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December 13, 2011


Ed S.

All computers break down, portables sooner than desktops, and most people keep one about 2 years before upgrading to a newer model. So the useful lifespan (not shelf life) is about 2 to 3 years. You're in the ballpark.

Jeffrey McMahon

Ed, life span is the correct term. Thanks. Jeff


Not solid state? Apple PCs use tubes?

More seriously, I would not be surprised that most PC failures are related to "analog" parts under electrical and or thermal stresses such as power supplies, electrolytic capacitors and such.

Gordon C

At my college we buy all laptops with four year care packages since we usually keep them for four years - sometimes five and we will extend the warranty to five years in that case. Repairs and failures are way more common in year four/five.

We are just starting to have Macs with select employees and don't really have a lifecycle on them yet. Most are just in year three or four. They haven't had any unusual issues yet (but their number is small maybe 4 Mac laptops vs 30 Dells).

Meanwhile, my darling bride has had a dead hard drive in month 13 with her Mac. She went Mac after a series of failed Dells (hard drives, NVIDIA heat issues, soso Dell service). My Dells and Macs keep humming along. This is a non-discussed marital issue (but that is another post :)

Remember that unwritten list of spousal duties includes computer backup - learn this BEFORE disaster strikes. Priority is: Children pictures/videos, family pictures/videos, finance data (Quicken/MS Money), last year's tax program data, everything else.

Good luck!

Karl Dahlquist

I thought all Apples now use Intel chips now? So the insides are the same. Computers get "slower" with age due to newer programs requiring more memory, loading tons of stuff on the hard drive, and not cleaning up the hard drive from time to time (including defragmenting)

I just replaced my Dell laptop at home after 5 years ($549), and have PC machines in the office that are between 3 - 7 years old... Of course, everything is XP based which is no longer supported, and when these computers start failing they will probably be replaced by Windows 8 machines. (and all the programs will likely have to be "updated"


Put a good, free, anti virus on your PC. Occasionally cast a glance at its icon to make sure it is okay and you will not have any issues.

Apple, like Sony before them, appears to use the lowest cost parts possible. This is often reflected in capacitors that fail prematurely.

The advantage of PCs is their vastly larger market share. They cost less initially and at every step along the way, accessories, software, tech support and so forth.

MAC will often have one or two competing commercial softwares per category, if any. PCs often have dozens of high-quality free softwares competing to be the best free software in categories that don't even exist for Apple.

There has been no advantage for the Mac since Windows 1995 was introduced. Now Macs run on almost identical hardware as the PC. The motherboards are identical except for one chip that Apple adds to theirs. This chip has the sole purpose of preventing one from installing any other OS, Windows, Linux on the otherwise identical Apple hardware.

Over thirty years of computer experience tells me that the advantage is in standards. The most widely held standard offers the best support and lowest costs.

Dan Somers

Gosh, I have an HP laptop that I bought in 2002, and it's still running well. It's certainly not as fast as a new laptop equipped with a multi-core processor and 8GB of memory, but the old HP keeps going and going. I've also got a nine-year-old HP desktop in the barn, and it never disappoints me.

The only moving parts in these things are the hard drives and cooling fans. Everything else is, indeed, solid state. I don't understand how you can blame performance degradation on hardware.

Ed S.

Mean time before failure is a bell-shaped curve, meaning there will be some Pcs that work a very long time, some that die right away, but the majority will have some average lifespan.
From analyzing service data from my years at NEC, the most common hardware failures are hard drives, power supplies, and mechanical damage to the LCD screen. Slowing down is more likely due to decreased memory, adware and spyware, and a need for file compression and disc defragging. Just empting your browser's temp files may speed things up.


A good buddy gave me his iBook G4 because the Genius Bar told him there was nothing they could do about it's slowness. Buddy shells out ~ 2K$ for a new Macbook Pro.

I spent $45 to put a 1GB memory upgrade in the iBook, and I'm happily running OS 10.5.8 and it's responsive, even snappy. Installing the RAM took 5 minutes. Since Mozilla gave up supporting the PPC CPU, I have to run the Camino browser but it's no problem.

Moral: OS and applications inevitably bloat to fill available memory and slow down your system. A cheap memory upgrade will buy a bit more useful life.


Wow, that's funny Keith. I must have somehow easily gotten around this chip you claim that Apple puts in their computers to prevent other OSs from being installed. I have a triple boot of XP, Ubuntu and OS X on my 2010 MacBook pro. Maybe they forgot to put the chip in mine?

I don't use the XP or the Ubuntu anyway. I've had 1.5 years with my first Mac after nearly ten years with PCs, and I will NEVER go back to PCs.


Although it's not as simple as a "chip" as Keith puts it, Apple does prevent you from installing Windows by normal means. You need a special bootloader, either provided by Apple (BootCamp) or a third party. Linux will usually install fine.

Having said that, I wouldn't buy a Mac to run Windows. I have been supporting PC's for almost 20 years and Macs for over 6 years. I use Windows for a variety of things and enjoy tinkering, but at the end of a long day at work, my choice of system is a Mac, and my 5 colleagues here on the special services team would agree with me. It's smoother, easier, more professional looking. It took PC manufacturers years to get such basic things right as sleeping correctly, plug-and-play, seamless installs, and easy network management. I'm impressed with Windows 7, but it took them that long to get there! I open my MacBook, and within seconds, I'm working. One of the reasons that they run so well is the tight integration between hardware and software. It's the same reason that even though I like Android (and own an Android phone) I will agree that iOS is a smoother, more stable experience. If you control both the hardware and the software you get a better product.

Jeff, at three years, you may need to clean things up a bit, and add some memory. Max it out. You don't need to buy from Apple. Good third-party RAM is fine. Then, back everything up, and re-load the thing. You'll get another year or two. I usually tell people 4 years for a laptop is about right, maybe 3 for someone doing heavy image manipulation, cad, or 3D modeling.

Jeffrey McMahon

I think I'll try getting some more RAM and see how that goes. I bought it in 2008. I forgot how much it came with. I'll check when I get home from work.


More RAM helps. I have an IBM THINK PAD from 2004 that still runs quite well. It is not as fast as the newest computers, but generally gets the job done for what I need. I don't play games and use graphics packages that require the newest and the best. This almost 7 year old computer is still functioning well. Of course, back in '04, it was over $2000.00.

A. Black

This study: http://www.tomshardware.com/news/most-least-reliable-notebooks-laptops,9102.html found that only Asus, Toshiba and Sony laptops had better 3 year failure rates than Apple's. The rest were worse. (They mention that it might be that since Asus sells a lot of netbooks that when they break perhaps fewer people bother to get them fixed and that might skew their numbers making them less comparable.)

Bill Bush

I've had 7 Macs/Apples over the years, starting with the Apple IIe and IIGS. One got significant warranty repair and was fine ever after. The others were daily workhorses for at least 5 years each. I currently use a 5-year-old MacBook. Most of the griping I hear about computers comes from PC owners, but since there are more of them, that is to be expected. I have gotten questions answered at the appropriately named Genius Bar. It is appropriate because all things are a matter of perspective, and from my humble computer-user viewpoint, those guys might as well be called geniuses, especially since they did not try to make me feel stupid for asking my rather simple questions. I cannot imagine buying anything else. And yes, I did use PCs at work for about 10 years.

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