When is your Windows PC too old and when is it time to buy another?

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Vintage PC

One of the questions I am most commonly asked is how long a person’s personal computer may last. Consumers are always curious to know how long they can stretch their money and what combos might last them the longest. Today, we are going to attempt to answer that not-so-simple question and determine when a computer is truly obsolete.

The Ideas

Let’s start by establishing a few key ideas. The first is that everyone has different needs for their unique situations. My grandmother, who simply browses Facebook and sends emails, can last a lot longer on an older machine than someone like myself who needs to run Photoshop and Lightroom. An Intel Core 2 Duo may still be decent for the web surfers of the world, but most of us are going to want a Core i processor capable of handling multimedia better.

The second idea that we need to acknowledge is that people have different levels of patience and tolerance; different people will interpret the word “obsolete” in a variety of ways. Is obsolete when a computer can no longer run modern day applications or is it when the user feels they have to wait too long for actions to complete?

Working in a Computer Lab

Lastly, for the purposes of this article we are going to be talking about notebooks and not desktops. Notebooks tend to age quicker and are the primary form of full-PC computing in 2015. For our examples, we will be basing our comments on standard consumer machines at the specified times – not budget netbooks or high-end gaming desktops.

The Users

With these ideas in mind, we have created a scale that rates computers all the way back ten years ago. Yikes! Can you imagine using a computer from ten years ago? Do you remember what was released back then at the time? In 2005, you could find the average consumer rocking a single-core Pentium 4 processor along with a stellar 512MB of RAM. If you were really awesome then you might even have a full gigabyte at your disposal. Hard drives were almost always 5400rpm (or lower) and if you could get your hands on 120 GB of storage – you were the cool guy on the block.

Two men using computers

We have divided our recommendations into three basic groups – low, medium, and high. We are defining “low users” as those who can survive on minimum computing power – these individuals usually spend their time surfing the web or using Microsoft Office. “Medium users” are defined as the average users who focus on a variety of tasks including web browsing and multimedia viewing. Lastly, our “high users” are defined as those who use power intensive applications; these may include Adobe Photoshop, Audition, Premiere, etc.

The Research

Within our research, we found that those in the low category can use a machine all the way back to 2009, while feeling perfectly comfortable. Machines in 2009 generally ran high-end Core 2 Duo processors with 2 GB of RAM – perfect for the web browsers and writers. We believe that some users may be able to use machines back to 2006, while still having a decent, yet minimal, experience. In 2006, Core 2 Duo had just been introduced and 1 GB of RAM was a comfy seat. However, that is it – we cannot recommend using anything before 2006 for those in the low category.

Dell Studio Laptop

The medium category is what most people fit within – those looking to browse the web, use Office, watch HD videos, and play basic games. We believe that those in the medium category can happily use a machine dating back to 2011 without any trouble. Walking into the year 2011, Intel’s Core i processors had recently been announced and users could be found using 4 GB of RAM on average. If you are within this category and using a machine between 2010 and 2008, you can still have a decent time, but anything before that is not recommended. For those curious, in 2008, most users could be found using their Core 2 Duo processors and 2 GB of RAM.

Dell XPS 13

Lastly is the high category, these are the users who need the power and can’t live with an outdated machine.  In general, if you are in this category, we recommend owning nothing before 2013. A cycle period of two years is typically recommended for high category users. Although, it is possible for a user in this category to use a machine dating back to 2010 – the introduction of Intel Core i3/5/7 processors – anything before that should be avoided.

The Conclusion

After conducting our own research, we have concluded that the average consumer should switch out their computer every five years on average. Consumers, unless having very minimal demands, should upgrade before their machine before eight years have passed.

We cannot stress enough that this is a general guideline based on average consumer needs and compelled with the processing technology of each year. Many people may fall outside these guidelines, as they are only that – guidelines.

If you are in the market for a new PC, stay tuned to WinBeta as we explore a multitude of options for each category of user previously aforementioned.