How Long Should Laptops Last? Tips on Making them Last Longer
Planned obsolescence is a concept that can be observed in most modern electronics and something that all consumers should know of. It basically says that all electronics are designed only with limited lifespans, after which their capabilities become severely downgraded or they cease to function at all. This concept applies as well to laptops.
Given how crucial laptops now are to most people’s everyday lives, it would be good to know just how long that laptop would last before you will need to replace it. What are the factors that contribute to a laptop’s lifestyle and what are good practices for extending it?
Why do laptops have limited lifespans?
Just about all the components of every electrical device deteriorates over time. This is a reality that we just have to accept, especially in an era where we are so dependent on smartphones, tablets, laptops, and a host of other electronics.
Obsolescence is less of a concern in desktop computers since their components can simply be removed and upgraded as necessary. The same cannot be said of laptops. If something goes wrong with your laptop, there’s a good chance that you’ll either have to send in the unit for a repair or simply buy a replacement. With this in mind, the longevity of a laptop is one of the most important qualifiers when shopping for a new unit.
What causes electronics like laptops to break down anyway? There are a lot of possible questions to that answer. The battery of your laptop can lose capacity because of poor battery management. Optical drives can reach their maximum read-write cycles. Any of the circuitry in a laptop can get corroded over time or suffer from dust accumulation.
The point is that everything breaks down eventually. This is especially true nowadays when tech brands are in a race to come up with products that are sophisticated, yet affordable. As we shall see later on, the adage “you get what you pay for” also applies in this instance.
How long can you expect your laptop to last?
It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly how long a laptop will last based on its specs. Again, a lot of factors come into play here. If you’re still browsing for a laptop, here are the things you need to consider when assessing how long that laptop might last under your care:
Type of hardware
With so many hardware components to go over, let’s simplify this discussion and just categorize laptops into tiers based on their prices – budget laptops that cost less than $700, mid-range laptops that cost anywhere between $700 to $1200, and high-end laptops that cost more than $1200.
You can expect a budget laptop to last between 3 to 6 years, a mid-range laptop to last between 4 to 7 years, while a high-end laptop should still work anywhere between 5 to 8 years. Again, these are just estimates based on the level of sophistication of the laptop’s hardware.
These “rule of thumb” values can still vary based on how often you use the laptop, the tasks you do with it, and how well you take care of it. Even a budget laptop could last up to 8 years with proper use and maintenance. That said, don’t expect a laptop that costs $300 to last as long as one that costs three or four times that price.
How the laptop is used
The regular tasks you do with your laptop also play a role in determining how long it will last. If you only use your laptop for word processing, watching videos, or web browsing, then its processes are not so taxing on the hardware. On the other hand, more intensive processes like video editing and high-resolution put more of a strain on the memory and processors.
This comparison isn’t as straightforward as there are laptops that were built specifically for intensive work. Gaming laptops are notable examples of this concept, as they have hardware that can easily support gaming at high resolution and framerate.
What we should be looking at instead is how much and how often you push your laptop to its maximum capabilities. If you have processes that push your CPU to run close to 100% all the time, then that might be a sign that your current hardware is no longer enough for your needs. You might even notice your laptop getting hotter more often and the cooling fan working at speeds higher than normal.
If your computer is often getting pushed to its limit, then don’t be surprised if its effective lifespan is cut by around one to two years. For this reason, buying a budget laptop for heavy video editing is not a good idea – you’ll end up breaking that laptop in less than 3 years.
How well you take care of it
Unsurprisingly, how well you take care of your laptop also plays a huge role in determining how long it will last. A laptop that is kept plugged in permanently will very quickly develop battery issues. Dust is also one of the primary causes of computer hardware getting damaged.
With proper management, you can extend the lifespan of even a budget laptop by at least a year or two. However, the performance of any laptop will almost certainly deteriorate over time, even with the best care, until it reaches a point where it needs to be replaced.
Tips to make your laptop last longer
Once you’ve chosen which laptop to buy, it’s good to know how to manage and take care of it so you can make the most out of its lifespan.
Don’t leave it plugged in for too long
The most common mistake that people do with their laptops is leaving them plugged in, even when they are already fully charged. This results in a phenomenon called “trickle charging,” where the battery resumes charging as soon as it falls below the 100% mark.
Old battery management practices dictate that it’s better to let the battery run out, then recharge it again, rather than leave it plugged in. This is no longer the case now. Most modern laptops can stay plugged in safely.
The real problem lies in the fact that batteries naturally degrade over time because of the chemical process involved in their charging and discharging cycles. While this is an inevitable phenomenon, it is also accelerated in batteries that are kept in full capacity for a long time.
If you can’t be bothered to plug and unplug your laptop during the day, then keeping it plugged in while you work is fine. A good compromise is to let the battery run down to about 50% to 80% before you wrap up your day so that it does not get stored at full capacity. It’s not so bothersome, but you’ll be thankful for how much it helps you sustain your laptop’s battery life.
Provide good ventilation
Heat is the enemy of any electrical component but is also something that is generated by just about every electrical device. To avoid heat-induced damage, your laptop should have a built-in vent and fan. Make sure that your laptop is positioned so that this vent is left open.
If you notice that your laptop is still getting too hot while you work, then you could consider getting a cooling pad or a laptop stand with a built-in cooling fan. Regardless, avoid placing your laptop on material with poor heat conduction. Frequently placing your laptop over your bed mattress is a sure way for that heat to build.
Keep food and drinks away
One of the easiest ways to mess up your laptop or to have grime buildup is to eat or drink while using it. No matter how careful you are, it’s almost inevitable for a few drops or crumbs to fall on your laptop keyboard. In some cases, those crumbs can fall into the spaces between the keys, making them impossible to clean without disassembling the whole laptop.
This is advice that’s very difficult to follow through on – even for ourselves. Yes, eating while working saves time and keeps us from getting bored. However, it’s also nice to step back from the work we are doing to have a proper meal. Not only does it give your mind a much-needed break, but it also keeps those pesky crumbs from disappearing into your laptop forever.
Keep your antivirus software up to date
On the software side of things, there are a lot of things you can do to mess up your laptop. Although we expect our readers to know malicious software when they see it, it never hurts to have good anti-virus software installed.
Of course, it’s not enough to have anti-virus software installed – it also has to be updated. This is important as there are new software-related threats that appear over time, including new viruses and malware. Develops of anti-virus software constantly improve and update to counteract these new threats.
These tips have not mentioned the obvious – to take care of your laptop physically. It only takes one bad fall to ruin your laptop’s screen or its HDD. Make sure you’re working on a stable surface, and refrain from moving the laptop around while it is still active. If you need to carry your laptop, place it inside a sealed and cushioned case. While modern electronics are fairly durable, they still aren’t tough enough to be handled carelessly.
Lifespan vs usability
While this article has focused on the lifespan of a laptop, let’s look at another aspect of its ‘useful life.’ The usability of a laptop refers to how suitable it is for the requirements of current software. This tends to taper off the older a laptop gets. Yes, your seven-year-old laptop may still work, but it may no longer handle newer video editing software or more modern video games.
The usability of a laptop tends to drop off faster the more high-end it is. For instance, a five-year-old gaming laptop might no longer be able to handle but a five-year-old budget laptop can still do basic word processing at the same speed. This is simply the natural progression of technology.
What makes laptops more prone to obsolescence is that not all of their components can be upgraded. Yes, you can expand its RAM or swap out its HDD for an SSD, but the CPU and GPU of a laptop are virtually fixed in place. If you find that you need more processing power for your tasks, then your best option would be to upgrade to a newer laptop.
While laptops are much more convenient than desktop computers, they also tend to get break down or become obsolete faster. This concept of planned obsolescence is just something that you will have to consider when you buy a laptop – are you going for a budget model that will last less than 5 years, or spend a couple hundred dollars more for a model with improved longevity?
Fortunately, it’s quite easy to make the most out of your laptop by simply taking care of it. Managing its battery level, keeping its anti-virus up-to-date, and making sure that it doesn’t overheat are just some of the basic ways to make your laptop last longer.