Replacing a Well-Aged Laptop

-Inge Coates

Experts suggest that the average lifespan of a laptop is three to five years, but these experts tend to be IT professionals who service businesses.

What makes sense for ARTA members?

To find out if you should replace your laptop, ask yourself:

  1. Does your laptop efficiently do what you want it to?
  2. Does it easily update both the operating system and software to include the latest security features, especially if you bank online or do online shopping?

If you answered yes to both questions, you may not need to replace it yet.

Warning signs of an imminent breakdown include a noisy laptop fan, a machine that frequently overheats, or a laptop that is slow to start up or shut down. When working on several applications at the same time, it should easily switch between them. You should not be getting warnings that you have run out of memory.

Obviously, frequent crashes or corrupted data are serious. If security features are not regularly updated by the manufacturer, it may be because that laptop is significantly out of date.

If you think you need a new laptop, here are some considerations.

Backing Up the Information on Your Old Laptop

You can usually back up all of the information from an old computer to a new one. Support can be found online or from the person who sells you the new one.

You can also back up to virtual storage such as iCloud or Google Drive. There is often a fee for this, but your information is encrypted and should be safe.

A USB flash drive with enough storage space or a separate external hard drive will also work. With a separate hard drive, it may even be possible to schedule automatic backups so that information is always current should your new laptop crash, become infected by malware, or be stolen.

Planning Your Old Laptop’s Retirement

If your old laptop is still functioning, you might consider selling it. However, if you used it for banking, you may not be able to erase that data as thoroughly as you hope, so be careful. Perhaps gifting it to a friend or family member would be a better option.

You could keep it as a backup, especially because it already has all your files on it. If you are keeping it as a backup, store it flat, in a dry, dust-free location. Fully charge the battery before removing it and keep the laptop and charger each wrapped separately but in the same general area.

Destroying the Hard Drive in an Unwanted Laptop

Once you have backed up your old laptop, you may decide to destroy its hard drive. Reformatting may not remove all private information if someone is determined to access it. Using a magnet may have worked years ago but isn’t enough for today’s laptops, not even your old one. Physically destroying the hard drive with a sledge hammer requires safety equipment and know-how to be effective, and advice for this on the internet isn’t always accurate. Better to use a company that professionally destroys hard drives.

Buying a New Laptop

Laptops range from $300 to $3000. The cheaper ones usually have limited features, are slower, and often have a shorter lifespan. The expensive ones have sophisticated features that you may not use or need.

When making your selection, find a laptop that does all the things you normally do, with maybe a few shortcut features that make your work easier. If you are hoping to use your laptop for design work, research what you might need and speak to the sales person about the capabilities of each machine. Make sure that the machine you’re considering has sufficient memory to handle your applications and to store your photos, movies, spreadsheets, documents, and other items. Automatic updates from the manufacturer are also important.

Preparing Your New Laptop

Before you start using a new laptop, consider these steps:

  1. Acquire and install software and apps that you prefer. This might include a word processing tool and accounting software.
  2. Check the security features already on your new machine (e.g., fingerprint reader, facial recognition) and supplement as necessary. (See article on VPNs, Summer 2022.)
  3. Upload the files that you want to access from your old laptop.
  4. Customize your settings (e.g., font size, brightness, screensaver) to make this machine truly yours.

Inge Coates

Inge Coates’s interest in computer technologies prompted her to complete a Master of Arts in Communication and Technology at the University of Alberta in 2005. She has been fascinated by the impacts of these technologies ever since. Inge was on ARTA’s Communication Committee for several terms.