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When is it time to say goodbye to an old computer?

By Charles Miller

A number of people have asked me in recent weeks to explain when it is time to say goodbye to an old computer. Actually that is not exactly true; after repairing this problem or that, several people have pressured me to guarantee them their old patched-up computer would last another year or more. Promises like that I do not give but I can offer some common sense guidelines on when it is time to go shopping for a new computer.

Laptop computers: Like it or not, the average life expectancy of a laptop today is only around two or three years. There are a lot of Atención readers in San Miguel using laptop computers that are more than six years old, and good for them. When something breaks or stops working on a laptop it is usually not economically justifiable to spend money fixing it if the laptop is out of warranty. There are repair shops that will take your money and repair an old laptop, but it is common for the cost of repairs to a laptop to be around half the cost of a new one, and that does not take shipping into account. This is why I say if your laptop is out of warranty when it breaks down, you should just retire it and buy another.

Proprietary desktop systems such as Dell, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and eMachines: These computers are very popular owing to their economical pricing and good looks. Unfortunately, these computers are often assembled using proprietary components not easily obtainable when it comes time to fix a broken computer. In many cases, the specialized parts are only available from the original manufacturer and nowhere else. If that manufacturer does not have the parts, then there is nowhere else you can easily obtain them. It is unfortunate that a lot of proprietary desktop computer systems have to be consigned to the junk heap when a $10 part is needed and cannot be found anywhere.

Users of “clone” or “no-name” desktop computers tend to fare better if they choose to patch up and continue using a really old computer (one more than five years old). These ugly duckling clone desktop systems are assembled using standard components readily available from many different sources. It is almost always possible to fix up and continue using a clone system for as long as you want to do so. Even though you could continue to patch up an old clone almost indefinitely, about ten years is the outside lifespan of these clone computers.

Printers and scanners: The cost of these has fallen to the point that they are now disposable items. If the printer or scanner cost more than US$500 it might be worth repairing; less than that the most logical choice is to buy a new one.

The same is now true of monitors. Twenty years ago when a color monitor cost as much as US$2,000 it made economic sense to pay a hundred dollars to fix a broken one. Today it is possible to buy a brand new monitor for that same hundred dollars it used to cost to repair one.

Almost all peripherals such as mice, keyboards, webcams, etc. are inexpensive to replace. As a result of this low cost, most manufacturers do not even repair these items and do not make any replacement parts available.

Finally, there is the question of availability. If, like me, you prefer to use a keyboard and Operating System in a language other than Spanish, that is not going to be readily available in Mexico. Laptop and desktop computers sold here have Spanish keyboards and Operating Systems, and please do not listen to the salesperson who claims there is a magic icon that changes everything to English… there is not. For gringos who want an English-language computer we should probably plan buying new when travel plans or visiting friends can make it easier to import the computer you need.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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