The Average Lifespan of a Laptop Might Surprise You

Lifespan of a Laptop

The average lifespan of a laptop is a moving target that differs from laptop to laptop as well as user to user. Whether you stumbled onto this guide because you’re trying to delay the purchase of a replacement laptop, or just want to find out how to get the most out of your current device. The time has come to pick up this subject. But before we get into it, you should know that a laptop’s longevity horizon comes down to: 1) component wear and tear; and 2) software evolution. In what follows, we’ll briefly go over the two types of lifespan related to laptops. As well as how planned obsolescence plays a major role in laptop longevity. Then we’ll survey the survival range of the individual components that make up a laptop and reveal tips on how you can extend your laptop’s lifespan.

First Off, What Lifespan Are We Talking About?

How long will a laptop live is a pretty wide question that can’t be answered with a simple range of years.  A crucial component can fail, deeming the laptop to become part of the e-waste problem even if the rest of the system is working normally.  

We’ll walk you through the different life expectancy of the major components of laptops later.  

But first, when we’re talking about the average lifespan of a laptop.  There are two types of lifespans that need addressing:  operational lifespan and useful lifespan.  And there’s another life expectancy that doesn’t necessarily relate to broken hardware:  planned obsolescence.

Operational and Useful Lifespan 

Operational lifespan is a measure of how long the laptop unit will function properly. 

Useful lifespan is how long the laptop system can run advanced programs by meeting minimum system requirements.

To bring these two concepts into full focus:  The laptop unit can run great after 10 years, but the system begins showing its age when you try to run the latest applications.  Why?  Programs place high demands on the system which includes components like the CPU, RAM and even the graphics card.

In other words, operationally the laptop unit can work fine after 10 years.  Usefully, the same laptop system may no longer be able to load the latest programs and apps.

Why Is That?

Planned Obsolescence: A Hidden Type of Failure

Technically speaking, laptops with sturdy construction from reputable brands can live for 5 and 10 years without any significant issues.  But will they retain the same level of usefulness?  Not necessarily.

As you probably know, the world of software is constantly evolving, and so is the hardware.  Software engineers introduce more sophisticated programs to solve surfacing problems and present better solutions.  This gets especially true for PC games with their growing graphics demands, game-play dynamics, bigger stories, etc.

Surely, the more complicated the software gets, the more elaborate the hardware needs to be to keep up.  So even if a laptop from 2010 works perfectly without much lag, we can’t expect it to run a game from 2020; it just won’t be able to handle the software demands.

Can We Anticipate Planned Obsolescence?

Unfortunately, planned obsolescence isn’t always that “planned”.  For instance, you can purchase a laptop today, only to find a more advanced version released as soon as the very next day!

The limited upgradability of laptops makes things even worse.  With desktops, you can, for instance, change a GPU card.  In laptops, doing the same thing can be almost impossible.

All in all, if staying up-to-date is a crucial thing for you, we strongly recommend laptops that make upgrading hardware and components fairly accessible.

Software Evolution Affects Laptop Longevity

Software is fundamental to the digital age.

The first generation of software was developed as early as the 1940s – Its instructions were written in binary code for mainframe computers.

But the advancement of home computing along with programing languages have worked to broden the breadth and capabilities of modern hardware. 

While many users can remember an iconic piece of hardware like their first tablet or home computer, few look back fondly to the classic piece of software that made it work.  The changes in software functionality and design is spurred on by our growing needs and requirements; which is good.

But this triggers a negative impact in which a laptop you purchased less than a year ago can be rendered obsolete by a single software update. 

This is not to scare you off from computer electronics, but it’s something to think about so that the system you purchase today doesn’t become your fancy paperweight tomorrow.

Hardware Lifespan: A Detailed Report

Alright.  Now that we’ve covered the planned obsolescence front, we can start dissecting a laptop to figure out how long we can expect each component to live.

The Battery

Ask any laptop owner and they’ll tell you that the battery is the most depreciating component of their laptop.  For example, it’s not un-heard of to replace a laptop battery once during ownership and have to do it again in a not so distant future.

And trying to determine a one-size-fits-all battery lifespan is a rather hard task; manufacturers’ estimates aren’t infallible.

Generally speaking, the battery could work for up to 2 years before you notice any significant changes in performance (ours worked for 3).  But in reality, it could be shorter or longer.  The actual lifespan will depend on usage.

You Might Be Digging Your Battery’s Early Grave!

Any battery has a definite number of charging cycles, however.  When exceeded, the constitution of the battery won’t be able to store the same amount of power.

That said, a user that’s constantly plugging and un-plugging their laptop in and out of power outlets will ruin the battery sooner than a user that keeps it plugged in all day.  If you find that you need to deplete your battery for whatever reason, there’s actually a way to do it correctly (which we’ll cover in just a few moments).

Before Li-ion (Lithium Ion) technology, laptops were stuck using Nickel-based batteries.  These needed to be drained completely before being recharged.  Otherwise, the battery could “forget” its full potential after a short time.

For Li-ion batteries, the opposite is true:  It’s better to charge your battery when it reaches 40%, then unplug it before 80%; a concept known as the 40-80 rule.  The chemistry behind this is way too complicated to explain here, but it’s proven scientifically.

Mechanical Hard Drives

Before the widespread fame of SSDs, MHDs (mechanical hard drives) were the only storage option for laptops.  Some low-end, affordable laptops are still released featuring this technology since it’s a lot cheaper.

While SSDs can live up to 10 years, MHDs will start showing signs of failure after 5 years.  And just like batteries, the actual range may be longer or shorter based on the frequency of read/write operations.

The reason behind MHD’s inferior lifespan is related to its design.  An MHD storage device reads data unto the platform with a mechanical arm that moves over a metal platter.  SSDs, on the other hand, feature NAND flash memories embedded onto a circuit board.  The advantage?  No moving parts.

Solution

With an MHD, there isn’t anything you can do to lengthen its lifespan in any significant way.  Inevitably, the mechanical parts will just wear out and the hardware will fail.

You can, however, install an SSD as a backup drive, if your laptop allows it.  By storing the programs you use most often on it and the programs you use least in the MHD.  You’ll be using much fewer of the MHD’s cycles per day, thereby helping it live a bit longer.

Screen

Your laptop screen consists of multiple stacked layers.  For the sake of simplicity, we can say that an LCD screen has 2 parts:  one that generates the actual image, and a backlight at the end that’s responsible for the brightness levels.

The image-related components of a laptop are usually the last to break.  They can live between 5 and 10 years, as long as the display hasn’t suffered any physical traumas.

LED backlights featured in new laptops only start to give out around the 10-year mark.  Much older models featuring CCFL backlights start to lose their luminescence after 3-4 years.

Unlike other components, the way you use a laptop’s display doesn’t really affect its lifespan.

RAM

RAM is probably the only component in a laptop that doesn’t have a specific lifespan.  It can live 2-3 year or 8-10, or for as long as the motherboard is operational.

However, planned obsolescence will probably force you to upgrade sooner than you expect.  Google Chrome, for instance, is well known for consuming tons of RAM, even with normal internet browsing.

The good news is, it’s fairly easy to upgrade RAM.  RAM sticks are also one of the most affordable components of a laptop.

AC Adaptor

Just like the RAM, we can’t specify a lifespan range for AC adaptors (the one for one of our laptops lasted 3 years).  They can literally last for a lifetime if you handle them properly.

The worst thing you can do for a laptop charger is to allow it to overheat.  Using it over a dense fabric, inside your bag, or generally without enough ventilation will cause the internal circuit to burn prematurely.

And of course, you should be as delicate with the cable as possible.  We discovered the hard way that tangling and bending can also wear-out the cables prematurely.

Final Words on the Lifespan of a Laptop

Most users don’t think about the longevity of their laptop until it starts showing signs of problems. And even less are prepared to do something about it. Don’t be one of them. Armed with this information, you’ll hopefully be able to get more years from your laptop than most. We hope this article has shown you all the critical aspects that relate to the lifespan of a laptop and measures you can take to extend its survival horizon. So, what are you waiting for? The sooner you start implanting what you learn, the longer your laptop will last.