s not fun (and not cheap) having to source nearly impossible spare parts for obsolete machines in an emergency.

Planning computer replacement so you don’t have emergencies is a critical part of what a Managed IT Service company does for their customers.

Here are our tips for making sure you have a good system refresh policy in place for your business computers.

How Long do Computers Last?

I run into a lot of business owners and managers who work in an industrial setting and struggle to understand why computers don’t last for 10, 15 or 20 years.  They buy CNC machines for production, trucks, or forklifts to move materials around, heavy equipment to dig or build. They expect these machines to last a long time, always 10 or more years.  So why don’t computers last that long?

Computers are not like that equipment. First of all, they are much more delicate.  They are sensitive to overheating.  They have complex circuitry. They have components that run 24/7 in a variety of environments. Electronics left on most or all of the time eventually fail (from a lot of causes).

But the biggest reason is that the purpose of the computer is to run software – not to do a task by itself.  The software is used by employees as the critical tools they need to do their jobs. As software needs change, the computer often needs to change as well.

Here are our tips to help understand when you need to start planning computer replacement for your business.

1 – Where Does the Computer Sit on the Mean Time Between Failure Curve

Manufacturers keep track of something called a “Mean Time Between Failure” to determine warranty periods.  For electronic components, a graph of this as a curve looks like a bathtub. A typical Desktop Computer – the kind you connect a monitor (or two), and keyboard to, is shown below. This is why they recommend planning computer replacement in 5-year cycles.

As you can see from the curve – the “risky” times for this kind of equipment is in the first few months, and then after about 60 months. You can find these curves from most of the major component manufacturers and they all look about the same.

Laptops are generally less rugged than a desktop, and are moved around much more (and dropped – everyone’s dropped a laptop at least once). Expect to replace them more often.  Servers are usually more rugged – and can last an extra year or two as a result.

2 – Can you Get Spare Parts

In some cases, if a computer fails, it has very little impact on the business.  On the other hand, if a critical computer goes down, it can be a catastrophe.

Unlike cars and other products, computers are constantly changing the major parts they are made of.  It’s very unusual for a computer model to be offered on the market for more than a year before major component changes.  For that reason, the manufacturers don’t keep service parts beyond about 7-years.  There are some aftermarket warranty services that you can buy and they extend this period – but after 7-years it can be almost impossible to order a service part.

The reality is – eventually you can’t get parts for the system and when that happens, you need to be aware that you could be down for weeks or more if a system fails.

3 – How Long Can You Accept a Computer Being Off-Line

Once a computer reaches the magic 5-year mark, I always recommend that a customer ask themselves “How long can I be without this”.  The lead time for new equipment is 3 or more weeks. What would that mean for your business if you had to wait that long.  The lead time for a new system of your choice is going to be as much as 7-weeks for something a bit exotic.

You can settle for something that is not a good fit for price or speed and get it faster, but is the cost really worth it. If you have a crash – it always costs a lot more to fix than if you are proactive.

If you have a computer you cannot afford to be without for 2 to 3 days – you need to make sure that computer is replaced at least every 5-years.

4 – Is the Computer Too Slow

Computers don’t really slow down, but they do need to run more powerful software as time passes.  Once an older computer is being pushed to run new software, it will seem like the computer has slowed down significantly. As you know newer software will be used, planning computer replacement needs to be considered at the same time.

Most “knowledge workers” who use computers for their day to day job are making at least $25 an hour.  If the speed of a computer is costing your team an hour a day – that’s over $6000 a year.  That is definitely the sign that it’s time for planning computer replacement in your business.

5 – Is the Computer Hard to Maintain?

Computers need to be maintained and managed.  Often this is done by updating the system as new “patches” are released.  If your computer is no longer being patched by the manufacturer, it’s certainly too old.  It is very hard for IT companies to maintain and manage computers that are this old.  As employees experience problems, the cost to solve them grows because you can’t get help.

A Final Thought

As a Managed Service provider, we see a lot of old computers and even newer computers that are really slow.  To be honest, sometimes a badly maintained computer can run slower than expected.  That is often because either malware has found its way onto the computer – or users have installed too many applications that are running in the background.

If you paid $1000 for a computer to be used by a $40,000 a year staff member – and it is running like a $500 computer – you’re pouring money down the drain.  Make sure you’re either buying good equipment, or monitoring and maintaining it correctly.

Robert Jolliffe
MicroAge Kitchener


About MicroAge Kitchener

MicroAge Kitchener is an expert in industrial IT and supports Kitchener, Waterloo and surrounding areas. Services include application and server hosting, virus scanning, spam filtering, local and off-site backup solutions, network cabling and monitoring, security system access and monitoring, data migration, and virtual CIO services.  No matter the IT requirements, MicroAge is the single source partner that works towards finding the perfect solution for your business. To learn more visit, email us at or call us at (226) 336-6259.