Opinion: How old is too old for a laptop?

A utility in Windows called Task Manager will show you how your system is utilising RAM or the hard drive. — Photo by Ales Nesetril on Unsplash

I spent some time with a friend last week trying to see what we could do to make her laptop faster.

She has a six-year-old HP laptop that has really bogged down. It takes forever to start up, and then it is slow to respond to any input.

Her laptop has a sixth generation Intel core i5 processor, 12 gigabytes of RAM and a 500GB spinning hard drive.

We sat down and started it up, and when it finally presented us with a desktop, it was obvious the hard drive was working hard — it was audible.

The reason I mentioned the hard drive was a spinning drive is because there are two kinds of storage for your computer.

Traditionally, hard drives were spinning platters, much like a vinyl album. The platters spin fast, and the information is read or written to the platters by a head that moves over the platters much like a needle plays an album on a turntable.

The other type of storage are called solid-state drives (SSDs), which are made up of memory chips instead of platters and have no moving parts.

SSDs are much faster than spinning drives.

The spinning hard drive works pretty good until the platters start filling up. When the platters are almost full, the data gets fragmented. If you need to save a file and there’s not a big enough spot on the platter for it to live, the computer will break up the file into smaller pieces and store it wherever there is a bit of space.

The heads need to quickly move all over the platters to read the data, which doesn’t sound like it would take a long time, but it does.

A utility in Windows called Task Manager will show you how your system is utilising RAM or the hard drive. In my friend’s case, the hard drive utilisation was staying at 100%.

We deleted some apps she no longer needed, which helped. She could also upgrade her spinning drive to an SSD, but she decided it was time for a new laptop with an SSD and a newer processor. If her laptop was a bit newer, I would still recommend upgrading, but six years old is ancient in computing terms.

She asked what she should be looking for in the way of specs when she goes laptop shopping.

I told her she wanted a more current processor, like an 11th generation Intel core i5 or i7 CPU with 8GB of RAM (16 GB is better) and a 256GB (or larger) SSD.

Those specs should be good for at least the next three or four years, which is how long I’d suggest keeping a laptop. – Tribune News Service

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