How to tell when your old computer is dying

Being able to tell when an old computer is dying – and knowing how to respond – could simplify the transition to a new device.

Thursday, 20 June, 2024

Despite the ubiquity of modern smartphones, computers remain essential for many aspects of daily life.

They’re the only realistic option in terms of working from home, playing many online and offline games, media editing, writing anything longer than a social media post or using databases.

Unfortunately, computers have a finite lifespan, and their failure can be hugely inconvenient and anxiety-inducing.

However, it’s rare for a desktop or laptop computer to simply give up the ghost without warning.

There are usually ways to tell when an old computer is dying, giving you ample time to take remedial action, source a replacement or look into replacing ailing components.

Failure notice

These are the common indicators that will allow you to tell when an old computer is dying:

  • Day-to-day operations run increasingly slowly, with the power light regularly flickering and shutdown/startup taking abnormally long to complete.
  • The computer runs hot, with the fan operating constantly and warm air routinely emerging from its chassis.
  • Critical errors start to appear unexpectedly, including the Blue Screen of Death on older PCs.
  • The computer becomes increasingly unable to multitask, bogging down if there are too many applications, programs or web browser windows open.
  • On laptops, battery life begins to diminish quickly, or the screen starts to display vertical lines that affect useability.

Any one of these symptoms is concerning in isolation, but a combination of them suggests your computer’s lifespan can now be measured in weeks, or even days.

Fortunately, there’s still time to act…

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

When a computer is exhibiting distress signals, it could be because it’s about to suffer a catastrophic hardware failure.

Equally, though, it may simply be overloaded with software and apps, groaning under the weight of a full hard drive, or in need of a replacement part.

If problems seem to centre on a particular component, bulky desktop PCs support replacement hardware, which can often be plugged straight into the motherboard.

The addition of a replacement hard drive, extra RAM or a new graphics card could potentially resolve any issues.

Another option is to decant valuable documents onto external storage (if you’re not already using a cloud storage platform like OneDrive) and then conduct a factory reset.

This erases the computer’s history and sets it back to the condition you bought it in, though it won’t achieve much if the issue relates to failing hardware.

Even deleting a wealth of C: drive data might dramatically improve day-to-day performance, reducing CPU strain as the computer tries to locate file fragments on a cluttered hard drive.

While it’s good housekeeping to ensure operating systems, software platforms and utilities are updated, a full suite of updates could reduce the severity of any ongoing maladies.

Out with the old…

If your computer is still largely functioning, you could source its replacement and perform an orderly data transition between the two computers.

This is recommended if you rely on your machine for work purposes, since you can deregister sensitive apps on one device and then immediately re-register on its successor.

It’s far easier to introduce a new device while the old one is still working than trying to rescue lost data or attempting to remember forgotten online passwords.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!