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How to tell it’s time to get a new computer

Hungry software. More demanding operating systems. Intensive multi-tab web browsing. Immersive games. You ask a lot of your computer, but the pace of technology keeps moving right along, and our computers can’t always keep up. How do you know when it’s time to kiss your old computer goodbye and welcome a new system into your life? You can start by trying to clean up your system with some software-based housekeeping tools (check out some of our suggestions), but ultimately, even high-end computers will reach the end of their usable lifespan.

Here are some signs that it may be time to invest in a new machine:

You’re frustrated

You can eat a full breakfast in the amount of time it takes your computer to start up. You twiddle your thumbs waiting for programs to open. You type and it takes a moment for the text to appear on the screen. Simple tasks seem to take forever. You have 15 tabs open in your browser and everything is moving at a crawl. Hello, frustration. If you’ve ruled out software issues, then it’s time to have a frank evaluation of your computer's hardware.

Think about this in terms of productivity. How much time do you waste waiting on your computer? Are you missing out on the latest and greatest software because your computer can’t handle it? It’s probably time to put that old system into retirement.

A computer’s lifespan will vary, but if you’ve had the same system for four or five years, then it has lived a good life and is likely past its prime. This can be especially true if the system wasn’t exactly cutting edge when you first bought it.

Your computer doesn’t meet the latest OS requirements

Operating systems, whether it’s macOS Sierra from Apple or Windows 10 from Microsoft, have certain guidelines about which machines can handle the most recent versions. For example, Windows 10 calls for at least a 1GHz processor, 1GB of memory, and a 16 GB hard disk. The oldest computers compatible with macOS Sierra are late 2009 MacBooks and iMacs. If you’re clinging to an older Mac, then Apple won’t even let you download Sierra. If you can’t run the latest OS, then you’re missing out on updates, upgrades and security improvements.

Just because you meet the bare minimum system requirements doesn’t mean you will actually have an enjoyable user experience. An underpowered system can rear its ugly head in the form of an agonizingly slow computer.

You hear weird noises

Normally, a computer won’t make much noise. You may hear a soft whooshing from the fan or the gentle meanderings of a hard drive thinking. But keep your ears open for unusual sounds including grinding, knocking or clicking noises. These can all be telltale signs of an inevitable hard drive failure. First, be sure to back up any data you want to keep from the hard drive. Then you can decide if it’s worth replacing the drive with a new one or cutting your losses and going with an entirely new machine.

Upgrade or replace?

Keep in mind that you may have the option to upgrade your computer rather than totally replace it. If you’re handy and don’t mind cracking open your desktop, you may be able to extend its lifespan with a new larger, hard drive or more memory. This can be trickier if you’re dealing with a laptop since many newer machines (especially barebones laptops like Chromebooks) make it difficult to access and upgrade the internal components.

You have to weigh the cost of upgrades versus the price of buying a whole new computer. For older machines, replacing a single component might not be enough to get its performance up to where you want it. A new, bigger hard drive won’t help a lot if the computer is suffering from a puny amount of memory and an outdated processor.

If you’ve finally come to the acceptance that a new computer is a right move, then check out our guide to choosing a new system.

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