Updated: Jan 13, 2022
By Jon Cohen:
Sometimes in technology, we come to a fork in the road, and in this case that fork is the question “Should I fix my computer or just replace it?"
As a 25-year veteran of the technology industry, a former Apple Genius, and a self-proclaimed nerd, I would break down the answer to this question into two categories. First, ask whether the computer is just slow, glitchy, and out of date? If that is the case, then analyzing the situation through the lens of “Need, Value, and Want” can be very helpful. But in the second category, where you have a physically broken device (perhaps wine spilled on the keyboard or the display is cracked), then you'll need to consider the returns on your investment before you go ahead and fix it.
Slow, Glitchy, and Out of Date
Need: You need to ask yourself, have your needs changed since you bought the computer? Some examples of changing needs are:
You need a certain type of computer for a new college or university program you are going into.
You have gotten into a new hobby like digital photography and now need a computer that can process the images.
You have a desktop computer and now plan on traveling for several months and need a portable solution.
If any of these examples sound like you, then most likely a replacement of your current computer is the correct choice.
Value: If you do not require a new computer, then you should look at the value of upgrading your machine vs. replacing it. This means that if a computer is just feeling slow or sluggish, then perhaps a simple fix would be replacing the hard drive and/or RAM. This simple and affordable upgrade can bring new life into the old machine. But before you go ordering parts, keep the following in mind: If upgrading the machine is more than half the value of a new machine, then you should step back and ask if upgrading is the right choice.
Alternatively, if your current computer’s value is less than half the value of the upgrades, one can assume you might be putting money into obsolete technology. Granted, if you are on a limited budget, then it might be your only choice; but remember, it is a Band-Aid solution at best. It’s time to start saving for a replacement computer.
Want: If you just want a new computer, well, then you are more than welcome to make the computer companies happy by buying a new one! But before you do so, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions:
Why do I want a new computer?
What am I going to do with my current computer?
Do I have other needs that should be addressed first?
I encourage you not to be an impulsive buyer, but if you do buy a new machine, consider passing down the old one or recycling it.
If your computer is physically broken, then shouldn't you fix it? The answer is not so black and white. Here are some guidelines to consider. Is the cost of the repair more than half the value of a replacement computer (same make and model)? If the answer is yes, then you should check out the improvements in the current model compared with your computer. For example, is the speed and/or graphics 10x, 20x, or 50x faster? Computers just within a year or two can see a big speed boost. If yes, then it might be the right time to replace the broken machine with a new one.
Another question to ask is if the older broken computer has legacy software that will not work anymore with a new version of the computer. Some common examples are MS Office, Photoshop, and games. Software sometimes needs to be repurchased or replaced for new versions when you buy a new computer. These hidden costs should be considered as well.
Lastly, if a replacement for your current computer is the choice you’ve made, then besides the traditional desktop or notebook, be sure to check out either the Apple iPad or Microsoft Surface. They are powerful, have great storage, can hook up to a big screen, and support a wireless keyboard and mouse.
Jon Cohen’s contributions can be found on radio, TV, and print media. Jon makes “geek speak” understandable for the masses and has been a voice in the tech community for over 20 years. A former “Geek Squad” member as well as an “Apple Genius,” he offers a fresh perspective on technology, photography, and social media. Twitter: @cohenHD