Extending Your Computer's Lifespan

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In a tight economy, many Americans are choosing to keep their household electronic items for longer, rather than trading them in for newer models.

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Various Web searches reveal the average desktop computer's lifespan to be anywhere from 2-5 years. Why are we so quick to throw our computers to the curb? Most of us aren't exactly asking our machines to split the atom. For simple needs like surfing the Web, word processing and managing digital photos, even a computer that's a few years old should be perfectly sufficient.

If your computer is running well today, there's no reason it shouldn't stay that way for several more years to come. Like a car, a computer needs regular maintenance and care to keep it operating smoothly. There are easy steps anyone can take to help extend a computer's useful life, saving money and the environmental impacts of throwing a computer away.

Believe it or not, a computer generates a lot of heat. In the early days of computing, large computers were kept in special climate-controlled rooms to keep their hardware cool. Though that’s probably overkill today, it’s still important to keep your PC at a normal temperature, out of direct sunlight and with room to ventilate. If your computer overheats, it can cause irreparable damage to its internal components.

Dust around your computer can trap heat inside the machine. This causes the cooling fan to run longer and harder, increasing its odds of wearing out. That's why it's wise to keep a computer off the floor, where most household dust accumulates -- positioning it even a few inches off the floor will help. It's also a good idea to avoid smoke or incense near the computer. No matter what you do, dust will inevitably gather inside the machine over time. If you're up to the task it could help to open the PC's case and blow out the dust with compressed air every now and then.

Laptops and netbooks are becoming more prevalent, and not just for business travel or coffee shops. When the laptop is at home, there’s a tendency to leave it plugged in all the time, which might actually be bad for the battery. Apple, for example, specifically recommends against leaving their laptops constantly plugged in, suggesting a combination of battery use and charged use to “keep the battery juices flowing.” No matter what kind of laptop you have, over time it will inevitably lose its battery capacity. The typical lifespan of a Lithium-ion battery is 300-500 charge cycles. If you’re finding your battery struggles to keep a charge, it may be time for a replacement -- a relatively inexpensive item compared to the cost of a whole new computer.

Finally, it may seem obvious but sometimes a simple reboot is the healthiest thing you can do for your computer. Though there’s no standard time frame for how long you can keep a PC running without rebooting, it’s often a good way to resolve troubleshooting issues or simply give your machine a fresh start. As you open and close applications, fragments of memory can build, slowing the computer -- a reboot cleans these out and lets memory flow more freely. So, when in doubt, restarting is a good idea when your computer feels like it’s grinding to a halt.

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