Sep 09 2021

Extending the Life Span of Computers, Laptops and Notebooks

To navigate supply chain shortages, post-secondary schools must make the most of existing hardware. Here are some tips for increasing the lifespan of computers.

Post-secondary schools across the U.S. now spend more than $16 billion each year on technology. This covers everything from educational platforms and services to Internet connections, data infrastructure and hardware.

The challenge? Hardware is becoming harder to buy. The semiconductor shortage that began last year continues to wreak havoc on supply chains. With a major container port in China shutting down for two weeks in August after a worker tested positive for COVID-19, it appears these disruptions are not going away anytime soon. Tech executives predict the shortage could continue to impact the production of computer components for months at best, and years at worst.

For colleges and universities, extending hardware lifecycles is the best strategy for disruption management. Here’s how to reduce the risk of having hardware age out before budgets and supply chains are ready to replace it.

MORE ON EDTECH: Get five tips for avoiding supply chain disruptions in higher ed.

Key Considerations for Computer Maintenance

How can you increase hardware longevity? According to Dan Herrick, IT asset manager at the University of Colorado Boulder, there are several ways schools can impact their hardware lifecycle. “Traditional IT is focused on just the management part of it — fixing devices when they break and eventually disposing them,” he says. “But there’s also a lifecycle that’s circular. When you’re done with something, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any more value. How can you extend the total lifespan independent of its original use?”

Herrick says this means thinking about hardware as more than discrete machines. Instead, consider the potential for hardware to have a second life as, perhaps, a staff member’s auxiliary computer or a student’s computer.

It’s all about keeping hardware in service for as long as possible. Herrick suggests asking a simple question to jumpstart this process: “What can we use it for now?”

How Long Do Desktop Computers Last?

How long do desktop computers last? The answer depends on the hardware’s intended use. “A lot of people use the standard of four years,” says Herrick, “but I think it depends. While a high-performance desktop may not last as long for that particular need, it could last for two or three more years in a lower-demand environment. Instead of a specific number, I look at the intended use lifecycle.”

For Windows PCs, it depends on whether you’re using a consumer- or business-grade computer. “If you’re going to buy standard office-work computers and keep them in service for four years, once they’re outside original use, they may not be good for much more,” he says. “Business-class desktops generally last longer with fewer problems.”

When it comes to maximizing the lifecycle of desktops, Herrick suggests assessing your intended use case against the potential benefits of an extended warranty. Many manufacturers offer warranties for up to five years. This can help boost total the lifecycle if the anticipated use cycle is shorter. In this case, schools aren’t on the hook to repair or refurbish desktops.

From an IT procurement perspective, Herrick points to business-class computers as the better investment. “Procurement and IT agree that business class is going to be the best way to go. They offer improved performance and they’re easier to manage from an IT standpoint. They also offer solid enterprise support.”

DIVE DEEPER: Simplify device procurement with the right IT partner.

Prolonging the Lifespan of Laptops and Notebooks

In this mobile age, higher education is using more laptops and notebooks. “While a lot of people used to use laptops as secondary devices, they’re now shifting to a more mobile, one-device model,” Herrick says.

How long do laptops and notebooks last? For their intended purposes, they have a much shorter lifespan. “While desktops have components you can upgrade and replace, laptops and notebooks generally don’t,” Herrick says. “You can’t just replace part of the internal components. This makes them less cost-effective to upgrade.”

He also highlights the mobile nature of these devices. Since they’re often exposed to environments that may include poor air quality or reduced heat exchange, they tend to degrade more quickly.

While a similar secondary use strategy applies to extending laptop lifecycles, Herrick points out that laptops are generally more costly and offer fewer secondary uses. In an ideal world, users would return laptops to IT at the end of their initial lifecycles, when they would be wiped and evaluated for potential repurposing. However, considering the shorter lifespan of mobile devices, “it’s more valuable to have a fleet of spare laptops than desktops,” Herrick says. “Instead of focusing on secondary repurposing as the primary goal, it’s about figuring out how much you stock without having excess inventory.”

Centralizing Lifecycle Management in Higher Ed

Herrick also emphasizes the coordination it takes to effectively manage devices across campus. For example, procurement, finance, operations management and information security departments must all be on the same page.

The main benefit of centralizing the lifecycle management process is to reduce complexity, especially during the move to hybrid learning. “The past couple of years have made it clear,” he says. “The more centrally coordinated you are, the quicker you can respond.”

What’s the bottom line? Strong asset management is critical to balancing budgets and sidestepping supply chain disruptions.

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