How Long Do PCs Last? — 12 Signs You Might Need A New One

CG Director Author Christopher Harperby Christopher Harper   /  Published 

How long do PCs last before you need an upgrade, and what signs should you be looking for before deciding to upgrade your system?

Let’s walk through those and related questions together, starting with the big one: how long do PCs actually last?

How Long Do PCs Last?

Truthfully, the answer depends on a variety of factors, but let’s begin with the assumption that you have properly functioning hardware from a reputable manufacturer. From there, how long can you expect a PC to last?

The answer will still depend on your ability to actually maintain your PC over a long period of time.

This is easier to do with a desktop than a laptop, as it’s much more difficult to thoroughly dust a laptop or do things like thermal paste replacement, which will always eventually be needed.

With proper maintenance, getting a PC to keep functioning past the five-year point is a fairly reasonable goal, and pushing it to the decade mark is possible, too.

Many businesses and consumers have this figured out, especially with hardware that’s easier to extend the lifespan of, like server PCs. Check the data from Spiceworks below:

How long do company-owned technologies replace them.

Source: Spiceworks

However, the warranty for most PC parts is set to expire in five years or less, so you still shouldn’t expect much support if you manage to make your hardware last past its warranty.

An example of a great warranty for PC hardware, especially power supplies, is a warranty of 7-10 years.

Hardware livelihood aside, there are, of course, more long-term concerns when it comes to PC hardware than just how long it will continue to power on.

Let’s talk about the other reason you’ll feel inclined to upgrade eventually— hardware obsolescence.

By “Upgrade”, Do You Mean New PC or New Hardware?

So, the answer to this one will depend on a few different factors, namely the age of the PC you’re dealing with and the exact nature of your problem.

For example, if your only real issue is a graphics bottleneck and your motherboard supports at least PCI Express 3.0, you most likely don’t need to upgrade your whole system to fix that— just slapping in a new GPU and maybe an accompanying PSU should do the job.

Even integrated graphics can prove surprisingly effective for most workloads.

However, you may be encouraged to upgrade your entire system if you run into different issues.

Being stuck with outdated CPU generations or RAM standards (like DDR3, compared to today’s DDR4 and DDR5) is a valid reason to do a full system upgrade, as is opting into the latest iterations of PCI Express and accompanying NVMe standards.

Generational Leaps in Memory DDR Generations

Source: Micron

Of course, you may also just have a PC that isn’t working very well and won’t work for much longer— if it still does at all. In that case, past any attempts made to fix or replace the problem components, getting a whole new PC is definitely a smart move. A CPU-Performance upgrade that would require a Motherboard (new socket) and subsequent RAM (different DDR gen) replacement is such a case where upgrading your entire PC would make sense.

So whether or not you need a full PC upgrade or just a hardware upgrade to your existing PC will depend on your needs and your own judgment.

I’ll try to paint a clearer picture of what you should do throughout the rest of this article.

Signs You Might Need a PC Upgrade

1. Unable To Upgrade To The Latest OS

As it turns out, not every PC is meant to be used across multiple operating system generations.

That Windows XP PC will start feeling a little long in the tooth when you run Windows 7 on it, even if 7 still runs better than Windows Vista did.

As operating system development progresses, PC hardware development progresses, too, and the former is built around the latter.

Many integral features are locked behind hardware improvements that simply can’t be had by upgrading an existing, older PC.

For this reason, you may find yourself unable to upgrade your operating system. The current prominent example is Windows 11, with its TPM 2.0 requirement.

TPM, or Trusted Platform Module, is basically an onboard hardware chip that’s used for encryption and security code verification. It is isolated by hardware from the rest of the PC and should, in theory, make the entire system more secure— especially from the likes of things like rootkits and ransomware.

However, features like this need to be built into an existing motherboard.

While TPM 2.0 is present in many modern motherboards, it isn’t in all of them, and it especially may not be present in PCs built for older operating systems, like Windows 10 or Windows 8.

How to check TPM status

Image Credit: MSI

If your workload requires Windows 11 for whatever reason, this can be a compelling reason for a full hardware upgrade.

However, this by itself wouldn’t push me to recommend a system upgrade. Especially if your PC works well with Windows 10, Windows 7, or a modern Linux distribution, not being able to replace the OS isn’t that big of a deal.

2. Slow Startup Times

As time goes on and your drive begins to have its capacity filled out, your operating system boot time will increase, especially on older HDDs.

Times like this are when you might want to look into an SSD upgrade— even if your system doesn’t support the latest NVMe SSDs & SATA SSDs enjoy massive performance improvements over SATA HDDs using the same cable.

Before spending money on new hardware, though, it’s important to take a few preliminary steps.

While an SSD will unquestionably improve your experience, you can still see improvements by taking steps like Windows’ built-in Refresh/Reset feature or enabling Fast Boot in your BIOs.

3. Visible Stutter During Regular Use

If you notice that your PC is experiencing hard stutters during regular use, like full seconds of interrupted mouse input or frozen windows, you may be seeing the symptoms of a greater issue.

Most often, problems like this are caused by inadequate system storage or system overheating.

If you notice your drive is near capacity, storage is most likely the cause.

If you aren’t able to clear up a meaningful amount of storage space, it’s definitely time to look into a storage upgrade— either a high-capacity HDD (2TB or better) or an SSD will do the trick, depending on what you need to store.

If it’s just for media consumption rather than editing or gaming, an HDD upgrade should be fine!

If storage isn’t the problem, it’s time to look into your cooling.

When was the last time you dusted out your PC or replaced the CPU’s thermal paste?

How does Thermal Paste improve performance

These and other causes of thermal throttling are the usual culprits behind stuttering issues in your system.

If you’re sure you aren’t thermal throttling, either, it may just be time to upgrade.

As a last resort, you can look into replacing your PSU and/or your RAM, though— be sure to use something like memtest86 to test the latter.

4. Generally-Noisy PC

So, what do you do if your PC is getting noisy?

An overly noisy PC can be especially distracting during long work hours or when you’re trying to stay in “the zone” while gaming.

Plus, it can even be a problem for people you’re in voice calls with, depending on the positioning of your mic and the configuration of your audio settings.

The process and cost of fixing a noisy PC will generally depend on what parts are responsible, but a straightforward way to make a PC quieter that will almost always work is investing in the right case fans.

Most fans that come with prebuilt PCs or included in a case are just okay, and won’t offer top-class performance or acoustics by any stretch of the imagination.

Choosing your own replacement case fans is an inexpensive way to improve both the overall thermal performance and acoustics of your PC.

However, fans aren’t the only source of noise in a PC: you may also be dealing with noisy hard drives or coil whine.

A noisy hard drive is a sign of an aging hard drive, with clicking noises being indicative of potential drive failure.

Meanwhile, coil whine is generated by components when high amounts of power are being run through them, causing them to vibrate loud enough to generate a hum or whine.

What is Coil Whine

Coil whine comes in a few different varieties depending on the component— I’ve collected some noise samples over in my Coil Whine article.

Despite its name, coil whine can sound quite different depending on severity and component, but the best way to distinguish it from regular fan noise by ear is to simply distinguish its source from your case fans.

5. Slow Game Loading Times

If you’re a gamer, it’s hard to overstate the impact storage speed has on your experience.

Slow storage can add full minutes to loading times that take just a few seconds on NVMe storage.

Additionally, the latest games are being built around SSD tiers of storage as a baseline, effectively requiring SSDs to load game assets into a memory fast enough.

Being stuck on HDD with modern games, even a decently fast HDD, is a genuine downgrade compared to gaming on an SSD.

So if you’ve noticed that your loading times take longer than they should (for example, if you never get the first pick in your MOBA of choice) or that assets are frequently still loading higher-quality versions in mid-gameplay, it’s probably time to upgrade to a capable SSD.

HDD vs SATA SSD vs PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD

Sidenote: As impressive as peak NVMe speeds are in raw MB/s, most benefits in game load and OS boot times can be found in SATA SSDs as well.

The raw throughput of NVMe mainly benefits cutting-edge games and high-end productivity/rendering.

6. Graphics Artifacts

GPU Glitch Screen

A key sign of problems with your graphics card is the appearance of graphical “artifacts”.

Artifacting can present itself in various forms, but in general, the best way to think about it is visual glitches being spat out by your graphics processor.

This can happen for a variety of reasons, but the issue will most likely be down to bad GPU drivers, an unstable overclock, or even a GPU that is simply dying.

Before going out of your way to replacing a graphics card that is otherwise serving you well, be sure to do a clean driver reinstall.

If that still doesn’t fix the issue, then yes: it’s definitely time to consider buying a new graphics card, as your current GPU may be dying.

As a last resort (if you expect the card is running into thermal issues), you can also try to save your existing graphics card by taking it apart and applying new thermal paste.

7. Running Out of Key Storage

Running out of storage and finding that your attempts to do house cleaning (clearing downloads folder and unused files, etc) still aren’t leaving you with enough storage space?

Chances are high that you need to look into a storage upgrade, but which kind of storage upgrade is going to depend on what files you’re running out of storage for.

If you’re running out of storage for onboard media not being used for heavy-duty editing, a standard desktop HDD will serve you very well.

While it’s true that HDDs are far slower than SSDs, the ~150 MB/s throughput of a desktop hard drive is more than enough for media storage and consumption.

PCIE 4.0 vs PCIE 3.0 vs SATA SSD speed comparison

Source: Samsung

Even a 4K HDR video file should playback fine from a desktop HDD since the bitrate of that content rarely even exceeds 12 MB/s (or about 80 Mbps).

As long as you don’t need to actively edit high-resolution footage like that, a desktop hard drive is more than enough. Same for your basic photo editing and most browsing, too.

If you’re running out of storage for editing or rendering projects, as well as gaming, you’ll want to look into an SSD.

Even SATA SSDs will offer great returns while loading games, editing high-resolution content, or otherwise managing large files.

NVMe SSDs can offer further improvements for these workloads, of course— more on how NVMe SSDs benefit your performance here.

8. Unable To Reach/Keep Consistent Framerate and Frametimes In Games

If you’re playing games and find that you’re unable to keep consistent performance, an aging or poorly-maintained PC can be a likely culprit.

For games that are simply too intensive for your current hardware to run, the only real solution is a GPU upgrade.

Fortunately, as long as your CPU wasn’t a bottleneck preventing you from reaching 60 FPS before, a discrete GPU upgrade is a pretty straightforward way to improve gaming performance.

What is a CPU Bottleneck

So if your current system isn’t capable of locking 60 FPS in your games due to a GPU bottleneck, a GPU upgrade should solve the problem pretty handily.

A CPU bottleneck will require a full system upgrade to actually improve gaming performance, though, since CPUs from the same generation will still be stuck with the same basic architecture and single core speed.

This is especially true if you’re hoping to push 144 Hz and other high refresh rate goals in your games, as raw GPU power isn’t enough for 100+ FPS— you need a strong CPU as well in order to feed information to your GPU fast enough.

Finally, let’s talk about a likely scenario with an older PC. If games that have previously been running well aren’t running well anymore, you may not need to upgrade.

Instead, running through your typical maintenance steps should help alleviate the problem, especially replacing CPU thermal paste and thoroughly dusting your PC.

On the software side, a Windows Refresh/Reset or a GPU driver reinstall can also help!

9. Thermal Throttling

Thermal throttling refers to a CPU or GPU reducing clocks (and therefore performance) when reaching dangerously high temperatures. It serves an important role in PC hardware, effectively preventing hardware from destroying itself as a result of over-utilization by the end-user.

What is Thermal Throttling

When you’re the end-user dealing with thermal throttling, though, you may not be inclined to view it in such a sympathetic light.

As important as it is, your PC thermal throttling will be a noticeable detriment to performance in pretty much everything— and is often indicative of deeper problems with your cooling or hardware.

In my Thermal Throttling Guide, I’ve gone into pretty extensive detail on how to fix thermal throttling in your system.

The main thing to keep in mind for this article is that this issue is usually fixed with proper maintenance and cooling upgrades— you don’t necessarily need to buy a new PC to fix this.

10. Frequent Crashes During Professional Rendering, Editing, Gaming, etc

If your PC is frequently experiencing full crashes during heavy workloads, a few different issues could be the root cause.

The most likely and the easiest to fix is overheating, which you can address with proper maintenance and adding any necessary cooling fans.

What if your CPU and GPU temperatures are fine, though, and your system is still experiencing frequent full crashes? There may be a more deeply-rooted issue with your RAM or your Power Supply.

Running memtest86 can help diagnose potential RAM issues, but if you don’t get any errors from that and your cooling seems to be fine, it’s most likely time for a Power Supply upgrade.

Fortunately, Jerry has you covered with an in-depth Power Supply Guide, should you need it.

11. Unable To Use Newest NVMe Standards

If your motherboard doesn’t support the latest M.2 NVMe storage, you may feel a strong inclination to upgrade in order to support those storage speeds.

You would be right to do this, though I feel like it’s worth noting that if your existing motherboard supports PCI Express Gen 3, you can also use something like a PCIe M.2 Adapter.

However, you’ll still be limited by the PCIe Generation on your motherboard, which will correspond to the NVMe Generation you can support with an add-on card since NVMe uses PCIe bandwidth.

use case for Unused PCIe Slots

If you want the latest and greatest NVMe storage, though, there really isn’t a way around it: you need a new motherboard that supports current generations of NVMe and has dedicated M.2 slots to mount your drives in.

12. Unable To Hit High Refresh Rates, Despite Good GPU

This is a tell-tale sign of a CPU bottleneck. Unfortunately, the only thing you can really do at this point is to upgrade your CPU, and depending on the age of your motherboard and the CPU you’re already using, this may or may not be a good idea.

If you’re using something like a Ryzen 3 or Core i3, bumping to a Core i5/i7 or Ryzen 5/Ryzen 7 processor should help a good deal.

However, depending on the age of your motherboard and its corresponding supported CPU generations, you may actually want to replace your entire system, or at least your motherboard and CPU.

This is because while higher-end CPUs from the same generation do perform better, for gaming your returns are going to be diminishing as you climb the same generation’s ladder because the underlying per-core performance won’t change.

For the best improvements to CPU performance in gaming, upgrading to the latest CPU architecture tends to be the best move— especially if you’re already 3 or more years behind. Same-generation upgrades can work but are only recommended for more recent generations if your goal is high-refresh gaming.

FAQ

What if I don’t have the money for an upgrade right now?

Well, the first and most important thing to do is make sure your PC has been run through its proper paces in maintenance.

This means cleaning any dust buildup, running a disk check on mechanical hard drives, and sometimes even an operating system refresh/reinstall.

These are all steps you can take that should help improve the performance of an aging PC.

Another option to consider for an aging PC that needs just a little longer— especially if you’ve already run through the previous options— is using Tweaking.com’s Windows Repair tool.

I’ve personally used this tool on many a family member’s cluttered old PC. It won’t magically make it faster, but it should help bring performance more in line with how your PC used to perform, as long as you’ve addressed potential hardware/maintenance/cooling issues before running it.

What are the cheapest upgrades that will give me the most value for my money?

Probably an SSD.

Even if your system doesn’t support NVMe, a SATA SSD will offer massive improvements in performance, especially loading times.

A SATA SSD will help you boot into your operating system extremely quickly, and should also serve you well for editing, gaming, and other heavy-duty workloads.

While NVMe can provide a genuine performance improvement and will become more necessary with newer games/larger files/higher-resolution footage, SATA SSDs are still a big leap over SATA HDDs and will improve your whole PC usage experience.

Besides SSDs, new or additional cooling fans can be a great investment, especially if your PC is prone to thermal throttling.

Intake vs Exhaust Fans

Example of a Positive Pressure setup: always keep at least 1 more intake than an exhaust fan to maintain ideal airflow in your case.

A proper cooling fan setup, in general, will serve to improve your performance by reducing thermal throttling. If you go the extra mile and opt for quiet case fans, you can also reduce noise levels while still improving your cooling performance.

Should I upgrade or replace my PC?

I’ve attempted to tackle this question in various forms throughout the article, but let’s try to sum it all up with some general pointers.

I’m of the opinion that if your PC was manufactured within the last five years, you probably don’t need to replace it yet.

Intelligent upgrades to storage, memory, and graphics on recent motherboards should all effectively extend the lifespan of your PC.

The main concern of an older machine being upgraded instead of replaced is that you’ll still be stuck with your original CPU architecture.

If your CPU is already feeling long in the tooth despite you using a Core i7 or Ryzen 7, upgrading it on the same motherboard won’t be an option.

And while users of lower-end CPUs in the same generation can enjoy those upgrades for boosts to multi-core performance, architectural limitations will keep single-core performance (and, by extension, things like gaming performance) roughly the same.

If your PC is older than five years old or your main issues are found in CPU, RAM, or other bottlenecks that can’t be fixed with an upgrade to an existing machine…yeah, it’s definitely time to replace your old PC.

You can still carry over your old fans and storage drives though, maybe even your old graphics card if it’s still working well. If you need help finding a replacement PC, I’d recommend taking a look at our PC Building Tool to get a build tailored for your needs!

Over to You

And that’s all, at least for now! I hope that this article helped you better ascertain where your PC is in its lifespan and whether it or specific components are in need of an upgrade.

Even if you can’t afford to upgrade your PC, I hope I’ve pointed you in the right direction for properly maintaining and extending its lifespan.

How long has your PC lasted? Do you need to upgrade? When was the last time you did? Feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below answering those questions or presenting your own— and don’t hesitate to visit our forums, either!

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Christopher Harper - post author

I have been a passionate devotee to technology since the age of 3, and to writing since before I even finished high school.

These passions have since combined into a living in my adulthood and have made writing about PC Hardware very satisfying.

If you need any assistance, leave a comment below: it’s what I’m here for.

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