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Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: What are the warning signs that any PC needs to be replaced?

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) April 12, 2007 5:02 PM PDT

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What are the warning signs that any PC needs to be replaced?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 4/12/07 5:02 PM


What are the warning signs that any PC needs to be replaced? Is it when a computer says open me in the safe mode? Is it a computer that cycles through the opening windows but never gets to the desktop screen? Is it when my computer won't let me print, or it corrupts my Microsoft documents when it tries to save them? Is there anything that can be done to give CPR to my computer and save it from the recycle heap? Or is it really just time to give it up and move on to new PC?

--Submitted by Janet H. of Rancho Cordova, California

Answer voted most helpful by our members:

None of the examples you gave are absolute signs that a computer has reached the end of its life and needs to be replaced, but rather that it needs some loving care and maintenance. Actually a few of these symptoms might be easily corrected by running a chkdsk /r from the recovery console, performing a virus scan or performing a system restore from safe mode. However, you always run the risk of losing your data whenever you start working on your computer, so backups are always mandatory. A computer is no different than your car, it needs routine maintenance. Thus, the more you drive it or surf the Internet, the more often you need to perform some maintenance. In my experience the number one cause of computer problems has been forgetting to renew antivirus software or ignoring security software expiration warnings. The answer to your question has more to do with your ability to work on your own computer. If you dont have the time, interest or ability to maintain your own computer, then any of these symptoms could signal the end. I say this because the cost to hire someone to repair your computer, depending on who you call, could add up very quickly to nearly the cost of a new computer. Many of the problems you mentioned above could be and are most likely due to some form of virus, spyware, malware or Windows corruption and could be fixed with a few free programs, some updates and a couple of hours of your time. Probably the worst case scenario would be that your hard drive has or is starting to fail and needs to be replaced. If you replaced the hard drive yourself and reinstall Windows, you might be out $100 for the drive. If you had this work performed at a local repair shop, it could cost you $300 or more. If the computer, when it was working, met your needs and still does, then repairing it may make sense. But you should keep in mind that even though you may have paid $2000 or more for that old clunker, a new computer can be had for as little as $500 today.

I find the most common reasons people dump their old computer are:

They just want a new one Many people just simply want a new computer even though their old one is working just fine. Maybe they want something a little faster or maybe want to make the switch from a desktop to a laptop. Or they just want to be the first on the block to have the latest technology.

No longer meets their needs This could be for any reason including the need for more power to run more advanced games or maybe wanting to tackle something new like video editing.

Repair Cost too High Something has gone wrong and the estimated repair cost is fairly high. If the computer is 3 or 4 years old, it may make more sense to just replace the whole thing.

Complete Failure Something major has happened such as dropping a laptop or a lightning strike has taken out a motherboard.

Computer hardware today is actually very reliable and rarely fails with maybe the exception of the Hard Drives. There are actually very few moving parts inside a modern computer. You have the Hard Drive, the DVD or CD drive(s) and a couple of fans. Everything else is electronic and unless you have a lightening strike or let them overheat, electronic components should last many years (10 or more). Here is a list of possible hardware failures as well as typical cost of the hardware (not including labor):

1. Hard Drives $60-$200 - This is the most common type of failure. Hard drives typically last about 5 years for Desktop computers and about 3-4 years for laptops, but can fail at any time. It is actually surprising that they last as long as they do, spinning at speeds of up to 10,000 RPM.

2. Fans $9-$29 - I dont usually see too many fans that have actually stopped working, however they can start making a lot of noise as the bearings or bushings get worn or the blades starts hitting the side of the fan shroud.

3. DVD/CD Drives $39-$69 - I dont know if it is just a coincidence or they are not being made as well as they use to, but I am seeing a lot of failed DVD Drives this year.

4. Power Supplies - $30-$70 Many power supplies fail due to a power surge or lightening strike. Dust blocked vents can also lead to overheating related failures.

5. Motherboard/System Board Failure - $100-$300 Unless the computer is still under warranty, this kind of failure is usually not worth repairing.

6. Processor Failure $100-$500 Rare - I can think off only a few processor failures that I have run into and most of them where on homebuilt PCs where the heat sinks were not installed properly.

Aside from the somewhat rare hardware failures I just mentioned, most all computer problems are software related. Assuming that you have backups of your data (you do have a backup, right?), the best way to completely resurrect and breath new life into a computer that is plagued by multiple problems and cannot be easily repaired with a simple virus or spyware scan, is to wipe it clean and start over by reinstalling the operating system. It is not to say that individual problems can not be isolated and repaired, but there becomes a point where nothing beats a complete cleaning and starting from scratch. And if you are experiencing all or many of the problems you listed above, this is probably the best way to go. There are several methods to perform a reinstall of Windows depending on your make and model computer:

1. Original Windows Installation CDs This would be a Microsoft Windows CD and probably some driver CDs from the manufacturer.

2. Recovery CDs that came with your computer Some computers come with a set of recovery or restoration CDs that will allow you to reset the computer back to the way it was the first day that you brought it home.

3. Recovery CDS that you created Many new computers will prompt you to create your own set of recovery CDs or DVDs shortly after you set up your new computer.

4. Recovery Partition This is a separate recovery partition that the manufacturer placed on your hard drive. It is normally accessed by hit a key combination such as F10 or F11 while the computer starts. Check your computers manual or website for specific information for your exact computer.

5. Image File If you really planned ahead, you might have an image file that you can restore from. This image contains an exact duplicate of your hard drive at a specific point in time. You would have had to use some program such as Norton Ghost or Acronis Drive Image to get this image but it is a real time saver.

In most all cases, you will have to reinstall all of the software, printers and other items that you use as well as copy your data back to My Documents, favorites and email from your backups. This can be a big job for the faint of heart, especially if you did not plan ahead for this process. But you would have to do much of the same to set up a new computer as well.

Personally, I usually perform this process on every computer I own about once per year or two. It is the perfect time to do some real spring cleaning and remove some old email, dump programs that I no longer use and just start fresh.

Wayland Computer

--Submitted by Dana H. of Wayland Computer

If you have any additional advice or recommendations for Janet, let's hear them. Click on the "Reply" link to post. Thanks!

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