Can a computer last 10 years? It depends

Last Updated on October 30, 2021 by Dave Farquhar

Can a computer last 10 years? People tend to have very strong opinions about that. It is a matter of perspective in some ways. And a lot of it depends on the type of hardware you buy, and what you expect it to do. And at one time, that was an absurd idea. But not so much anymore.

No longer completely absurd

can a computer last 10 years
Any computer newer than this P4-era machine had the possibility to last 10 years, as a general rule.

But strictly from a question of whether a computer will function after 10 years, yes. It is possible for a computer to have a service life of 10 years.

And for that matter, I worked at a large company that defied the standard advice to keep computers 3 years. They kept their computers a minimum of 5 years, and there was no flexibility on that. And that was the minimum. They absolutely had computers that were 10 years old, or older, on their network. This did cause some problems, but when I studied their IT problems, which were legion, what I found was that the age of the hardware wasn’t really the issue. It was that they were still running on a Windows installation that was just as old.

Of course, you aren’t them. Things will be a bit different for you. So let’s talk about the reasons a computer may or may not last 10 years, and you can decide what you want to do about your aging hardware .

Spinning hard drives don’t always last 10 years

The major caveat to running a computer for 10 years is the hard drive. Hard drives have always been the Achilles heel for reliability. Some drives can absolutely make it 10 years. Some drives survive one day after their warranty expires. Making matters worse, most brands go through good times and bad. I know people who swear by Seagate. I know people who vowed to never buy a Seagate drive again. And the same goes for Western Digital. The problem is, it’s hard to know who is on a hot streak right now and who isn’t when you go to buy a drive. And it’s hard to cheat by just buying HGST now.

I sidestep the whole issue by buying SSDs. They are far more reliable, many times faster, and I don’t make a bunch of annoying noise. I’m surprised when a hard drive survives 10 years. But I’m surprised if an SSD doesn’t survive 10 years. There are people who don’t like SSDs, but laggards are going to laggard. If you want to keep a computer 10 years, put an SSD in it. It will make it much more reliable, it will make it run cooler, and it will eliminate the major bottleneck in the system that makes a 10-year-old computer feel slow.

Gaming is a problem after 10 years

The other obvious place where keeping a computer 10 years can be problematic is in gaming. Especially 3D gaming. While a CPU from 10 years ago may very well still be viable, a GPU from 10 years ago may not be. That said, 3D games are more prone to bottleneck on the GPU than on the CPU. To game on a PC for 10 years, you may need to replace the GPU at some point, but that is cheaper than replacing the whole computer.

How happy you will be gaming on an older computer depends on the titles you play. I have a friend who games a lot more than I do who just replaced a system after about 10 years. What he did was replace his GPU once, and he actually used that GPU in his new build. He may end up replacing the GPU in his new machine sooner than the rest, but he’s been pretty happy with this approach. And it frees up a lot of money for his other interests.

The Microsoft Factor

The elephant in the room is Windows 11. Microsoft announced they are not going to support CPUs more than about three generations old in Windows 11. They are also going to require technologies that were pretty rare in 10-year-old computers. The question is whether they will loosen the requirements or stick to their guns, but Microsoft could force a lot of perfectly serviceable computers into early retirement if they don’t relax the requirements.

As a security professional, I understand what they are trying to do. There are benefits to having TPM hardware, and just because certain vocal YouTubers don’t understand what a TPM does doesn’t mean they aren’t beneficial. Question is whether trying to force people to get TPM equipped systems will actually work. Some portion of the population is going to stay on Windows 10 indefinitely instead of upgrading. Microsoft is just betting on how small that population will be. Based on what I have seen, it’s a risky bet.

So if your computer is approaching 10 years old, but it’s still mostly working, right now is a really good time to wait. We don’t know what Microsoft is going to do. If Microsoft doesn’t relax it’s requirements, whatever you buy after the fact certainly could last 10 years. And computer hardware is in short supply right now, which is driving prices up. If Microsoft doesn’t relax the requirements, demand for new computer hardware will remain high, but at least the global supply chain issues are likely to be over by then, so it will only be high demand pushing prices, rather than the perfect storm of low supply and high demand.

Can a computer last 10 years: In conclusion

I remember a time when a computer lasting 10 years was an edge case. After 3 years, a new computer could easily start feeling dated. The 486 I bought in 1994 felt hopelessly dated in 1997. The Pentium I bought in 1996 felt just as bad by 1999. Today, a core 2 Duo from 12 years ago feels less dated than a CPU used to feel after just 3 years.

This is good for consumers. An appliance last 10 years at least. Many other consumer electronics last 10 years. Televisions are a good example. It’s really only bad for the companies who make computer chips or the computers themselves. They made a lot of money selling $1,500 computers that needed to be replaced in 3 years.

We are in a period where computers of a certain age have the potential to be a problem. But that is slightly unusual. The industry changed significantly after the Pentium 4, and CPUs go obsolete much more slowly than they used to. Memory requirements have also increased much more slowly than they used to. Once we get past this TPM debacle, we can expect the trend that started with 64-bit CPUs to resume.

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2 thoughts on “Can a computer last 10 years? It depends

  • September 8, 2021 at 8:29 pm

    I agree. Also a similar rule seems to more and more apply to another popular consumer electronics – smartphones. Their power goes higher and higher for last several years and now there are many 5 year old devices which seem to be completely usable nowadays, at least in terms of performance. The problem is their operating system heavily depends on particular hardware which makes their longevity more dependent on the devices’ producers decisions regarding software upgrades and general device support. This applies also to Apple devices but they have longer software support period which makes this limitation less felt.

  • September 17, 2021 at 1:37 am

    I am using a 10+ year old HP Elitebook 8440p. Battery is gone and there is no point in replacing it so I am using it as a desktop computer. Some of the internal keyboard keys are missing and it’s difficult to find a replacement keyboard, at least in EU but I rarely use the internal keyboard, only when travelling.

    Of course I am using the laptop just for surfing the web, office apps some other low power applications but it is still working great with it’s Samsung SSD and 8GB of RAM.

    Only issue I have is with the CPU easily overheating. I think it’s a ‘feature’ of this laptop model and it certainly needs a new drop of thermal paste as it sometimes shuts off abruptly when using Zoom.

    Overall I am very satisfied of this laptop and I am finding difficult to replace it with a newer model, especially because some of the new laptops have a non-removable battery and as I will be using the laptop as a desktop for 95% of the time, always on, I am pretty sure the battery won’t last long.

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