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R.I.PC: When To Let Your Computer Pass Away?


But how do you know when it's time to repair a computer and when it's time to replace it? For more on when to pull the plug or just jiggle the switch, we're going to turn to Glenn Derene, who's electronics editor at Consumer Reports. Welcome to the program.

GLENN DERENE: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And to start, give us a few examples of warning signs of when you would recommend fixing a computer - obviously, doing more than just jiggling a switch.

DERENE: Well, so there's two real ways that your computer could be failing. And one is that the hardware is compromised - either something you did where you either spilled a cup of coffee on it or it fell down a flight of stairs or something where a part has failed. And in that case, you really want to consider fixing it in the conventional sense. Either - if it's under warranty, send it back to the manufacturer and repair it as a warranty repair. Or you really can do a cost-benefit analysis - try and figure out how much your computer is worth right now versus how much it would cost to get a new one. But if it's a software issue, one of the easiest things you can do is actually just reinstall your operating system. And if you have the original media that your operating system came on, within, you know, an hour to two hours' worth of work, you'll have your computer, sort of - it's almost like giving it a new brain all over again. And it's - it'll be back like a normal, new computer.

SIEGEL: Well, what about when it's time actually put the machine out to pasture?

DERENE: (Laughing). Well, so we have some pretty good guidance on that. Based on survey data that we've collected, we found that within the first one to two years, it's pretty obvious that you should attempt to repair it. Very often, it's still under warranty. If you're talking three to five years, then it's kind of in a bit of a gray area and you really should - you might want to consider repairing it. But you also should really also take a look at what it would cost to replace it, how much you paid initially, so on and so forth. After five years, it's almost a no-brainer. Just get rid of it and get a new one.

SIEGEL: Now, working with your five-year figure, this could be some kind of corollary to Moore's law. Almost by definition, five years after this machine that you bought, the market is totally different. And today, it's full of tablets and fablets and light-weight laptops. And there's still some desktops out there. So what's the best way to go if you're in the market for something new?

DERENE: Well, most people these days actually go for a laptop. And increasingly, laptops are moving towards the ultrabook category - very, very thin, very light computers that don't necessarily - and people should be aware that when you shop for one of these things, you're not necessarily getting anything with an optical drive. If you have a lot of stuff stored on CDs and DVDs, you might not be able to easily migrate it to one of these new computers. And ironically, they're not easy to repair. They're not easy to fix yourself. You should also note that the hardware is sealed so that you can't easily get into it. You can't get at the hard drive or a lot of other components that in the past you could just swap right out.

SIEGEL: Mr. Durene, how old is your computer right now?

DERENE: (Laughing). That's a tricky question. I actually have around five computers. So they range in age from around six years old all the way to only a couple of months.

SIEGEL: Six years old and still on the road?

DERENE: Eh, it's my tinkering computer. It's what I like to actually swap the parts out on and replace them and upgrade it. So it's kind of a Frankenstein beast.

SIEGEL: OK, that's Glenn Durene, electronics editor at Consumer Reports. Thanks for talking with us.

DERENE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And we're also wondering how old your computer is. Who has the oldest working machine out there still in regular use? Tell us about it. Take a photo. We'll share some of your responses in the future All Tech segment. And you can tweet those photos and stories to us or send us a message on Facebook. We are in both places at @npratc. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.