PCextraIn our survey last month, we asked how long a PC should be expected to last. The results weren't at all conclusive, but 3 years was the most popular life expectancy for a PC. But what causes a PC to finally need replacement?

The most likely event to kill a PC off is system failure, where something goes wrong with it, and it is too expensive (or not possible) to effect a repair. Another regular cause of end-of-life is where new software is installed, and the old clunker just doesn't have the heart to run it anymore. (Windows Vista and Office 2007 are good examples of this.) And of course, where the computer is spirited away in the night!

Life expectancy will be determined by a number of things, including the state of the economy/how well you are doing financially, the purpose that the PC is being used for (business or home, standard office work or gaming), how powerful the pc was in comparison to the average when it was purchased (the faster a PC is when purchased, the longer it will last - duh), and the capability of the operator (a basic user or an advanced user).

So what can you do to extend the life of your hardware? Provided your computers aren't really old, a memory infusion almost always brings the most effective results. Today, you should have at least 1GB of memory, and preferably 2GB if you intend running some of the ‘heavier' software applications. As can be expected, memory technology has changed a few times over the past 10 years as PCs have become faster, so new memory modules don't fit older computers. It is sometimes possible to find a few old DIMMs or SDRAM modules in your dealer's junk pile, but if you have to buy the modules through the normal channels you could end up paying way too much. One other tactic is to cannibalise one of your old computers and use it's memory modules in another old machine, then replace just one computer.

Right - so you have now increased your computer's memory, or you already had enough memory in the computer. What is the second worst offender when it comes to speed? A full disk - that's what! Windows needs a bit of room to move for it's processing, and as a rule of thumb that's about 15% of the disk size. So if your disk is nearly full, you need to delete any unwanted files or perform a cleanup - which we explained in more detail on Tech4Law a couple of months ago, so we won't go into that again here. If you hard disk drive is really old, you may want to consider installing a second hard drive to store your information. The easiest is to add an external USB drive, since that requires no installation. And if you have all of your digital photographs stored on your computer, you might want to write them to DVD, since this will save space, and you won't lose them when your hard drive eventually crashes - and you have no backups!

If all else fails, you can run a cleanup utility or registry cleaner, but you may find that you need to re-install the Windows operating system. Although this is usually safe, and you shouldn't lose your data in the process, I seriously advise you to take a backup before you try that. You may even have to reformat your hard disk, then re-install the operating system and all of your applications and data from scratch. But don't attempt that if you don't know what you are doing, since reformatting does wipe everything off the disk. And be warned, re-installation can take quite some time to complete. But this will certainly speed up your PC - and get rid of all the clutter on your hard disk.

One more sure fire way to get more life out of a PC is to hold off on installing that great new office suite or operating system until you have a new computer that is powerful enough to run it. For most business purposes, slightly older versions of software work just fine!

And, as I mentioned earlier, if you buy ‘at the top of the curve' (i.e. you buy a computer with a faster processor rather than the bottom of the range) you will be likely to get another year or two out of it. Also, rather buy a slightly bigger hard disk drive with your new computer because the price difference between drive sizes is often very small. For example, the difference between a 160gb and 250gb Seagate SATA hard drive is R70. The same applies to memory - it is so inexpensive that it is worth buying a little more than you think you'll need. The message here is to get your supplier to always quote for extra memory and disk space. You will be amazed at how little you pay for so much extra, and it could buy you an extra year or two on the life of the PC.

Lastly, there are a few more tricks to getting longer life out of your PC, for example - blow out the dust every now and then. Dust is like a duvet for your computer - it builds up heat. It also causes fans to fail, which keep your computer cool. And it makes sense to place the computer case in a well ventilated area, since heat kills. Another psychological life extension is to replace just the display unit (with a sexy new 20" job), mouse, and keyboard - since most operators will feel like they have a new computer. You can then replace the central processing unit (the ‘box') when you have a little more cash. But bear in mind that computers are so cheap when compared to salaries that it makes sense to ensure that you staff members have the right technology for the job function they are performing, since people are by far the largest cost for any organisation. At less than R10 ($1) a day, it's just silly not to replace computers timeously.

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