How long do you hang on to PC hardware?

In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service publishes depreciation schedules for hard business assets like manufacturing equipment and office furniture. On the IRS list, a personal computer used exclusively for business in a “regular business establishment” is considered to have a five-year lifespan and can be written off accordingly.

Back when a computer cost $2000 or more, I used to squeeze at least three, and sometimes four or five years of life out of each purchase. Today, with whole system prices typically under $1000, I’m comfortable letting  a PC go after two years, sometimes even less.

Of course, other peripherals follow different rules completely. I’ve had printers that have lasted 10 years, and monitors usually last for 7-10 years here.

So, how about you? How often do you turn over systems and peripherals?

22 thoughts on “How long do you hang on to PC hardware?

  1. I’m a three-to-four year guy. My previous Sony notebook (they’re good machines if pricey) lasted me four years with the biggest issue being the hinge on the display.

    My previous desktop was three years, and that was only because it was an AGP 4X machine that was hitting the limit of what I could do with that particular bus architecture.

  2. My upgrade cycle tends to follow Microsoft’s, i.e. I’ve built a new PC at the start of the beta cycle for NT4, W2K, XP, Vista, and expect to build a Nehalem box when the W7 beta starts on ’09. That doesn’t mean that the old PC goes away, the XP box is still going strong as an iSCSI storage server, and the current Vista box has a lot of life left in it.

  3. I still have my E-machines that I bought for $550 a week or so after XP was released in 2001, although doesn’t really get used anymore… It came with a 60GB HD, 256MB ram (later upgraded to 512) and I believe it was a 2.0ghz Pentium 4. This thing meets the min requirements to run Vista Basic! So much for requiring a brand new computer 😉 … to this day, though, it still works fine. Slow as heck compared to my quad core.

    I’ve had a printer die on me after three years, and just recently bought an all-in-one printer/scanner/fax/copier. We’ll see how long that lasts.

    I also have a scanner that I’ve had since 2002 that still works, although I can’t find the software to put it on any of my new computers.

    Does a wrist watch count as a peripheral? 😉

  4. My computer usually last for a very long time so i never have to replace my computer. This hp computer was purchase back in 2004 and i think it has 2 more years to go. The only changed is replacing the memory to 2GB PC2700 when the price is right.

  5. We still use an HP notebook purchased in 2003. Same with our Canon i850 printer and HP scanner. They were replacements for equipment stolen during a break in. Did have to buy a new mouse for the laptop this year – a smaller one so the kids could use it – the previous mouse lasted about two years.

    The HP desktop computer, Samsung monitor and D-Link router will be a year-old this October. I’m hoping to use them for the next 3 or so years.

  6. New PCs every 3 years or so, but hardly ever discard old hardware, as long as it’s still working. Older equipment is handed down to kids, used as at-home servers or for other dedicated tasks. When a PC finally gets too old and no longer useful for anything, it’s stripped for parts and turned in for recycling.

  7. I’m building a system today for personal use. Waiting for UPS to arrive. I also have to locate my installation media. I’m replacing my current Athlon XP 1.5 GHz CPU.(I bought that chip towards the end of it’s product lifecycle.

    My new system will be Athlon X2 Brisbane 2.3 GHz. I hope to keep this system as my main system at least five years. I’m installing XP Pro. I hope to upgrade the OS at some point in it’s life. If I don’t switch to Linux or Mac OSX, that is.

    On a somewhat related topic, it’d be far better if the government didn’t use tax-avoidance inducements to engineer the way people (businesses) spend their money. Everything from mortgage interest deductions to “business” vehicle deductions, to technology purchases.

  8. I have a dell desktop that was purchased in 1999 and I still use it every day. It’s not as fast as my laptop I bought 1 1/2 years ago, but it’s works just fine. I have no intention of getting rid of it and will use it until it completely croaks.

  9. My main printer is 12 years old and I don’t plan to let it go any time soon. I try to keep computers at least 5 years. They’re fast enough now that you can keep them that long without them being unbearable (I’m still perfectly happy using my 1.4 GHz Athlon that I built in 2002), although that wasn’t as true a decade ago.

  10. Ah, interesting question. As much as I get distracted by the latest shiny new toys, I’m in the “hate to throw it away” camp. I have so much old equipment, it’s not even funny (HP200 LX and Orb drive, anyone). If I can find a use for something, I’ll use it until it breaks — especially, if it still functions just fine.

    My every day PC is a year-old 2.4 GHz AMD laptop (running Vista), but the 5-year old 1.4 GHz AMD desktop it replaced is still being used by my wife and daughter (running XP). My wife’s 9-year old 400 MHz Celeron laptop is being used (running Win 2000) as a network “print and scanner” server since it has the ports for my 6-year old scanner and my 12-year old HP 5L printer, and handles Adobe Acrobat 5 software with no problem (I even use it to stream music and handle IM, sometimes). I was also using a 9-year old 466 Mhz Dell laptop until it broke last year, and I’d swear that it was almost as snappy running Windows 2000 as my desktop was running XP.

  11. I upgrade the important parts of my PC (motherboard, CPU, graphics) about every two years. I build my own, so I either reuse my old parts in other PCs, eBay them if they still have value, or donate them to FreeGeek in Portland. What’s nice about this plan is that I usually go with last year’s best parts, so I end up only spending $300 – $400 per upgrade and I still end up with good stuff.

    My current (main) desktop PC is a Core 2 Duo e4400 (2.0 GHz) overclocked to 2.66 GHz that I paid a little over $100 to buy. My motherboard is an Asrock board that supports both DDR RAM and an AGP slot as well as DDR2 RAM and a PCI-E slot, giving me an upgrade path. I paid around $100 for the motherboard. I have an ATI Radeon X1900XT PCI-E that I just bought used for $60.

    My Media Center PC is a pre-built HP with a Core Duo 2.0 GHz. That I bought last year for $600. I probably won’t upgrade it until I can play Blu-Ray discs in Vista Media Center seamlessly.

    I buy Canon inkjets and keep them until they break, which is usually 3 years or so. My current Canon MP600 is the best printer I’ve ever owned.

    I generally keep monitors until jealousy and/or price dictates that I can buy something bigger. I currently have a great Viewsonic 19″ LCD (VP191b) that I bought 3 years (or so) ago. I have my eye on Dell’s Ultrasharp 24″ LCD.

  12. I build from parts and I try to get five years out of a motherboard. I recycle the leftovers in another machine or give them away. I have had 10 year old SCSI cards that still worked great in a modern Vista machine, and a 3 year old SATA RAID card that won’t work at all with newer disks.

    My home server was running from junk parts for years before I got a real server board for it.

  13. My HP LaserJet 4L worked perfectly from 1993 until late last year when I let it sit alone and neglected for a few months with a paper jam. I’ve spent hours this summer trying to get it to print properly but I think something inside is fried and I am so sad about it. Also, I do not understand the world of inkjet… how can people function with these tiny printer catridges that run out in weeks??

  14. I bought my Dell laptop with a 3 year complete cover contract. Its now 2 years 11months, and its going strong – fulfils all the needs of the household for browsing and gmail/yahoo/skype etc.
    Considering destroying it to get new components in just before the complete cover package expires, so I can use it for another few years…

  15. My main computer is from the 95 era, but has completely changed in parts about 5 times because I replace parts every year including M/B, RAM, video. audio, case, p/s and etc. I have never bought a OEM and probably will never buy an OEM machine.

    Today, it is 64-bit, 8gigs of RAM , 1 gig video, dual core processor. I could go on but I won’t.

    Have a great day.

  16. Laptops – 4-5 years, desktops, 5-6 or more if I can upgrade and get away with it.

    I do still have our first family computer (a Myoda brand) from 1990-ish. It is a 286 (my mom’s co-worker told her it was a 486 and yes, effectively ripped us off) and has no CD-ROM or modem, but does have a 3.5″ as well as a 5.25″ drive, and runs DOS 5.1 with some sort of text-only GUI. It still works. Ah, memories. I don’t really use it for anything productive but I still go back and play those old games from time to time, like King’s Quest.

  17. The world in general and the USA in particular must be grateful to China for making PC’s so cheaply.

  18. I tend to use pretty old hardware. I have attributed that behavior to Linux (and so not tied to hardware upgrades with the Microsoft cycle like some of the above commenters, but I might just be cheap.

    My printer (HP 6L) was purchased 15 years ago. I recently replaced my monitor that took forever to “boot up”, that was also purchased in 1993. The reason I replaced it was that I got a similarly sized monitor for free… I have gotten used to the larger monitors (I think this one is 21″ or 22″) and it is hard to go back to the small monitors.

    I also just replaced my 800Mhz Duron with a free upgrade (a friend works for a company that had to upgrade for VIsta, so lots of us benefited from all their throw away machines). The 800Mhz (motherboard and processor only – and even those parts were only purchased to make a DVD player work, the 200Mhz machine didn’t cut it) was purchased probably in 2003 or so. So, looks like the total of my computer purchases are: $600+$200+$50 in 15 years, and this machine is going strong, and won’t be replaced any time soon. I do purchase an extra hard drive from time to time, so probably my annual expenditure for computers is $87.

    I see no reason to buy a new computer every couple years, although, don’t stop – just send your “old” computers to me, or at least bring them to the Goodwill store, where they get them ready for people who don’t care about running Vista.

  19. I just noticed the comment about old (at least in my opinion – the 286…) computers, and I do have an Apple IIe (purchased in 81 or so) still working for my kids (okay, and for me – I like those old games too).

    And slightly unrelated, my 8bit/original Nintendo looks really cool on a 100″ screen. I have considered getting a newer gaming system, but for the amount I use it, I can’t really justify buying $50 controllers for a $300 system…

  20. Interesting question!

    I hear from a lot of readers who are keeping their hardware LONGER. High-end computers bought 3-4 years ago still have plenty of muscle, particularly if users’ needs are basic.

    My main Vista machine is almost 4 years old now – 3.4 GHz P4 with 2 GB of RAM, and it runs quite well.

  21. I like to change the computer every 3 years or so… I’m in costa rica, so getting the newest but cheaper computer is the rule… 4 year ago I got an AMD Sempron (K7) 1.6ghz (single core) with 256mb ram, then upgraded several times until got 1.5gb ram and 300gb HDD and It works good with windows XP (good performance for my general task) but no good with vista… however it still works!

    Now I have a Toshiba Satellite Core 2 duo 4Gb Ram and 120gb HDD and work great with vista bussines!!

  22. I’ve still got my first portable CP/M computer from 25 years ago:


    (see desktop at bottom in 2nd post).

    It works but it’s an heirloom/muesum piece now. I need to get floppies onto a CD as don’t they’ll last, but what use the contents would be on a CD I don’t know. I’ve love to have virtual machine for it though, just for nostalgia’s sake (I hand-crafted Z80 assembly code for it).

    My last two laptops lasted 2 yrs and 4 months, or to be precise my patience with them did. I have a 7 year old desktop with a SyQuest 135Mb drive, a 1.2Mb floppy (no USB!). It lives in a cupboard until I get time to go through a box of old floppies. I lost 400 3.5″ disks by taking them to the tropics for a few years. BIG MISTAKE. All unreadable within a year. I lost a lot of archived electronic mail and discussions going back to the early 80s. Back then the global online community was small; some interesting stories are undoubtedly disappearing with old media and pioneers. There’s a romantic one described here I’d love to have the original string of messages for

    How long before we read of decryption of digital diaries? Will the media even survive? A topical news story:

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