Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch


January 14, 2005

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Just as a car can be “totaled” after an accident, I am running into more and more computers that should be “totaled”, as well. A piece of Spyware can have infected someone’s machine so badly a complete rebuild is in order and the cost of my time to do that is simply more than the computer is worth. While I can understand this with older systems, running Windows 98 or 2000, I am starting to see this effect even on computers that are only a few years old. Even in our current “disposable society”, I still have major issues with telling my clients to “throw it away and get a new one.” That said, I understand that the clients would be better off spending their money on a new computer, rather than paying for my time to fix their old one.

Good riddance

Some computers need to be totaled. Systems running Windows 98 are becoming notoriously fragile. The increasing burden of viruses and spyware stresses these systems to the breaking point. Where a newer system, running Windows XP might be able to recover from a Spyware infection, Windows 98 machines simply collapse.

Even when they are working, these older systems are already limiting the productivity of their owners. Computers can’t make use of the full capabilities of high-speed internet connections and, slowly, but surely, software is being designed that will no longer run under Win 98.


In my experience, rebuilding such a system is about a 3 hour task. At $100 per hour, my time quickly adds up to more than 3⁄4 of the price of a new, inexpensive system. Sure, you can pay more for a higher-powered computer, but even then, $300 is still a significant sum to put toward the price. When you add in a few more hours of data backup/recovery and re-installation of the machine, you can easily be talking about $500 or more. Even with a relatively new computer, it is becoming hard to make the case for repair over replacement.

There is a deeper problem for consultants like myself. When we get involved in a situation such as this, it is often impossible for us to charge our full rate. Recently, I rebuilt and re-installed a fairly new Windows XP system. The total time involved was nearly 8 hours, but I found myself feeling that I could charge for only around 5 of those hours. This is bad business, surely, but I knew that attempting to charge more would have led to recriminations and arguments. I should have probably refused to rebuild the system, but my good nature often gets the better of me. I know from talking with my fellow consultants that they have begun to run into similar issues. We want to help, but sometimes we do things that are not in our own best interest.

Throw it away

Even with the obvious benefits to the client, it still bothers me to simply dispose of a computer. I am one of the few people I know who still tries to repair televisions and other home appliances when they break. It is getting increasingly difficult to find someone to repair them, though. Most people simply tell you to replace it.

I don’t like the thought of adding to our, already horrible, landfill mess here in Southern California. In some cases, computers can be donated to non-profit programs where they can be refurbished and put back into useful service. There the training process mitigates the cost to the new owners so it is worth the trouble. Sometimes, I will refurbish them myself, for a reduced fee, so they can be used by another relative or child. In some ways I consider this a bit like volunteer work, giving something back to the community.

There is no easy solution to a “totaled” computer. Certainly it is beneficial to replace an older unit instead of rebuilding it, but there are costs associated with this, beyond the price of a new computer. I am sure I will have to continue modifying my approach with my clients as computers become less and less expensive. If current trends continue, computers will become as disposable as paperback books, something to be dropped and forgotten, instead of repaired and re-used.


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