How long is a 'few years' in computer time?

Time moves pretty quick and, as anyone who has owned a PC for any length of time can tell you, it seems like it takes no time at all for that top of the line machine purchased “just a few years ago” to become obsolete. But how long is “just a few years?”

One of the first questions I ask a new client is “how old is the machine?” And frequently the answer I get is “oh, it’s only a few years old. I only use it for email or Facebook.” As it turns out, everyone seems to have a different idea about just how long “a few years” is and for some reason people seem to think what they use their machine for somehow enters into the question. It doesn’t! For years I’ve tried to comprehend why people answer the question “how old is your machine” with a description (often detailed) of what they use the machine for and I can’t understand it. “How old is it?” is a different question all together.

So after I get no clear answer to the age of the machine at hand (but a detailed description of what it’s used for) I’ll walk the caller through accessing the installed programs list in the computer’s control panel and then sorting the list by date. By sorting by date we can get the list of programs to sort with the oldest program at the top of the list and the newest at the bottom. (Or vice versa). If we look at the oldest program in the programs list, that can give us a pretty reliable “birthday” for the machine and it’s pretty easy to figure about how old the machine is from there. And you know what I’ve found after doing this for so many years? Most people who call me have no idea how long “a few years” is!

It’s very rare to have a caller call in with a machine “just a few years old” that’s actually just two or three years old. Most of the time that machine that’s “just a few years old” is more like seven or eight years old and on occasion even as old 10 years or more!

So what’s a person to do when that top of the line machine they bought in 2011 is finally running so slowly it’s almost going backwards? Is there any way it can be brought up to today’s standards? In a word, no.

Anything that old is not going to be up to today’s standards no matter how much memory or upgrades you throw at it. The fact of the matter is, if your machine is older than seven years old and is in need of repair, you should consider replacing the machine. Even at five years old it’s usually a better idea to replace rather than repair - it’s always frustrating to fix one thing only to have something else stop working a week later and that’s what tends to happen as machines get older.

“OK, but what about all my stuff? How do I get all my pictures and stuff on my old computer over onto the new one?” is the next question I get when my caller starts to think about actually replacing their system instead of fixing it.

If they have a backup in place then it’s easy, once the new machine is in we plug the backup drive into the new machine and copy the contents of the Users folder from the drive to the users folder on the new machine and that takes care of the data. Programs will need to be installed on the new machine but that will take care of all the data.

But what about the ninety percent of callers who don’t have a backup in place? How do they go about getting their stuff from one machine to another?

If you don’t have a backup in place but are getting ready to get a new machine then just pick up an external USB hard drive at the same time you get your new machine. You can get a Terabyte drive these days for around $60 and that will work just fine. Then, copy the contents of the old computer’s User folder (c:\users) to the drive and transfer that to the new machine, then, after the data is moved leave the drive connected to the new machine and use it as a proper backup device for the new machine (which will have to be the topic of another column).

Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at 888-752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (No Hyphens!)

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