Old gadgets don’t last

man-at-laptop-holding-head-image-from-shutterstockOld gadgets don’t last: a reader asks…

My Windows 7 laptop computer is starting to make funny noises, but it’s only about 4 years old. How long are all these gadgets supposed to last anyway?

The short answer is, unfortunately, not long enough for many (most?). Today’s PC’s are made as cheaply as possible so you pay the lowest cost. For the most part, that market has driven down to the lowest cost, and you end up paying for it by having keyboard keys pop off, cooling fans overheading, hard drives crashing, and power plugs breaking.

By funny noise, I’m guessing it’s one of two things:

  1. A sound like frying bacon is the noise your spinning hard drive makes when it’s reading and writing data. If that noise has gotten significantly louder, stop reading this and go back up all your files. Your hard drive is probably gonna crash sooner or later, and it’s not worth risking all your treasured pictures, music, that book you started writing, and other important personal files. Check out this article for more info.
  2. A sound like a loud whirring coming from the vents on the side or back (or bottom) of the laptop is probably your cooling fan. Over time, dust can clog up the vents and coat the fan blades, and perhaps even get into the ball bearings and wear them out.

man-sleeping-on-laptop-image-from-shutterstockThese are really the only moving parts in your laptop that could be causing those funny noises. In the case of the hard drive, you could try to replace it yourself (I have some instructions in this article), pay someone else to do it, or just go buy a new replacement PC. In the case of the cooling fan, you might be able to find a shop who can repair that for you. But in both cases, you should do a little math – compare the cost of fixing your old (yes, it’s old!) laptop PC against the cost of replacing it. My general rule of thumb is that if the repair cost gets near half the replacement cost, skip the repair and replace it. After all, you don’t know what else will wear out on you in a few weeks or months.

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Not trying to wade into the Mac vs. PC fray, but for the most part, you get what you pay for. You pay a premium price to Apple and get a premium product that should give you at least six years of trouble-free performance (more if your hard drive is solid-state), although there are still 10-year-old Macs in service. For perhaps a third or less than the cost of a Mac, you can buy a cheap laptop, and you might still get six years of service, but you might only get a couple. Cheap is cheap. I could make the same case for a Microsoft Surface (pay more and get better quality), or any one of a number of premium-built Windows-based laptop PCs. I’m not talking about brands here, but specific models of specific brands. Just my opinion, but I think these brands are good:

  1. Dell (and their Alienware premium brand)
  2. Lenovo (and their Thinkpad premium brand)

I generally stay away from most of the other popular brands because they all are feeding the bottom of the market with cheap, easily damaged or broken models. Again, just my opinion, but based on over 15 years of fixing other people’s laptops. In some cases, you are even paying a premium for the brand-name, but still getting the cheapest components and build quality.

I see the same kind of problem with lots of different types of consumer technology, smartphones, tablets, remote control devices, home automation, and security systems – if you are shopping for the lowest price, you should be prepared to accept cheap goods.

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