How to Know When It’s Time to Upgrade Your Laptop

How to Know When It’s Time to Upgrade Your Laptop
Photo: dasytnik, Shutterstock

Laptops have sure come a long way. The first computer that can be considered a true laptop was the Osborne 1, released in 1981. It weighed a spritely 11 kg, had a 5-inch screen, and cost $US1,800 ($2,499) — about $US5,567.29 ($7,729) in today’s money. It was an instant hit, but its sales collapsed as competitors entered the market. Just two years later, Osborne computers were nowhere to be seen.

Forty years ago, the capability of computers seemed to leap forward at an exponential pace. Every new season saw faster CPUs, more RAM, and better displays, and they’ve outsold desktop computers every year since 2005. In today’s world, laptops are essentially a commodity computer product — unless your computing needs are extremely unique, most of the laptops offered up for sale will do the job for you.

But when does it become necessary to replace your laptop? If your laptop is more than 3 years old, it’s probably worth your time to assess it objectively. Here’s how to decide if you need to replace that old road warrior or if you can goose another year (or more) out of it.

How old is too old for a laptop?

Buying any new computer is a quagmire of specifications and confusing options because the range on laptops is enormous. Dell will sell you a rock-bottom Inspiron for under $450, which is fine if you spend your time poking around Instagram and shopping on Amazon but will be a disaster if you’re planning to render your debut animated film. Apple will sell you a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro for $9,149, but that’s going to be a waste if your most intensive computer experience is playing Wordle every morning.

Similarly, the decision to replace your existing laptop should start with the basic question of whether your current rig is still serving your needs. If your laptop turns on when you want it to do and serves up what you’re looking for, you can probably keep it until it starts showing signs of age (see below). On the other hand, if you’re running out of hard drive space and you’re regularly frustrated by your laptop experience, it might be time for a new one.

Start by assessing your current laptop. If you lack clarity about how your current laptop is working for you, consider its category. Was your laptop the absolute best in class when you bought it, or was it a budget purchase? High-end laptops are usually built with more durable materials, and will always have a longer shelf life because their specs age more slowly — if you bought a laptop with 16GB of RAM a few years ago, that’s still pretty good in today’s market. Compare your current specs with what’s out there — if they’re still competitive, you can probably get a few more years out of it. One quick way to get a sense of this is to check eBay and other resellers — if your current laptop is still getting good prices on the aftermarket, it’s likely still perfectly usable.

Signs of a geriatric laptop

Depending on your needs, you can keep a laptop limping along for a surprisingly long time. But there are some clear signs that your decision is about to be made for you. Unless you’re technically inclined and comfortable with taking steps like reinstalling your operating system, here are the signs that you should replace your laptop before you’re forced to replace your laptop:

  • Slow boot: If your laptop takes forever just to turn on, and then needs several additional minutes just to settle in and stabilise, it’s probably worth it to replace it.
  • Slow everything: If your laptop has become absolutely glacial to the point where you need to grab a cup of coffee every time you boot up Office, it’s time to replace it.
  • Glitches: All computers occasionally crash, throw a Blue Screen of Death, or otherwise malfunction. But if these problems start to happen on a weekly or daily basis, it’s time to consider a new laptop.
  • Ageing out of standards: If your laptop’s wifi card can’t connect to newer networks, or if you find your specs can’t run new apps — and you can’t upgrade the OS to do so — it’s a good time to shop for a new one.
  • Ominous mechanical signs: Your laptop will often alert you to its imminent death. If your laptop’s fan runs constantly — and loudly — that’s a sign that it’s working too hard to do simple tasks (especially if they continue to do so after maintenance). And more obvious signs like a wonky touchscreen or keyboard, unreliable trackpad, or broken hinges shouldn’t be discounted.

The upgrade option

Depending on your level of technical skill, you can sometimes put off replacing your laptop with a few judicious upgrades. Increasing the amount of RAM, putting in a new battery, or adding a larger hard drive can sometimes solve the problem you’re having with your current rig.

However, not all laptops can be upgraded. A quick look at the bottom will give you a clue — if there are removable panels with screws that don’t require some sort of futuristic bit, you can probably upgrade it. But you should do some research — in addition to just Googling your laptop model, Crucial offers an “advisor” service that will tell you if you can upgrade your system or not.

Additionally, if there’s a newer version of your operating system you can install, that might also solve performance and speed issues to an extent that allows you to keep on truckin’ with your old laptop.

Unless smoke pours from it every time you boot up, the decision to replace your laptop comes down to your needs and your budget. These days, even a low-end laptop can be coaxed into service well beyond its warranty, so it often comes down to how frustrated you are with it on a daily basis.

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