I’ve said goodbye to more than one computer this year, although I round out 2010 with a net change in the census of about … zero over last year. So much for progress.
The hard part is knowing when to quit. You can clutch feverishly at a machine that isn’t doing anything, calling it sentimental value. But there comes a point when even sentiment has a hard time justifying it.
I know, I’ve been there. I can sympathize.
I can’t spare you the heartache of having to decide to finally, ultimately, permanently put a machine to rest. I can only tell you how I’ve made the decision in the past.
The most obvious reason to dump a machine is simply because it doesn’t work any more. That was the case with the 300Mhz Celeron this summer, when more things were falling off than were hanging on.
Sometimes a machine just gets so worn down that there are few real benefits to keeping it. There is no single law of the universe except entropy, and it pains me to say it. One day all these things must crumble to dust.
The obvious repartee here is, how do I know when it can be repaired? And what if I can’t do the repairs myself?
Well, you have to balance the overall value of the machine (not in terms of money, either) against the cost of keeping it running. Plain and simple.
For example, in the case of my dearly departed Celeron, a mechanical fault could have been promptly attended to. No doubt about it.
But in the case of a hinge that was torquing the motherboard and LCD and splintering the bezel at the slightest touch … well, I had to acknowledge the signs.
Cost has a curve too. In my own experience, parts start high as machines are released, then fall sharply over the course of the first couple years. After about five or seven they bottom out, but begin to peak again by 10 years.
Beyond that, you’re paying crippling prices to some shark in Nevada, who has been sitting on a dusty pair of 32Mb PC66 laptop memory sticks for a decade, and is dying to get top dollar for them.
To compound the issue, it’s sometimes hard to explain the value of a machine (again, not in terms of money) to someone outside your frame of reference.
The average computer repair person, for example, sees so many weather-beaten, neglected and mismanaged machines that your box is simply one in a long line of frightening experiences. No matter how many Hello Kitty stickers you have on it.
So don’t be surprised when they try to talk you out of a repair, or seem uninterested in your darling K6-2. Or if they try to pull a switcheroo on you, or suggest you look into another computer.
It’s not the sign of a bad technician. It’s just the sign of someone who doesn’t have the same experiences as you, with your computer. Be patient. Make your emotions clear.
But someone who persistently upsells, or tries to talk you down, or ignores what you’re saying … well, that is the sign of a bad technician, and a red flag that says “try someone else.” Stop. Take back your machine. Walk away quickly.
For me, the other reason to get rid of a computer — nothing to do with it — is a bit sticky. Saying you don’t have a reason to keep a machine is a sign of something bigger … that maybe you have too many machines.
In that case, I would suggest going about things a different way — try to figure out which computer is doing the least, and consolidate its roles into another.
It may be that you’ve already singled out the weakest link and I’m asking you to repeat something you already did, but please be honest. If you have to think about these things, then maybe that’s another hint.
I will admit however, that I have sent machines into the ether because they were doing jobs they weren’t really suited for. Calling your Pentium II an entertainment center is one thing, but really …
There are only a few things that can trump these points, from my perspective.
The first is rarity. If you have something so exquisitely uncommon that it simply must be handed down between generations … well, there is no limit to the time you can keep it. Take it with you to your grave.
The next is condition. I have run across very few museum-quality laptops in my time, but don’t make the mistake I did and blithely send it off to e-bay. I kick myself daily over that.
It can be the most common computer ever made, but if it’s in such phenomenal condition that it hurts your eyes to look at it … then for goodness’ sake, keep it.
The last is that overweening, omnipresent gush factor, sentimental value. That warm and slushy feeling when you think about that Pentium desktop you had ten years ago, and all the good times you had with Windows 95 and the shareware demo of Diablo.
I offer my unreserved support for sentimental value; in fact, I earmark it as one of the best reasons to avoid buying a new computer.
Let’s be real though: Sometimes sentimental value is a crock, as I can tell you firsthand. Don’t tell me how much you can’t bear to part with your old 486 laptop, and then tell me it’s out in the garage, under a half-empty can of forest green house paint.
But that last one is the most powerful one of all. And the best advice I can offer: If it doesn’t tug at your heartstrings to think of parting with a particular computer, then you can turn it loose.
On the other hand though, if it makes your stomach sink to imagine life without it … well, you’d better keep it.