If you’re thinking about buying a new computer – or sitting there with a dead one on your hands – you might be wondering how long a PC should last. At the risk of an almighty cop-out in the first paragraph, there’s no easy answer to this question and it depends on a huge number of factors. But stick with me and I’ll try and give you clear guidance on how long you can expect a PC to survive for.
Let’s start with a question I’m asked frequently…
My PC/Mac only has a one-year warranty? Surely it should last longer than that?
Yes, it most definitely should. One-year warranties have become something of an industry standard for new PCs and laptops. You can go to Apple’s website now, put down £5,000 for a new iMac Pro, and you’ll still only get the one-year warranty as standard.
However, that doesn’t mean Apple (or PC maker of your choice) thinks it should only last a year. It means they’re trying to sell you extended warranty care, so should something go wrong from month 13 onwards, you don’t have to pay for the repairs.
I’m not going to spend ages trawling through consumer law – Which? and others will do a far better job – but if your PC or laptop goes pop in month 13, you have rights, not least the right that goods should last for a “reasonable” amount of time. And a year isn’t reasonable for a PC. The retailers’ responsibility doesn’t expire the moment the warranty does.
So, how long should a PC last?
If treated well and not physically damaged, there’s no reason why a PC or laptop shouldn’t last five years or more. I’ve got laptops here that are a decade old and still functioning, and I can’t remember the last time I saw one that conked out within the first two or three years, although that is of course possible.
One of the reasons why PCs have become more robust in recent years is the gradual shift towards solid-state storage. Hard disks were always one of the components most likely to fail in a PC, but solid-state drives, which – as the name suggests – have no moving parts are much more reliable.
The downside of modern laptops, however, is that many parts are now soldered to the motherboard. If a hard disk failed in a laptop bought ten years ago, there was a good chance you’d be able to loosen a couple of screws and replace it yourself. Today’s laptops are much less repairable, because everything is literally stuck together, meaning if one component fails, the whole laptop is normally a write-off.
Now for the real question: what’s the useful life of a PC?
That decade old laptop I’ve got in my kit cupboard might well turn on, but that doesn’t exactly make it useful.
It would probably struggle to run the latest version of Windows 10 and most modern software. I don’t know for sure, because I installed Neverware’s CloudReady on it years ago and effectively turned it into a Chromebook.
So let’s talk about the meaningful life of a PC…
If you buy a top-of-the-range PC or laptop – one of the more expensive systems on PC Pro’s A-List – you should fully expect it to give you five years of useful life.
The one exception to that might be a gaming PC/laptop, because graphics technology moves so quickly that within two or three years, you may find that your PC is unable to run the very latest games at acceptable frame rates (in other words, games become juddery). If you’ve got a desktop PC, you might just be able to replace the graphics card and eke more life out of the PC, but that can’t be taken for granted because graphics card standards change and your motherboard may no longer be compatible with new cards.
As you move down the expense scale, the lifespan shrinks. A budget laptop costing £400 or £500 might be fine with Windows 10 now, but in two or three years’ time, it will likely start to creak. Windows will swallow more memory, software will get more demanding and performance will slow – perhaps to the point where it becomes frustrating to use or even unusable.
However, don’t give up hope. Sometimes you can give a Windows machine an extra lease of life by resetting it back to its original state. For full details, read my colleague Lee Grant’s guide to resetting a Windows 10 PC before donating it.