This feature first appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
For most of us, electronic computing devices are indispensable. But desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones are fragile and have a limited lifespan. Not only are they vulnerable to wear and tear and accidents, they also become outdated.
A lot depends on the device, the user and what it’s used for, but sooner or later every one of these highly valued tools will slow down, malfunction, or just stop working. When that happens, most of us are faced with the question of whether to repair, refurbish, or simply replace our computer, laptop, smartphone, and so forth.
As long as your device meets your needs, you have time to plan an eventual upgrade or replacement. It’s when the darn thing takes forever, or just fails to perform certain functions, or breaks down completely, that you need to quickly decide on the best solution. And that’s easier said than done. So it’s important to think and plan ahead and be prepared for the inevitable.
Cost and time are key factors to consider here. Circumstances vary from user to user. If cost is important, work out a cost comparison. Generally speaking, repairing or upgrading might be the right solution if the cost works out to less than half the price of a new device.
The other foremost consideration is downtime. If you don’t have a backup device and can’t afford to be without one for even a few days, then you need to opt for the quickest solution.
For all devices, third-party repair can be much cheaper. But remember that unauthorized handling can invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty, provided that your PC, laptop, tablet, or phone is still covered. You could also end up with more damage to your device. If you do opt for a third party, ensure the repair/replacement is covered by a 12-month warranty.
Do-it-yourself device repair should be considered only if you are very skilled at handling electronics. Before you repair, upgrade, or replace your device, remember to create a backup of its main storage media so that you don’t lose precious data.
The general view is that the life of an average desktop computers ranges between three and eight years. Consumer-line desktops and laptops are cheaply built and wear out faster than solid business-grade devices.
If you’re using a consumer PC, sluggish performance is something you could encounter pretty early on. The first thing you need to do is clean up your computer: delete all files and uninstall all software you don’t use and ensure that your operating system is up-to-date.
If you haven’t already got a reliable anti-virus and internet security suite installed, you need to do that right away. It’s important to scan your computer regularly.
Repair — If your system is less than three years old and has developed a minor fault, then repair is the best option. Contact your vendor if it’s still covered by warranty. Otherwise, you can still have the problem evaluated and fixed by the vendor or an authorized service center, usually at a reasonable price.
Refurbish — In general, desktop computers are quite upgrade-friendly. Replacing and adding components is usually cost-effective and viable if the device is less than four years old. It is not expensive to upgrade memory and storage. An authorized technician can install the right RAM as well as install a new internal hard drive. You can also use an external drive.
For a performance boost, a Solid State Drive (SSD) is an option, but these offer less storage space. It’s also usually cost-effective to replace DVD drives and power components if your desktop is less than three or four years old.
You can also consider replacing motherboards and CPUs if your desktop unit is under three years old and the cost adds up to less than half that of a new system. Replacing just the CPU is possible only if one that is compatible with the motherboard is available.
On a fairly new desktop, the graphics card can be upgraded provided a compatible one is available and it is cost-effective. Some graphic cards are pricey.
Replace — If your desktop is more than four years old and the motherboard or CPU needs replacement, buying a new PC is the best option. Additionally, when your system can no longer cope with the latest software, it’s time to get a new device.
Overall, if the cost of upgrading works out to more than 50 percent of the cost of a new system, it makes sense to replace your old PC. You need to factor in the time required to set up your new system, however, which will likely involve transferring data and software from the old desktop. Also, you need to ensure that all your apps and programs will work on the new system.
A consumer-line laptop has an average lifespan of between three and five years, but a reliable business-line laptop can last much longer. A great deal depends on the build quality, the user, and what the unit is used for. As with desktops, you need to maintain your laptop and ensure your operating system and anti-virus suite receive regular updates.
Repair — If you find your laptop is slow to boot and performance has slipped, check whether the operating system and anti-virus definitions are up-to-date. Then, get rid of unwanted files, programs and software and run a full scan.
If the problem persists, you might need professional help. If it’s still under warranty, all you have to do is contact the vendor. If not, then you can still get the manufacturer to fix it for a price, or take it to an authorized service provider. Some repair services offer free evaluation. Shop around before you decide on a particular service provider.
Software and virus problems that you can’t solve can be remedied by an online or in-person malware service. It’s important to consider the time, cost and expected outcome before you hand it over to a repair service. If repair doesn’t take much time and expense and can restore your laptop to normal, then that would be the best option.
Refurbish — Laptop components tend to be more expensive than desktop computer parts. Also, desktops are generally easier to repair and upgrade than laptops. For battery, hard drives, memory and fans, consider replacement if your laptop is not too old and reliable and compatible parts are available and cost-effective.
Before you upgrade your laptop, consider the cost, time involved as well as age of your laptop. For example, if your laptop screen is damaged, but the device is not very old, it’s best to replace the screen. The same applies to memory and storage. You can add RAM and upgrade the hard drive or get an SSD if your machine is fairly new and working fine otherwise.
Switching to an SSD can make your laptop boot and perform faster, but it costs much more than a regular hard drive. So, you want to consider whether the expense is worth it. Remember also that replacing your hard drive means reinstalling or transferring your operating system, programs, and applications to the new drive, as well as backing up your data.
Though displays, keyboards, and touchpads can all be replaced, compatible replacements may not be easily available and even if they are, these might be expensive. In this case, you need to consider whether an upgrade or buying a new system is more cost-effective.
Replace — If the motherboard is damaged, it’s probably best to buy a new laptop because motherboards are expensive. The same applies if a number of components have faults and the total cost of repair and upgrades is high.
Tablets are expensive, which is why repair is usually the most viable option unless it’s very old. For your tablet to last, you need to avoid dropping it (though that’s sometimes easier said than done). Most sources indicate that it’s worth repairing your tablet if the cost of repair doesn’t exceed $200.
Repair — If there’s something wrong with the operating system, call the vendor if your tablet warranty hasn’t expired. Otherwise, check out the manufacturer’s website and follow the instructions. If it still doesn’t work, take it to a vendor-authorized repair service.
Refurbish — The battery will die out eventually. If your device has a replaceable battery, all you need to do is get a genuine, compatible replacement.
A broken screen is one of the most common issues users face. If it’s just a tiny crack that doesn’t affect visibility, you could likely keep using the device as it is. A big crack can mar your view and will require screen replacement.
If the colors are messed up or all pixels don’t show up normally, it means the LCD panel is likely damaged. Tablet and smartphone warranties don’t usually cover accidental damage, which is why insuring your tablet or phone is a good idea. If your policy covers broken screens, it likely won’t cost you anything to get a new screen, but you’ll have to pay a higher premium in the future.
Some vendors offer a replacement policy for a price. If yours does, this could be the best option if it’s not too pricey. You’ll get original components fixed by the manufacturer’s technician and your warranty will not be affected.
Replace — If your tablet is either very old or needs a number of components repaired or replaced, you might want to just buy a new one.
Some tablets come with permanently installed batteries. Competent technicians can replace these as well by removing the old battery from its frame and inserting a new one. If you don’t know a reliable expert who can do this for you at a reasonable cost, however, you will likely have to replace your tablet.
There is a market for old tablets online, including eBay, and offline. You could use the money from that toward buying a new one.
Many users tend to replace smartphones while they’re still usable, adding to the already huge amount of e-waste in the environment. Sometimes all a phone needs is a minor repair or refurbishment. Doing that and using it for another year or two makes sense not only economically but also environmentally.
The average cost of a new phone is around $500, whereas the average cost to repair can be as low as between $50 and $150.
Repair — Your phone can slow down for a number of reasons, some of which are easy to address. Try deleting unwanted photos, files, messages as well as disabling features and special effects you don’t need. Clear up the cache and uninstall unwanted apps and games to free up space. You can also use free storage space in the cloud.
You can fix minor OS problems yourself by following instructions on the vendor’s website. Otherwise, consult the manufacturer or an authorized service center.
Refurbish — If your smartphone screen is broken, then you can either live with it or get it replaced, depending on the extent of damage.
There’s no need to buy a new phone if all it needs is a new battery. A dead battery can be replaced.
If you’ve run out of storage, you can add a micro SD for videos, photos and music if your phone has expandable memory. If it doesn’t have a micro SD slot, a USB OTG flash drive is an option.
Replace — If your OS is outdated, meaning the vendor no longer supports it, you may want to buy a new smartphone. Running a system that no longer receives updates can put your phone’s security at risk. It’s time for a new phone if the cost of repairs and upgrades is too high, you can’t add storage or you need a new camera and better features and apps.
Ultimately, any decision regarding whether to repair, refurbish, or replace a critical desktop, laptop, tablet, is best made by you, the owner. Ensure that what you invest in a new device gets you something that performs better than what you currently have.
If problems can be fixed, then be sure to choose a reliable repair service. Go by recommendations from family, friends and colleagues as well as customer reviews on social media, company websites and the web.