Well, it’s finally happened – what computer repair pros have dreaded for years. The cost of buying a new computer has finally dropped to the point where the computer itself has become disposable, and any decision to repair a computer, even if repairing it simply means paying for a professional virus removal, has to be weighed against the cost to replace the computer instead.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating stuffing the earth’s dwindling waste and recycling resources with junked computers, nor am I suggesting that arbitrarily buying a new computer is the cure-all for when things go wrong and the old computer needs repair work. Rather, I’m pointing out to folks who may not have noticed, that the price of an entry-level desktop computer tower with (humor me and let me get my geek on for a sec here) Windows 7 Home Premium, 4 gigabytes of RAM, and a Terabyte or more of Hard Drive space, is currently retailing for as little as $399- and that’s just off-the-shelf pricing! With a little shopper’s diligence you may be able to shave another $50-100 off that price. Netbook computers (“mini” laptops if you’re not familiar with the term) have been available in the $249-399 range since introduced a few years back. Even full-blown laptop computers with normal-sized keyboards and screens (for those of us who’s fingers and eyes are not aging so gracefully), are hovering in the $500-700 range and can regularly be found on sale for as little as $399!
So, armed with this knowledge, let’s explore a couple scenarios, one in which replacement is the best option and another where doing a repair of the existing computer is still the more sensible approach. And then we’ll wrap up with what it means to you, and highlight some of the questions to ask and values to consider when making your own computer repair vs. replace decision:
Laptop video / motherboard failure: Let’s take the computer repair call I got last week from a woman in Sharon, MA. She told me the screen on her laptop computer had failed some time ago and that she had been using an external monitor with it, but now, even the external monitor wasn’t working.
Instead of signing myself up to repair her computer at a cost of $300-400 to replace the motherboard (which, in this case, would have been necessary because the video card is built into the motherboard), I suggested instead that she buy a new laptop and have me over to set it up, connect to her wireless network, transfer her data from the old computer to the new computer, set up email or other online accounts, and make sure she’s got adequate data backup and virus protection going forward.
Why the decision to replace?
- Cost of repair close to cost of entry-level replacement computer
- Casual use of computer (email, facebook, surf the web, and occasional word processing) means low-cost entry-level system would be adequate for her needs
- New computer would have greater power, speed, and storage capacity
- New computer would have Windows 7 vs. old computer Windows Vista meaning better compatibility with hardware, peripherals, and software going forward
- New computer would have 12-month warranty vs. 30-day warranty on repair
In short, had we gone with a repair, she would have spent almost as much as getting a new computer just to get back to being whole. By replacing, although more expensive when you take into account the cost of the new computer plus set-up and data transfer services, has the advantage of moving her forward into the future with greater speed and capacity, a more modern operating system, and a more comprehensive warranty that makes the extra couple hundred dollars well worth it.
Desktop Motherboard / Hard Drive Failure: Here’s a case where I was called out to a small business in Seekonk, MA. They were using a “middle-aged” Windows Vista computer as the central computer for the business, running some proprietary business automation functions, and also doing the business accounting via Quickbooks. When I arrived onsite, the system had no video signal and would not start up. I performed some diagnostics and recovery and was able to get the system to start up but would not trust it to run the business at that point as both the motherboard and the hard disk drive were suspect.
I explained the repair vs. replace options to the business owner, leaning heavily towards replace until we started talking about the proprietary software that controls specific devices and functions of his business. As it turns out, the software was also middle-aged, and the original installation CDs were long lost never to be found again. With the cost of replacing that software running into the thousands of dollars, the decision to repair became obvious.
Why the decision to repair?
- Cost of replacing proprietary software and/or related devices would cost thousands of dollars
- Uncertain compatibility of proprietary software with Windows 7.
In conclusion, it was decided to repair the system, ultimately not by replacing the motherboard, but by tracking down and purchasing a compatible used computer online, and migrating the hard drive image from the old computer to the “new” one.
Now of course, every situation is different, and you too may be facing a repair vs. replace decision, if not today, certainly in the future. Here are some important things to consider if you are faced with that decision:
- What is the total cost of repair, including parts and labor?
- What is the total cost of replacement, including computer, applications, and services?
- Would you need set-up & data transfer services or can you handle that yourself?
- How old is the computer being repaired? For example, does it make sense to stay with the older Windows XP system, or is it time to move to a Windows 7 computer?
- Do you have original CDs or installation media and activation keys for software that you want to bring forward to a new computer?
- Is the software you want to bring forward compatible with the newer hardware and/or Windows version?
- Are you okay with change? Realistically, a lot of older folks have become comfortable with their existing computers and how they use their computers, and frankly, the thought of change can be disconcerting. Don’t fret, you’re not alone! This is one of the big reasons for the continued popularity of Windows XP, and is completely understandable.
In conclusion, what I’ve found from helping hundreds of customers with this decision is that although costs can play an overriding role, the decision doesn’t always come down to dollars and cents. I recently fixed an old MS-DOS computer (a mid 1980’s vintage computer… think pre-mouse!) for a gentleman in Stoneham, MA, who used it to do his accounting. When I suggested the old machine could fail again and he should think about modernizing, he simply responded, “if it fails again I’ll call you again. I’m 76 years old and don’t feel like learning a new computer!”