When the Office PC Has 100,000 Miles on it

Sure, it may seem frugal to just add more memory or fix an ailing printer, but the repairs could end up costing more than a replacement.

“It’s a buyer’s paradise,” said Richard Doherty, research director at Envisioneering Group. Memory prices have been free falling so you can find more affordable computers with much more space, he said. A desktop computer can go for as low as $199 and a notebook PC for $299.

Most computers have a lifespan of about three years. After that if the computer needs to be repaired and it’s no longer covered by an extended warranty, fixes could cost a hefty sum. Not to mention the downtime.

“It’s most definitely cheaper” to buy new equipment if the computer is old, said Carrie Tsui , manager of strategic solutions at All Covered, an IT services company for small businesses. It’s like a car that has 100,000 miles. You can keep replacing parts but eventually you realize it’s cheaper to buy a new car, she said.

Tsui recommends clients replace desktops and servers every three years. That, she said, results in less maintenance and troubleshooting.

“PC pricing has come way down and there’s all sorts of devices from small laptops to full workstations,” noted Tsui.

Printers are another piece of equipment that may be cheaper to replace than fix. Most of the cost isn’t in the printer itself but from the ink cartridges. Buying a new printer can cost as little as $25, said Doherty. He also said Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) is facing increased competition from Eastman Kodak (EK) in the printer market, which could result in even lower prices on printers and more importantly ink.

The prices for business-class servers can be steep but a consumer server, which is much cheaper, may be all a small business needs.

Doherty advised that small businesses should act now because bargains may not last. The holiday season is a good time to buy computers for the office, he said.

Buying new computer hardware instead of upgrading piecemeal can save money, but that same company may not have to upgrade at all. According to Tsui the only reason to upgrade software is if it includes a new feature. “If it works, it works,” said Tsui.