Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
With the evolution of technology, the practical reality is that a new computer is required periodically. I'll look at why and how often.
How do I get upgrade info and products for my 1983 IBM PC? I jest, but it opens a Pandora's Box of implications as to what to expect in the future via upgrades, new technology, and so on. Are we expected to buy a new computer every three years, such as with cell phones? Actually, I'm serious - sort of.
Well, you don't have to.
But, yes, the practical reality is that much like a cell phone, or better yet an automobile, you probably do want to buy a new computer every so often.
Let's look at why that's so and how frequently you'll probably want to do so.
The analogy that I like to use is that of your automobile.
Many of the issues are very, very similar, though the timeline for technology is much more compressed.
Let's say that you have a 1957 Chevrolet automobile. Chances are:
You're no longer getting recall notices for it.
You can't take it to just any service center for maintenance.
The manufacturer has stopped directly supporting it years ago.
It takes extra care and attention to keep it running well.
It doesn't have any of the safety features that are standard on current model cars and it can't be upgraded to include them.
It even needs a special fuel additive as the leaded gasoline that it requires is no longer available.
You get the idea. You can run it; as a matter of fact, you can do many things with it. But it's nowhere near current.
And every few years, you end up purchasing a replacement vehicle.
Now, let's visit an older computer - not your 1983 model yet, but something that's only 10 years old, running 10-year-old software (pre-Windows XP).
You're no longer getting updates for it.
You can't take it to just any technician for maintenance.
The manufacturer has stopped directly supporting it.
It takes extra care and attention to keep it running well.
It doesn't have any of the security and safety features that are standard on current computers and software and it can't be upgraded to include them.
New or current software typically doesn't run on it.
Once again, you get the idea. Your computer works, but it's nowhere near current. You can probably keep doing what you're doing, but not with the ability to upgrade or use the latest software.
And unlike the automobile, new security threats are arriving daily; threats that you're unable to protect yourself against to the same level that newer models and updated software would.
You might notice that I chose a 50+-year-old car and compared it against a 10-year-old computer. That's a reflection of the fact that the computer industry and its related technologies are moving at a significantly faster pace.
Let's face it - a 50-year-old computer likely wouldn't fit in your house, but a 10-year-old car is still quite serviceable.
So the question that arises is how often do you need to get a new computer?
And as always, the answer is: it depends.
I happen to be on a two- to three-year cycle, but this is what I do for a living. It's important that I have relatively current technology available. Not to mention that the machine being replaced is never discarded, but rather "trickled down" to other tasks. In fact, I discard machines here at about the 10-year mark. The computer that I most recently decommissioned was 13 years old. (A Dell Precision WorkStation 410 with two 450 megahertz processors, 256 megabytes of RAM, and a nine-gigabyte hard drive. It was impressive in its day, but seriously underpowered today.)
If your needs don't change over time, I could see the decade mark as a reasonable rule of thumb.
Perhaps what's more important is the support life cycle of the operating system that you have running on it. I don't like seeing people use operating systems that no longer receive even the most critical of security fixes; in my opinion, that means that if you're running any version of Windows prior to Windows XP, it's time to move on.
And to be clear, "moving on" may not mean a new machine - you can extend the life of your hardware by installing more current and supported software if that meets your needs. With 10-year-old hardware, that typically means a version of Linux.
The problem is that while it's exceptionally capable, Linux isn't for everyone. If you need Windows of some form, and currently supported versions won't run on your older hardware, then yes, it's time for a new machine.
While many people keep and use the same computer for many years, the more common upgrade driver is simply wanting to do more.
In the 13-year lifespan of my recently decommissioned machine, many things have changed. Even if there were supported software, that machine would have difficulty running today's applications that simply assume more powerful machines. Today's online video, both downloaded and streaming, is a great example of a technology that's risen in popularity in that timeframe. That 13-year-old machine might simply not be capable of it. Similarly, that nine-gigabyte drive, while it could be upgraded, isn't anywhere close to the data storage needs that most people need.
And those are just two examples. There are many, many things that we take for granted today that an older machine simply isn't capable of.
Typically, the most common reason to upgrade is that you've started demanding more and more of your computer, in the form of more recent and demanding versions of software, and in the form of new and novel uses for your computer that you've added over time. It's unlikely that any one of those new demands is enough to warrant newer or more capable hardware, but the accumulation over time will almost certainly reach a tipping point.
A tipping point that will have you looking for a new, more powerful machine.
A 1983 computer is a classic, much like that '57 Chevy. If it's working and usable in some form, it's noteworthy and something that I suspect hobbyists might well be interested in.
I'd seriously consider offering it to a local computer museum or computer club as an artifact of times past.
And for the record, yes - it's time to upgrade.
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