Time To Replace Your Computer?

Category: Hardware

An AskBob reader asks: 'Our computer is just three years old, but my teenager says it is obsolete. He wants us to buy a new computer with more speed, more memory, bigger hard drive, and a larger monitor. Can you give me some pointers on how to determine if I really need to buy a new computer?' Sure, here's my advice...

Is Your Computer Obsolete?

Many years ago (this was back in the late 1980s) I saw a cartoon of a guy proudly driving home with his brand new state-of-the-art IBM 386 computer in the back seat of his convertible. In the background was a huge billboard advertising the 486. The message: his computer was obsolete before he even got it home.

Technology is always changing... it's hard to be sure if the system you have will support the newest software, operating system and peripherals. So how do you know when it is indeed time to buy a new computer, or when it is best to ignore the commercials that tout the latest "gotta-have" technology?

You May Need To Buy A New Computer If...

    • ...your processor speed is less than 3.0 gigahertz (GHz). Most operating systems and application software these days demand a lot from your system. A speedy processor will help you browse the Internet, run your word processor and play games with ease. On a Windows PC, click the Start button, type system information and press Enter. If the speed is listed in megahertz instead of gigahertz, see if any friends need a new anchor for their fishing boat.

Need a new computer?  The HP Model 33 Teletype

    • ...your computer has less than 4 gigabytes (GB) of RAM memory. Again, the System Properties window will show how much RAM is installed. I recommend a minimum of 4 gigabytes (GB) of RAM for smooth performance. Go for 8GB of RAM if you use more than one program at once, or have multiple browser tabs open.

    • ...you are running a version of Windows that begins with a "3", "7", "9", "V", or "X" (Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Vista, Windows XP, or Windows 7). These obsolete versions lack the security features and technological advances required for safe computing and protection from identity theft. Windows 10 is still serviceable, and official support will continue through October 2025. If you have a Mac that's NOT running somer version of OS X, the same applies.

Windows 11 was released in October 2021, but unlike previous editions, it won’t work on many PCs happily running Windows 10. If your computer is more than three years old, it probably won't meet the stringent hardware requirements that Microsoft has in place for installing Windows 11. I personally don't think it's a must-have upgrade, so if you want to keep your Windows 10 PC for another three years, that's fine. If you decide you need to upgrade before then, you'll be looking at a Windows 11 system.

    • ...you have a monitor that's 14-inch or smaller. Most websites will not display properly on an old 14-inch monitor, and larger 20+ inch models are now standard. (I have dual 22-inch widescreen monitors on my desk!)

    • ...you try to install a program and you get the error "Operating System not supported."

    • ...you try to upgrade the Operating System and get an error message that the hardware is not supported. (See note above about Windows 11)

    • ...your computer has no USB ports. Most peripheral devices such as the mouse, keyboard, printer, scanner and external hard drives now use USB connections.

    • ...your computer has a 5.25 inch disk drive! Actually if you have even a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive, you may qualify. Software has outgrown the floppy disk, and the mere presence of a floppy drive on your machine may indicate that it's time to take it out back and shoot it. Even CD-ROM drives are not found on many newer computers, since software installations are accomplished by downloads, and music/video is streamed online.

    • Radio Shack TRS-80...your computer says Radio Shack anywhere on the packaging. I had lots of fun on the TRS-80 we had in high school, but that was almost 40 years ago. I actually owned an HP Model 33 Teletype (pictured above), which was the first computer terminal I used. It could go online with a 300-baud modem (about 10,000 times slower than broadband today) and saved programs on paper punch tapes.

All of the above scenarios warrant shelling out the dough for a new computer. There are cases however, where you might have a relatively new computer, (less than 3 years old) and it is acting up enough to make you want to replace it with a new one. Before you do that, let's look at a few ways you can "soup up" a fairly new machine:

Your Computer Is Running S-l-o-o-o-w-w

Before you decide to buy a new computer, read my article on The Best Upgrades for Old Computers, and if you're thinking about a used computer, see Is it Safe to Buy a Used Computer?

This is probably the number one complaint heard by Help Desk techs worldwide. If your computer is less than 3 years old, there are a myriad of reasons for the slowdown in performance. For instance, you may not have all the latest security software installed. Operating Systems, device drivers, anti-virus programs and other applications have frequent updates releases to their original product. Keeping up with the latest releases or patches of any software you are running, is a good way to keep your computer free from viruses and spyware that can slow it to a crawl.

Hardware also has updates, called firmware updates. Check with your hardware vendors to make sure that your computer, wireless router, cable modem, printer, etc... all have the latest firmware updates. A cable or DSL modem that's overheating can throttle your Internet speed. If you find that turning off the modem and then waiting an hour or so boosts your surfing speed, you may need to replace it.

Sometimes a slow running computer is one that is lacking memory. As applications get more feature rich, more memory (RAM, not hard drive space) is required to run them. A lot of times, computers will be sold without the maximum capacity of RAM that they can actually run. Again, check with your computer's manufacturer. Find out if the memory is expandable, and how much RAM you currently have intalled. Upgrading RAM is a fairly easy and inexpensive way to speed up your computer. See my companion article for help with understanding and adding RAM: Does Your Computer Need More Memory?

Your Computer Is Running Out of Space

You are noticing degradation in your computer's performance, and you are also noticing "Running low on disk space" messages. Low disk space can slow a machine down, and also cause problems running applications. Hard drive space is getting cheaper and cheaper these days; the newest computers often come with 500 GB or 1 terabyte (1000 GB) hard drives as a standard. You don't have to buy one of these new computers though; you can replace a smaller hard disk drive with a larger one, or upgrade to an SSD drive. But before you do any of those things, see my article Clean Hard Drive for tips on getting rid of the junk and clutter on your hard drive.

Your Computer Has Less-Than-Great-Graphics and So-So-Sound

The characters in that cool, new game you installed, have herky-jerky movements or maybe there's a tinny sound when you blast the bad guys. Or perhaps the photos you download from your digital camera have a grainy, dull look when opened on your computer. On a relatively new machine, these problems can often be remedied by multimedia upgrades. Upgrading your graphics card or sound card can add a whole new level to your computing experience. A newer monitor will make everything look crisper.

It's important to know when to let go of an old clunker of a computer. It's just as important to realize when your computer needs a "tune-up". The goal is to find a happy medium between being able to experience the latest that technology has to offer, but not being pressured into throwing a perfectly good system away because of slick sales ads, feature envy or industry hype.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Time To Replace Your Computer?"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

22 Aug 2022

No way! I'm not ditching my Commodore 64!
I put in a 1 TB SSD, and 32 GB of ram, and we're good to go!

Posted by:

Bob K
22 Aug 2022

Up until Malwarebytes automatically incorporated "PUP Removal" in their program, any time I had a slow computer I would run this program in order to speed it up. It did wonders. The download is but a few seconds only:


Posted by:

22 Aug 2022

Years ago, i saw an ad in a tech newspaper from a computer repair shop:
"We specialize in vintage computers [more than 6 months old]"

Posted by:

22 Aug 2022

It's always nice to have the latest and greatest but it also coat money to keep updating hardware. IMHO if it does what you need and you are satisfied with the way it works then just wait until it can't do what you need (yep I'm cheap .. lol).

Posted by:

22 Aug 2022

Don't throw that old PC out, Linux will probably run just fine on it. My 7 year old PC with Ubuntu MATE and 16GB RAM still has plenty of horsepower for me. Yes, the RAM helps a lot.

Posted by:

Noel Rodrigue
22 Aug 2022

Hi Bob, thanks for this nice survey of what makes it 'obsolete'.

One word of caution to readers though, my 'system information' reads as follows:
"Processor AMD FX-8320E Eight-Core Processor, 3200 Mhz, 4 Core(s), 8 Logical Processor(s)". Note that the speed is given as 3200 MHz which does translate to 3.2 GHz. The article states "...If the speed is listed in megahertz instead of gigahertz ...", so you need to translate the numbers!

Posted by:

22 Aug 2022

My computer says 2.70 and 2.90 next to gigahertz which is less than the 3 you mentioned but I don't see any reason to get rid of it.

Posted by:

22 Aug 2022

Great Advice Bob.
I have several older computers and I find that every Windows update makes them slower and slower.

The best hardware update can be replacing an old mechanical drive with a SSD which can be 10X faster. Cost will be $100 to $200. Also bring the RAM upto at least 8GB. My 12 year old HP laptop originally ran Win 10 with 4 GB RAM, I had to replace an existing SODIMM with a 4GB stick to bring it to 6GB, wish I had replaced BOTH SODIMMs This ancient laptop uses much older style RAM which is hard to get.

If all else fails try Linux. This video shows upgrading VERY old computers. The lightest Linux seems to Bionic Pup 32Bit V8.

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
22 Aug 2022

My Kaypro II still works, although I'll concede that the floppy disk storage is a bit limited. I hauled that computer back and forth to work for three years, starting in 1982, until my company (Litton, now Northrop Grumman) finally stepped up and invested in a Kaypro 10 (with a massive 10 megabyte hard drive). Why waste any extra money on unnecessary upgrades?

Posted by:

22 Aug 2022

I recently helped my brother-in-law update his 10-year-old laptop by replacing the hard drive with an SSD. He was thrilled by the performance after the swap. So it depends on what the computer is being used for and what parts you can upgrade. I doubt a three-year-old computer is really "obsolete". Maybe it just needs more RAM or a bigger SSD. As for Windows 11, I agree with Bob--there's no hurry.

Posted by:

22 Aug 2022

The 3.0 Ghz threshold is not necessarily true. For example, Intel's i5-12400F only base clocks at 2.5 Ghz but is a very capable 12th Gen processor with 6 cores and 12 threads. Many newer processors can ramp up their speed when required and run at lower speeds to save power when it isn't needed.

Posted by:

22 Aug 2022

Every generation of Windows going all the way back to 95 started out blazing fast. It's every time Microsoft has us install another update, that it starts running slower and slower and slower, and taking longer and longer and longer to boot up.

Posted by:

Wild Bill
22 Aug 2022

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." A lot of the decision as to when to buy new involves the user;s needs. A younger gamer needs a more expensive and powerful machine than I do. I am doing this on a 10 year old HP g7-1350dx with a 1.5 GHz AMD A6 dual core CPU running 64-bit Windows 10 Pro but it has a SSD drive and 8GB of RAM. I often will have a 1/2 dozen tabs open in Firefox with several downloads running and will be watching a video with VLC. Sometimes the movie pixelates for a few seconds but it generally keeps me happy. The SSD is a big boost and I would only recommend 4 GB of RAM if running a 32-bit version of Win 10. I hope to make it to October 2025.

Posted by:

23 Aug 2022

The processor speed metric is not that important with today's machines sporting multiple-cores. If your computer works fine for you then keep it; don't feel pressured to buy something new just because...

Posted by:

Larry Mills
23 Aug 2022

It was interesting to read Bob's comments on whether or not it's time to replace my old computer. Well, yes it is. However that said, I am still running Windows 10 on a 13 year old machine. I'm not the most sophisticated user so I guess my demand isn't that great for my old machine to keep up with. However I am running and protected by PC Matic which automatically tunes my computer for the best performance it can provide and it has been doing well. I will need to invest in a new computer soon so I am shopping.

Posted by:

23 Aug 2022

My DIY Z-170 motherboard-based PC is equipped with Intel 6th generation Skylake i7-6700K CPU. It runs overclocked (at 16% boost increase), 24/7, for the past six years. It has been a Win10 workhorse being used as a LAN/NAS server, streamer, and continuous 4K surveillance recording (to a local HDD), using dual-monitors and dual-NICs. To my surprise, Microsoft will not allow my hardware to upgrade to Windows11. I have all of the hardware prerequisites (including TPM module). Microsoft has decided to force 'older' PC users to a forced-hardware upgrade, in an effort to $timulate new PC purchase$ and to line the wallet$ of OEM$.
At 2-points of time, during the initial launch of Windows11, I was "allowed" to upgrade to the "beta" Win11 and after the 2nd re-install, Microsoft suddenly decided to disqualify my workhorse and many other hardware like mine.
I have 2 other NUCs (w/Intel i8 and a i10 CPUs) and they had no trouble upgrading to Windows11.
I personally like the GUI (*especially the Vertical taskbar) of Windows10.

Posted by:

23 Aug 2022

I'm running Windows 7 on a ten-year-old Dell with a solid state drive. As far as I can tell, it's working fine. My photos look good and it can sustain several open tabs, if necessary. I have another Win7 computer which also works fine and a Win10 computer that I have never used (it belonged to my late husband). One of these days, if I live long enough, I guess I'll have to get a new laptop.

Posted by:

23 Aug 2022

Old Windows Computer? Did it come with Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8? Does it have an older Intel i3, i5, or i7? Give it to me! I'll take it! There is no reason to recycle. If it needs RAM, I'll add it. If it needs a decent HD, I'll replace the old one. For probably less than $100 and some time, I'll take that old computer of yours and make it into something that somebody wants and will love to use.

Yes, I know that you'll not be able to contact me through Bob's website so I'll never ever see your old computer ... but, I'd bet there is somebody close to you, in your neighborhood, that would love to do the same thing to that computer as I, and for a small price, they might even make it into a computer that you will enjoy using again.

Posted by:

29 Aug 2022

Good advice, Bob (for the most part).

Not sure why you need 3 GHz or more to be fully functional. I bought a new laptop last summer -- it's Intel i7 @ 1.8Ghz using Windows 10. Not a gamer but I do instructional design/graphics work on it. I guess if the standard is instant response to clicking on anything... A modicum of patience definitely saves money, which I'd rather spend on something else.

Posted by:

Robert van Ruyssevelt
17 Sep 2022

I agree with your comments but I am poor so my computer is more than ten years old. I run Windows 7 as do possibly millions of users. I have in recent years replaced my power supply, graphics card and hard drive. I run two 21in monitors. This machine does everything I need although of course I would like a newer, faster model.

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