How Much Does Your PC Cost To Run?

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Dollar Button   How Much Does Your PC Cost To Run?Almost nothing that you buy is a one time investment. Most things have follow-up costs for maintenance or just for plain being used. With computers these costs are small and easily neglected, but depending on your needs they can add up to substantial amounts nevertheless.

Since you can’t manage what you don’t measure, let us examine what your computer really costs to run. It will open your eyes and might help you watch out for hidden costs.

Note that I focused on concrete and realistic costs only. There are many more hidden and hard to define costs. However, I have pointed them out along the way, so you can figure out the true costs for yourself if you want.

Calculation Basics

I trust that you can all do basic maths! Just to be sure we are all on the same page, let me explain my method. I multiplied monthly recurring costs (electricity) by 12 to get the yearly costs. To calculate the monthly or yearly total for one-time-investments, I recommend dividing the sum by the number of years or months you intend to use your laptop. You can also add expected one-time-costs for to your calculations.

Hardware

Before you can run a computer, you need to buy one. Whether you invest in a desktop computer, a laptop, or an Ultrabook can make a big difference, not only in terms of the up front investment, but also in terms of maintenance costs. The type of device is a significant factor in your calculations and will obviously influence your end result.

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On the one hand a desktop computer is modular and can potentially last you longer than a laptop because it is much easier to upgrade, customize, and repair parts. On the other hand it consumes more energy and isn’t necessarily cheaper to buy. Moreover, it’s not very flexible and you will either invest in a mobile Internet device in the long run or otherwise pay for using a computer or the Internet while out of the house.

laptop or desktop3   How Much Does Your PC Cost To Run?

In case you are yet to make a purchasing decision, reflect on this point thoroughly. I recommend to get a device only powerful enough to meet your needs for the time you are planning to use it. That said, do not save in terms of memory, CPU, or connectivity (HDMI, USB, etc.), as you will quickly exhaust what is available. However, do save in terms of size, screen resolution, internal drives, and accessories. Buying a more powerful device than what you really need will be more expensive both in the short and long term.

My laptop cost €799 and I intend to use it for a minimum two years.

Intermediate total: €399.50 / year or €33.29 / month.

Software & Services

How much money do you typically spend on software? Don’t forget apps, subscriptions, and upgrades. Note that as you get used to spending money on apps, you are more likely to send ever more. Also note that some of the free apps or services you are using now, might start charging for some features.

Personally, I can hardly remember the last time I spent money on software for personal use. I try to use free alternatives, especially cloud-based services as much as possible. However, I will factor in my recent upgrade to Windows 8, costs for online services, as well as a tiny buffer for apps I might buy. This adds up to €80.

Intermediate total: €439.50 / year or 36.63 / month

Power

Now this is a touchy subject. You can save quite a bit of power if you use your hardware conservatively and it doesn’t have to take great effort. Unfortunately, you won’t save great sums of money on every single device, which this calculation will reveal.

However, if you have many devices that run on electricity, if they are power hungry, and if you have been very wasteful in the way you run them, you can potentially half your electricity bill. Keep in mind that electricity costs are on the rise and at the same time more and more gadgets come with a plug. Thus it’s worth being mindful of power consumption, both when purchasing a new device or running your old ones. You can read more about this topic in my energy saving tips article.

PowerOptions03   How Much Does Your PC Cost To Run?

Back to your computer’s power consumption! There isn’t an easy and accurate way to find out how much power your PC is consuming. You can either estimate the power usage or borrow a power meter to get accurate numbers. Unless you want to do a large scale investigation of your power usage, purchasing a power meter is not worth it.

Power Meter   How Much Does Your PC Cost To Run?

I will go with a super rough estimation. The two main power draining components in my laptop are its Core i5 2.5GHz CPU and the Full HD 15.6″ display. The computer is running for a maximum of 14 hours a day. During that time it may interval between intensive use, moderate use, being idle, standby, and hibernation. I dim the screen towards the evening. Based on these factors I estimate that my laptop needs around 55W on average for a maximum of 420 hours per month. And I think it might actually be less. I presently pay €0.2575 per kWh.

Now here is how you calculate the energy costs:

Calculate Energy Costs   How Much Does Your PC Cost To Run?

Intermediate total: €510.90 / year or 42.58 / month

Note that this calculation neglects increasing energy prices.

Internet

What good is a computer if you cannot go online? Exactly! So what do you pay for Internet every month? You could also count your mobile plan if you often tether the Internet to your computer or the obligatory coffee to use the “free” WiFi at your local coffee shop.

Right now I pay €19.90 per month, which includes a landline flat-rate, but I hardly ever use the phone.

Intermediate total: €749.70 / year or 62.48 / month

Hardware Upgrades

Unless you maxed out on hardware when you initially bought your computer, you will likely upgrade parts, for example the hard drive, RAM, or the CPU in case you have a desktop computer. These are significant costs you have to factor in!

Insert RAM   How Much Does Your PC Cost To Run?

I recently upgraded my RAM for €60.98. I’m not planning to upgrade the hard drive. This being a laptop, there is little else I could upgrade.

Intermediate total: €780.19 / year or €64.02 / month

Note that this calculation does not include the potential re-sell value of the hardware you replaced.

Insurance

If you buy an expensive computer that you are intending to use for a long time and that will be subject to an increased risk of damage or theft, it’s worth investing in an insurance. I did not purchase an insurance for my laptop, so my intermediate total remains unchanged.

Repairs

If, like me, you did not opt for an insurance and end up damaging your computer, you will be faced with repair costs. The less you can do yourself, the higher those costs will be. Also note that some repairs are excluded from most warranty and insurance policies, for example laptop batteries.

Laptop Display Parts   How Much Does Your PC Cost To Run?

I damaged my display, but was able to exchange it myself. The costs came down to €85. I’m hoping that I won’t have to replace another part, so I will leave it at that.

Intermediate total: €822.69 / year or 67.56 / month

Note that I didn’t factor in the time it took me to repair the laptop or what I earned for writing about the experience.

Customer Support

If you regularly need help fixing problems on your computer, even if you just invite your friend for dinner for compensation, you have maintenance costs to add to your total. I never had to pay for customer support and usually I’m the one helping out friends, so this position does not affect my total. Note that I’m neglecting the time I spend keeping my computer in shape.

Final Tally

The costs to run my laptop add up to:

  • €822.69 per year or €67.56 per month for the whole package vs.
  • €184.39 per year or €15.37 per month for just maintenance and energy costs, not including initial purchase or Internet.

As mentioned several times above, this does not factor in the time you have to spend to keep your computer up and running, which would be a complex calculation in its own right.

Conclusion

Computers are anything but one time investments! The monthly costs are not to be neglected, even for someone with a tendency to use free and low cost alternatives like myself. And let me say this once more, time is money and if you took it into account on top of all other costs, you would probably end up with a significant sum! Maybe it’s worth buying a Mac after all.

Image credits: Dollar Button via Shutterstock, Laptop via Shutterstock, Power Meter via Shutterstock

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28 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

dragonmouth

The only two things I pay for, like you, is power and the Internet. The rest I have obtained or will obtain for free.

I use a recycled PC that someone threw out. It may not be bleeding edge but the price was right and it does what I need it to do.
My PC runs Linux because the O/S and the apps are free.
I do not use the cloud.
Maintenance/Upgrades also free. Over the years I have built up an inventory of spare parts pulled from discarded PCs.
I perform my own repairs using my parts stockpile.
I am my own customer support. If I can’t resolve the problem, there are many sites where I can ask for help, MUO being one.
Like you, I do not purchase insurance. If my PC gets stolen or melts down, I can always build another one from spare parts.

I pay $30/month for Internet but we have 4 users and 6 computers.
I don’t know what I pay for the PC electric since I am on a budget plan and pay the same amount for electricity every month throughout the year. However, I would assume that the power cost for my PC is similar to yours, somewhere around $10-$12/month.

techguyknows

me too!

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Kevin S

Great Read! Great perspective on things I would not even think of!

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ReadandShare

Lots to think about… thanks!

Curious, for a desktop, does anyone know — roughly — how much power is consumed when in hibernation vs. sleep? I almost never turn off my PC — preferring to put it to sleep during the day when not in use — and hibernation at night. But I am thinking of just putting the system to sleep at night instead of hibenate.

Matthew Unwin

sleep reduces your power use
during hibernate you use NO power

Tina Sieber

As Matthew already said, no power is used during hibernation. The amount of power your computer uses during sleep is very small. If you search Google, you will find examples where people measured the power consumption and calculated the costs. It’s in the cents area per year.

ReadandShare

Thanks, Matthew and Tina!

If it’s cents per year, then I think I will just stick with “sleep” and not bother with “hibernate”. Convenience is definitely worth cents per year. :)

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Guff

You should also include expenses for powering your WiFi router. I have installed a simple timer to limit the consumption, powering the router only between 7 and 22 hours

Tina Sieber

Great point, I totally forgot about the router!

Morne v

Can I do this with my DLink router?

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David Moreira

Try to use the laptop as much as you can OUT of the house as it equals free energy, most of the times.

And a great part of the expenses will be gone.

Tina Sieber

Brilliant tip if you can use free Internet at a common / public space, like a library.

Don’t forget that using the laptop out of house likely involves other costs, such as time, transport, or money spent on food and drinks. But it’s definitely more fun.

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macwitty

When you add one thing to another…

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Nevzat A

I’m using a couple of grounded multi-sockets with on-off switch for my electricity needs. One provides energy for my laptop and external monitor, another one just for ADSL modem (sometimes I just switch on my modem and use it for my phone’s and tablet’s internet connection, so there’s no need for switching on my laptop and monitor), and finally another switchable one for the TV. We should switch off the electricity when a device does not need it.

Alan Wade

If you switch off the device its not using electricity!

Nevzat A

well, not so exactly. When cables are plugged, monitor and laptop’s led lights turns green, meaning they actually start to suck electricity. In addition, laptop battery tend to charge itself whenever it’s plugged. Any battery’s life span will be shorter if you continuously plug into a socket. As for the other gadgets; our TV has no button for completely shutting down, it just sleeps when you press the button on it. Finally the modem’s on/off button is at the back, meaning it’s hard to reach the button in first place. Anyway, life is better for me to have the on/off switches near the sockets rather than plugging in/out every devices chord.

Tina Sieber

Very true. Most devices consume energy even when turned off. The phenomenon is known as phantom load.

Or as Nevzat says, you can’t even turn them off unless you unplug them. Many TVs only offer a Standby mode.

A single one of those devices constantly sucking energy won’t matter much. However, if you have many such devices the costs accumulate.

Nevzat A

One last advice from me, avoid cheap sockets, especially the ones with lightning switches (I mean the ones with a switch that shows red light when it’s on) They cause somewhat strange behaviors on the socket and other devices that are connected to it. When I use a cheap one to connect to another, devices seem to get a low level of energy even though the switch is turned off. The best thing to do is using a quality grounded multi switch from a brand, which can guard your precious devices from even over-voltages and currents, such as this one : http://www.trust.com/products/product.aspx?artnr=31025

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Alan Wade

My computers are turned on in the morning and left on until the evening. I believe any person who uses a computer on a daily basis will never think about the electricity costs as without power you cannot run the PC. OK the ISP costs can be tailored to suit your budget and needs but the rest is a bit like the food bill – it costs what it costs.

Whenever I get the urge to upgrade a piece of hardware (around twice a year) then the upgraded part usually gets installed into my wife’s PC.
With hardware its one of two things, it breaks down so must be replaced or its upgraded for better performance, just as with cars we have learnt not to live without them so if they break down we get them fixed and occasionally we upgrade to a newer model and normally moan about the cost for no more than a day before accepting it.

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Dave Darr

In your Conclusion you make commment about “Maybe it’s worth buying a Mac after all”. Can you elaborate on this?

The way I see it, as much of the cost factors you present seem to be true and accurate. Why not go with putting Linux on a PC or a Mac? Most Linux distros offer the same power settings adjustments as Mac and Windows OS’s. The real savings is in obtaining the OS and upgrades to the OS as well as software costs. Most of the time (with Linux) this means free (no costs involved).

Tina Sieber

People claim that things just work when you have a Mac. No nasty updates, no blue screens or other random crashes, no malware (or at least a lot less), and an automated full backup. It is optimized for users with little technical knowledge and patience. The Mac offers maximum comfort and requires very little user intervention. Or so they say.

Following this way of thinking, it would seem that Mac users spend a lot less time on maintenance. So if time equals money, then a Mac saves you a lot of money.

I would never dare to claim the same for Linux. And after all, isn’t customization and “maintenance” half the fun?

Sam

It’s broadly true. Macs just work. No BSOD, no driver settings to tinker with, barely any mysterious error messages to deal with (the only one I can recall is for MS Office -_-)

Of course this is balanced against lack of flexibility in terms of hardware upgrades / broad choice of software. But software is getting easier as a lot of great stuff is released for iOS and OSx, and big titles like Sim City etc. are coming to the Mac.

Toby Boy

“Maybe you should just by a Mac, because at that point you won’t have spent any money on a PC, because it’s a Mac”

“If you’re worried about spending too much on your PC, perhaps you should get the most outrageously overpriced computer money can buy and be done with it.”

“Free and low cost alternatives, like a $3000 iDevice for browsing facebook”

Tina Sieber

It all depends which arguments you follow, Toby. And I agree with you; I think Apple hardware is way overpriced in comparison to what else is available.

But you could see it from yet another perspective and find that all the hardware is in fact way too cheap. But that would get us off topic…

Robert

Just a note:

If you compare similar quality PC hardware to Mac hardware with the same performace the “mac premium” seems to be about 15% for consumer stuff and 30~40% for server stuff. The delta is because Apple is very proud of memory and drives used for upgrades.

Budget PC hardware isn’t comparible, lower quality components.

I run a dual boot Windows 7/Fedora 18 machine as my main desktop. It stays in Fedora 99% of the time.

For my wife I have her on a mac mini because I don’t want to fiddle with it all the time. She was on a windows machine and seems like I had to format/install at least every 6 months.

The only three types of hardware failure I’ve ever had are drives that die, factory thermal CPU paste drying up in a laptop (see the note about cheap budget PC hardware), and a lightning strike that blew out everything but the drives.

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null

WOW!!! A lot of money Huh?

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SUPARiG

I’ve never thought about this! looks like i’ll be using sleep mode more often now

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null

An interesting look at a server: IBM System X iDataPlex DX360 M3 Computer Server Overview. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWR7D39omoQ

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