The Cost of Obsolete Technology

Posted by on Dec 9th, 2009 and filed under Business , Technology . You can follow any responses to this entry through the . You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

When I first started my business back in 2004, I shared an office with another company, and they allowed me to use some of their computers. The computers were quite old, but they worked, and I was not in the position to spend money on a new computer.

The debate I was having at the time had to do with justifying the tangible cost of a new computer against the intangible cost of lower productivity. As the owner of a fledgling business, every expenditure was scrutinized, and it was hard to justify spending that kind of money, especially since I didn’t have any employees, and the only person’s productivity that was being impacted was my own. In other words, I was happy to sit at my computer for an additional ten seconds waiting for something to load, if the alternative was to spend $600 on a computer.

After a couple of months, I realized that a good part of my day was spent staring at a computer screen while my computer “thought” about what it was doing. It was becoming a problem, and so I finally bit the bullet and bought a new computer.

I never looked back.

This is a common problem for a lot of computer users – their computers get so slow as to be tedious to use, at best, to unusable. And this phenomenon invites a lot of questions, such has how to prevent it, or fix it once it happens. The problem is, even the most computer-savvy users can’t avoid it. Applications and operating systems are designed to operate on state-of-the-art machines, so as users update Windows and applications, they further tax their machines because the applications are designed to run on newer, faster platforms.

While the symptoms of the problem are the same today as they were in 2004, the solution isn’t. One of my business associates has asked me to help with his computers from time to time, and this issue has been at the core of his problems. After taking the usual steps of scanning for malware, deleting unused but running programs, defragmenting disks, etc, the option that seems to remain is to add memory to the computer. Unfortunately, while the cost of memory is relatively low, the cost for memory for some older computers is comparatively high, and for computers that are more than three or four years old, you can’t really add enough memory to bring them to current standards for the applications and operating systems. So while you can improve them, you can’t fix them.

If you’re tech-savvy, spending a computer seems like the thing to do, but when you start to add up the cost of your time and effort, plus the cost of whatever hardware (such as memory) that you might need, the cost of fixing a computer that you can’t ever really fix becomes rather high.

But there is also the cost of doing nothing.

Employees that do repetitive tasks on a computer (such as data entry or responding to emails) are quite in tune with the moment-to-moment health of their computers. They know how long a particular transaction should take, and are willing to wait for a transaction that might take a second or two no matter which computer you use. But when that same transaction now takes four or five seconds, or something that used to be nearly instantaneous now seems sluggish, your employee perceives that there is a problem with the computer. This is a problem for you, because when your employees are complaining about a computer being slow, it is because it is affecting them at the moment that they’re trying to be most productive. A slow computer doesn’t cost you anything when it is idle, but if it slows your employee down by ten percent when he or she is trying to do productive work, that could be a big deal.

So let’s compare some of the possible courses of action. You can “tune up” your computer – add memory, remove unneeded and unwanted software (including spyware and malware), defragment the hard drive, clean the registry, and invest a couple hours of your time (or your IT department’s time, or bring someone in to do the work for you). You’re investing a couple hundred dollars in materials and labor in that process, and it is something that in one year, you’ll probably have to repeat, but with diminished results. You could do nothing, and live with the reduced productivity of your employees. But this is an expensive proposition, too. If your employee is paid $15 an hour, and the computer slows them down by ten percent, and they spend ten percent of their day doing productive work on their computer, than you’re wasting one percent of their daily work waiting for the computer… or $1.20 per day. That’s $26.40 a month per employee. That’s $316.80 per year… and it is possible that your employee is both more productive and more expensive than this.

So when you start to look at the cost of either living with or maintaining computers that are obsolete, you find that the annual cost is between $200 and $350 per computer. That number is getting very close to the cost of a new, basic computer.

Of course, buying a new computer doesn’t solve all the problems. There are the costs of migration – moving files, installing applications, etc. And for computers and users that are something above basic, the calculus goes out the window because the computers get more expensive. But at the same time, the reasoning for current technology is even more compelling when the application is demanding of computing resources. In addition, when you purchase a new computer, you get the benefit of a new warranty.

Not every computer problem is solved by buying a new computer. But sometimes the cost of a working, but slow computer is higher than a new, basic one.


Wigi Tozzi is the owner of Alaska Vacation Store , specializing in custom Alaska vacation packages , including custom Alaska winter packages , and .

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