When should you buy a new computer?
It’s actually quite difficult to know. Most of us learn to live with the quirks of our PCs even to the point of embracing its whims. We know which bits work, which bits don’t, and when we need to wiggle the USB plug to make it connect properly.
As a result, we often struggle on with machines well past their prime. It needn’t be the case. Here are seven signs that it’s time to upgrade.
You Can’t Install the Latest Operating System
In the past, new versions of operating systems were not a big priority for many users. You’d get a major new release every three or four years, you’d have to pay to install it, it would change — and break — things, and as a result people would often stick with the operating system that was installed on their computer when they bought it.
Windows XP way outlasted its natural lifespan for this exact reason.
This is no longer how things work. Apple is already well established in a program of annual, free updates to OS X, and Microsoft is getting there. Windows 8.1 was part of the transition to more frequent updates, and Windows 10 will complete the process.
As a result, operating system updates are more important and desirable than ever. Every year, you’ll get an update that fixes bugs and adds new functionality.
But with each update there will likely be an increase in the minimum hardware specifications required to run it (and generally, you need well above the minimum specifictions to run it well). Sooner or later, your computer will no longer be up to the task.
You Can’t Run the Latest Apps and Games
Everyone knows that PC gaming is an expensive business. No matter how hard you try to future-proof your PC, there will always be something that needs upgrading soon.
Unless you build your own system, you’ll eventually need to just bite the bullet and get a whole new machine.
But it isn’t just games that will test an ageing PC. Professional apps such as Photoshop have relatively modest minimum specs, but need far more to attain a decent level of performance. (For example, 2GB is the stated minimum RAM, but Adobe recommends 8GB.)
Mainstream apps like the new Microsoft Edge browser require a PC capable of running Windows 10. Even streaming Netflix in 4K needs not only a fast Internet connection, but hardware capable of playing it smoothly.
It Gets Slow
Slowness can be difficult to define, but you’ll know it when you see it: you can make a cup of tea while your computer boots up, it grinds to a halt when you have more than half a dozen tabs open in your browser, and you can type a full sentence before a single word appears on screen.
Some of these problems can be alleviated to an extent by giving your computer a thorough spring clean. But software solutions to hardware problems can only take you so far.
When things that used to work well no longer do, you know you’re fighting a losing battle.
You Can’t Connect It To Anything
Nothing ages a computer faster than other, newer gadgets you want to use it with.
Your massive new 4K monitor. A superfast 802.11ac router. An accessory with a fancy new USB-C plug. There are usually workarounds that resign you to lower resolutions, slower speeds and clunky adapters, but nothing beats having support for all this stuff built right in.
You’re Running Out Of Space
If your hard drive is being squeezed for space, and you open the system monitor on your computer and see that the RAM is all in use when you’ve got a few apps open, and that the CPU usage is routinely hitting 80% or more, then it’s a sign that you’re reaching the limits of what your hardware is capable of doing.
You can buy yourself a little more time by adding an external hard drive and some more RAM (if it isn’t already maxed out). However, as a general rule, once you have to start managing your resources, an upgrade won’t be far off.
It Becomes Noisy
Over time, a PC becomes louder than it was at the start.
Turn it on and you can hear the hard drive creak into action. Data recovery company Datacent has produced a collection of grinding and clicking sounds that indicate potential impending hard drive failure. If you can hear one of these in your computer, be afraid.
Similarly, the fan gets louder. It may be because the CPU is working harder than it used to, or maybe there are problems with components overheating, or maybe the fan itself is about to break.
Just as with a car engine, a new, unexpected noise is often a bad sign. Throw in a few other physical issues — a loose laptop hinge, wobbly port, dead battery — and it may be time to move on.
You Spend More Time Fixing It Than Using It
Even if you make it past all these other points, there still one more telltale sign that you need to upgrade: owning the computer becomes a chore.
Apps crash for no reason. Wi-Fi keeps disconnecting. That malware problem you thought you’d fixed resurfaces. The whole system freezes. You get the annoying Spinning Beach Ball of Death on a Mac, or the far worse Blue Screen of Death on Windows.
To make it worse, the machine is long since out of warranty, so you’re on your own.
Computers don’t live forever, and before they reach their demise, they become more trouble than they’re worth.
Why Not Just Upgrade Individual Parts?
Some of the issues you will encounter with your computer can be fixed just by upgrading specific components, like the battery or hard drive. But you should weigh up the cost of upgrading compared to buying something new.
There will always be a bottleneck somewhere in the system. If your computer is still fairly young and healthy, then adding a bit more RAM is an easy way to give it an instant boost.
Eventually, though, you’ll come up against something that cannot be resolved, or is just not worth trying.
How old is your computer? Are you planning to get a new one soon, or will you upgrade as many parts as you can first? Let us know in the comments.