back to article Old PCs: When it's time to die

Often, PCs are like old soldiers: they never seem to die. In many cases the old workhorses keep on going, so long as they are not touched and nothing major explodes or dies. We know this from your comments and we see this in our research too. The upshot is that the lifespan of mainstream PCs, for users who are not too …


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  1. Abstract8

    ... I feel safe with my 1995 Novell Netware server

    Am I living a lie? Is my Netware 4.12 open to attack. I upgraded to 4.12 (long file name) in 1997?.

    BTW same HD booting since '95. Added a larger HD volume for storage but can't replace "C:" cuz I lost the software.

  2. Goat Jam

    I am so sick of the automatic assumption that Windows is always required.

    Security: "Many older PCs are running much the same software that they were initially configured with, Windows XP"

    Performance: "Employees often try to “work” around performance difficulties"

    Cost: "Much of the cost of replacement is in the provisioning and roll-out, application licences and end-user training for new applications"

    Every one of these "issues" so helpfully provided by the author can be solved once and for all by removing Windows and going to a FOSS solution.

    This never happens though.

    Instead, we have legions of MCSE's whose primary career goal is to protect the value of their precious certs and will therefore not even consider that other options are available.

    They are like a shuffling zombie army moaning "Windoze . . . . Windoze . . . . must have Windoze . . ." over and over.

    I get so sick of it sometimes.

    1. Ammaross Danan


      The problem with MCSE certs are that anyone can get them. I knew one who ran around with his MCSE, but failed to plug a monitor (VGA) cable in correctly and bent up the pins trying to force it on backwards....a written test with predictable questions/answers with loads of MCSE Exams for Dummies books out there make sure work of monkies passing the test.

      Security is definately better on FOSS. Performance arguably so, but requires hand-picking packages, setting up a install package disk for unattended installs (the "remember what I installed on this one" disk basically) and even then the UI may run like crap (remember when KDE 3 came out?).

      As for cost, you make out like a bandit with software licenses for productivity suites and OS. Still doesn't save you with actual business apps though. Does PeachTree have a FOSS equivalent, or do I need to run an XP VM to do accounting? What about actual business software? I work in healthcare IT, and all the handy add-on apps (such as medical coding) and the like have no FOSS equivalent, let alone the actual Med Records and Patient Management systems. Therefore, FOSS has no place on our desktops. Now, the IT backend such as network services/shares and archiving systems is running happily on FOSS.

      Therefore, I'm sick of hearing people complain they're sick of hearing "Windows" all the time. It is used because installing *nix and having to hope your essential software runs on Wine is just idiotic.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    It's rarely the OS

    There should never be any surprises as far as servers and infrastructure boxes go: you knew what the app profile was like, how your setup would hit it and sized it appropriately so you should have ample notice when it's time to reach for a new one.

    As far as desktops go, the real problem is not the hardware, but Windows. Everyone knows that Windows degrades over time, and speed is miraculously cured by a format + reinstall. As an enterprise It shop you just have to focus on making it fabulously easy to revert a user's PC to that virgin state with all their apps ready to go and you'll be fine.

    Time was when my old machines would shuffle off to a new life running Linux. Sadly, Linux is so big these days that it's too painful to contemplate. OpenBSD is a very good alternative though, it's tiny, runs like a rocket and (unlike the various mini-Linuxes) has a full toolchain.

  4. jason 7

    Cant use anything less than a dual core now.

    I get a lot of customers asking me to speed up their slow 3GHz P4 Dells with 512MB of ram and 40GB HDD. Just how many of those Dell Dimension 3000 PCs did Dell sell???

    Sorry, your PC is slow cos...its a slow PC.

    I try my best, clean/tweak them up but I scream at them cos they are so slow. Multi-tasking? Ha, no way. Once you are used to quad cores with 8GB of ram and fast HDDs these machines are very very slow. Customers wont go for linux so it has to be XP going back on.

    However, the PCs go back and I get the call a couple of days later from the delighted customer saying how fast their PC is now. Oh it was a pleasure.

    To me it was like using a PC in slow motion, awful but they love it.

    There comes a point that you have to move on or you are just wasting your life.

  5. PeterM42
    Thumb Up

    Old? - it's all relative

    A friend was complaining about a problem on his machine. I suggested a rebuild, but he said he couldn't find his Windows 95 disks!!!!

    My Dell Dimension Pentium 200Mhz (ie: Pentium 1) originally bought as a Win 95 desktop, now upgraded to 64Mb of RAM and Win 2000 Advanced Server, still makes a fairly good file and print server. Only hardware failure - one CD drive about 8 years ago.

  6. Terry Maguire

    Sustainability gaining traction

    It's fantastic to see all the comments supporting the idea of sustainability. We all know that equipment is discarded un-necessarily and a professionally refurbished machine is perfectly capable doing a good job particularly in an office environment.

    I wonder how long it will be before we realise that we are running out of the raw materials required to manufacture the new kit. And while we are at it let's nail the power consumption question once and for all - the total carbon emmisions generated by a PC during it's life is made up of 80% during the manufacturing process and only 20% through power consumption.

  7. PaulM 1

    I need RS232C and other interfaces for embedded software development

    In much elecronics equipment an RS232C diagnostic port is provided for configuring that equipment or accessing error logs.

    An old laptop with a RS232C serial interface is usually required to configure such equipment. The alternative of using a USB to serial port convertor can be made to work, but my question is why buy a convertor when all that is needed is an old low performance laptop which the company already owns.

    Most microcontrollers feature an RS232C serial interface but it is very rare for a microcontroller to feature an on-chip USB interface. This means that even tomorrow's electronics equipment will only be configurable using a serial interface.

    There is even equipment out there that communicates using a centronics parallel interface found only on really old PCs.

  8. Ku...
    IT Angle

    Some bad assumptions in this article.

    We are running an estate of HP DC7600 and other HP PCs many of which are "significantly" old. We are not losing thousands in productivity. We are not running risks with security. We are not running out of date OS. Just because some of these shipped with Windows 2000 or XP doesn't mean we are still running that. We have Windows 7 and Windows Vista (I would prefer all W7 but we can't do the licencing). Why Vista you ask? Because some WS2008 functions require a fellow "Longhorn family" OS in order to run and we had a business case for those functions.

    We have very few hardware failures. Our aging PCs run at an acceptable pace for the work which they are asked to do. Most of our serious/business critical apps are web published not client server so as long as they can run a browser they can run. Shaving 30 seconds or even 2 minutes off the boot up time on a Monday morning won't save a lot. We run modern monitors, mostly. I have seen some people offering some really over cooked arguments about power saving but all of the ones we checked the maths on they didn't add up at all. People make bad assumptions then publish online and other people believe what they read and make more bad assumptions on those bad figures. Using Vista and W7 gives you a bit better control over power management but its still not "right", and thats the case on old and new PCs (oddly enough the PC on my desk is a brand new one, who'd have thought that?)

    We have our patching sorted, we have our general updating sorted, we have our monitoring sorted, a tried and tested set of group policies. We have very few problems of OS reliability or application failure, even when running Vista on 4 and 5 year old PCs.

    If you run a business where everyone needs to run heavy duty applications on their PC then you won't get by using this approach. But as we are looking to the cloud more and more (public or private) the hardware on the desk of Mr or Mrs Averageuser is less a critical factor. So long as you spec it right, keep it patched, keep the crapware off it, etc.

    Look at the cost of HW refresh? Blimey.

    This article reads like the argument a chap I worked with made. He swapped his 5 year old Astra for a new Focus and was crowing about how he'd save £50 a month with the better fuel consumption, ignoring the £175 a month extra it was costing him in finance to buy the blessed thing...

    I'll ditch hardware when it breaks and can't be fixed economically or when it is no longer supported by or capable of running the SW/OS I need to run on it. If you have Vista or W7 deployed then multiple HW generations or even vendors is no big deal, you can still have unified build images and keep your estate easy to manage.

    You don't have to rip and replace.

  9. Anteaus

    Hardware only part of reinstallation cost

    What I find is that when a PC needs its software reloading, it's often as well to replace the hardware at the same time if it's older than couple of years. The cost in real terms isn't all that much greater than reinstating the old box, and there is the feelgood-factor for the user of having a new, fast computer. In contrast to some other commenters, we tend to stick to tried-and-tested software like XP and Server 2003, but upgrade hardware fairly regularly. This keeps licensing costs down, and means smooth running since we already know how to deal with any issues that arise. If we were using the latest software we would be spending, nay wasting huge amounts of time on finding replacement ways to do things that we already know how to do efficiently on a mature platform.


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