Don’t Buy a Laptop Older Than Two Years, and other Crazy Talk

5236380180_68810f5ba0[1]When it comes to buying laptops and other gadgets, there are any number of how to guides, suggestions, and and tips on what you should look for, how you should go about buying on, new vs refurb, etc.

There's lots of good advice out there, but there are also a few wacky suggestions which come out of left field, including one site's suggestion that you should not buy a laptop which is more than two years old.

In the weeks leading up to CES I was looking to buy a new laptop, and just out of curiosity I started looking for reviews of my then current Lenovo u410. I found this on the Laptop Magazine website:

laptop mag screenshot

You can click to enlarge the screenshot, but the key portion is the yellow box on the upper left. it says:

Editors' Note: We generally don't recommend laptops older than 2 years.
For our top picks, check out the Best Laptops of 2014, or answer a few simple questions in our Laptop Finder to get personalized recommendations.

While I can heartily support the second sentence, the first one is simply crazy talk.

I have any number of rules of thumb for buying a laptop, but the age of the device is not one of them. My buying criteria are based on specs, performance, price, and features, but not age, for the simple reason that laptop specs and performance have largely plateaued over the past few years.

A two-year old (or even a three-year-old) laptop running Windows 7 on a Core i5 chip is not going to be significantly less powerful than the laptop which came out last month and is running Windows 7 on a Core i5 chip. Sure, one might have better specs for the price or better performance, but there are any number of laptops coming out this year with a  broad range of performance, specs, features, and prices - just like you could find two years ago.

In fact, I know plenty of people who are still using those two and three year old laptops and find them quite usable. (I would still be using my old Lenovo but it needed repairs and I had no backup.)

455243239_88497c9919[1]

this looks like a solidly functional unit

 Age should not be a factor in your laptop buying decision - with one small exception. Given that laptop prices have been dropping year by year, the newer models will likely offer a better value than older models. For example, my new Dell laptop cost less than my Lenovo laptop did two years ago and sports a larger screen, faster CPU, larger HD, and better battery life.

But I also managed to pick it up on sale. Had I lucked into a similar sale on an older model which met my requirements, I would not have hesitated to buy it.

What's more, the age of a laptop model can sometimes be a plus. For example, the older models often have more user reviews which can prove useful in identifying issues like disappointing battery life or poor build quality. A laptop released last week can sometimes prove to be a crap shoot.

But that's just my two cents; what do you think?

images by Hanan CohenSoupmeister

About Nate Hoffelder (11582 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

28 Comments on Don’t Buy a Laptop Older Than Two Years, and other Crazy Talk

  1. Age by itself tells you nothing, agreed.
    Age plus price? That can be useful…
    A two year old i7 might be a very good buy or a very bad deal.
    Last I heard Intel was still running their CPUs ona tick-tock strategy, alternating new architectures with die shrinks roughly every year to 18 months.
    So depending on when you’re looking, a two year old laptop could be a slightly less efficient version of the current architecture or it could be the older, soon to be deprecated architecture. Given that well-managed PCs csn be useful for a decade that could be significant.

    One good example can be found at the low end where the last gen ATOM processors were merely adequate but the current gen is really, really good. And really really cheap. (I’m really sweating bullets trying not to buy the ASUS T100 Wintab. I really really want to wait for the Win10 version. But that 64GB version is one nice toy.)

    My rules of thumb are very simple:

    1- Don’t buy until it hurts not to.
    2- Know exactly what you’re getting and *why*.

    The PC world has a lot of variety. There are jewels to be found but also landmines.
    It’s a lot like “huntin’ wabbit”.

    • Totally agree – and also know what matters. Computer companies like to talk about speed and cores and memory and so on … but there are other things.

      If that two year old computer has older network hardware, it could significantly throttle your connectivity if you have a newer network. Similarly, if a cheap controller chipset is used to move all of that data around, it can perform slower than you would think. It is all about knowing what you are getting.

  2. That is a really old saw that stopped being true with Windows 7. Windows 7 was less resource intensive than Vista, and Windows 8 less intensive than 7. It looks like 10, which will run on phones and tablets as well as PCs, is going to continue the trend.

    The reason is that the OS is completely componentized now. That means you can have a a light weight version of the software that has many of the heavier features ripped out but is still a complete, functional OS.

    As a result, any PC the runs Win7 or even Vista will get a bit performance boost running one of Microsoft’s newer OSes. They’ll be bigger and heavier than what’s coming out now, but will perform just fine.

    • The issue isn’t really performance but rather value.
      That’s why price matters: if you can get last year’s i7 at today’s i3 prices it might be worth doing. Or it might not.
      The newest CPUs aren’t just faster than their older generstion counterparts, but also more efficient. Some of the newest PC designs have delivered as much as 12 hour continuous battery life in a fanless, no moving parts package.
      Depending on your needs, there is value there.
      There is value in a $150 windows pc that fits in your shirt pocket or a $200 laptop or a $300 convertible. None of those were doable even last year.

      After a few years of stagnation, PC hardware is getting interesting again.
      Of course, “interesting” can be a curse, too.

      • While I don’t doubt that the newer generation chips are improvements on their predecessor, I’m not sure how a consumer would be able to select for that detail.

        I just bought a laptop. When I was searching, I could select based on RAM, screen size, HD, and chip family – but I couldn’t select for the chip’s generation. What’s more, I’m not even sure how I could tell which generation a chip came from. Sure, I can see the difference between a Core i3 and a Core i5, but that is far more obvious than trying to tell the difference between last year’s Core i5 and this year’s.

        • Chip family usually tells you the generation.
          Bay Trail, for example, tell you it is the newest Atom.
          Haswell is the older Core generation.
          Google and Bing want to be your buddies. Let them help. 😉
          Or you can go to Intel’s own site.

          • By chip family I meant Core i5, Core i7, etc.

          • Core, Celeron, and Pentium are brands. They no longer tell you much of value about what’s inside. i3, i5, i7 are just cues to whether the computer is marketed as entry level, mid-range, or performance… and priced that way.

            If you go that route you need to look at which specific Core i3 model is in the computer. Some will be Haswell, some might be the Older Ivy Trail. The model number, say Z34xx for Atoms, will tell you whether it is 2-core or 4-core, 32-bit or 64-bit, cache sizes etc. That is how you can decide whether you’re better off with a quad Core Atom at 1.33GHz or a dual core celeron at 1.9Ghz based on what kind of programs and workload you’re going to fun.
            Like I said, it ain’t easy.

  3. I wouldn’t want a used laptop that old, just because laptop batteries don’t last very long unless you preserve them. If you use a laptop a lot, plugged in with the battery connected, the heat tends to reduce the batteries life span. If you remove the battery when fully charged, or avoid using it while charging, your batteries will have a lot longer life span.

    I would have a problem with an older unused laptop, though. The rate of obsolescence has slowed down a lot. The computer that I bought for $400 two years ago is nearly the same as a new laptop of the same price.

  4. So, how old was the laptop you eventually bought?

  5. The major problems I’ve had with new machines is eventual failure of the fan or the power supply or physical switches or dirt inside the box after a few years of use. So maybe there is an important difference between an unused old machine and a used old machine–irrespective of the OS and chips and software compatibility, etc. Older laptops overheated regularly. The new ones supposedly have better temperature control. In general, all moving parts wear out and all parts that get hot when working also wear out. And any machine exposed to a warm ocean climate will experience corrosion. A laptop sitting in a beach house in Southern California can never be identical to a laptop sitting in a farm house in Kansas. The salt air corrodes all metal. The question of battery life has been mentioned here, and that’s important also.

  6. On an older laptop it is harder to find replacement parts because they might not be made anymore. Older laptops are probably not available new, and on used models the ssd has a limited number of rewrites before it fails, the fans, power supply, and batteries have a limited lifetime as well. Also it won’t be under warranty.

    Even if the performance is nearly the same between an older laptop and a newer laptop it is better to buy the newer laptop.

  7. Not all Core i5’s are the same btw. There are many different i5 processors with varying performance levels and not just due to clock speed. Bandwidth, number of cores, energy efficiency (which translates to longer battery life) are all issues. It’s common for people to not know these things, but being ignorant of the differences does not mean that there are no differences or that they are negligible.

  8. Variants galore: there are dozens of Cores of every class.
    i3’s for example:
    http://ark.intel.com/m/products/family/75025/4th-Generation-Intel-Core-i3-Processors

  9. Its less the age and more the support. Dell, HP, Apple and Leveno are generally pretty good about getting their machines support for sometime afterwards (you can still get an Apple fixed 7-10 years after they were made).

    its a bit trickery with other brands I’ve found.

  10. oh well, juz a small advise…
    since it is a mobile device, it runs on battery!!
    battery usually start shows sign of aging in a few years, even they are not used.
    battery also has a expire date, if the product is made(packed) in 2 yrs ago, means you are buying a 2year old battery, also means you will meet the aging sooner than buying a new model of laptop.

  11. The thinking behind that recommendation is simple and in general true, Moore’s Law. In theory you get a new process, better perf, better power efficiency and that is true most of the time.
    Right now AMD is not competitive while Intel got greedy plus they had problems and delays with 14nm so the perf gains are minimal. But that’s only because the market is dysfunctional now and our regulators allow it to remain that way.
    The advice itself is saying it’s usually better to go for newer models, not that and older laptop is never a good idea.
    There are other details to be factored in too, right now for example chances are an olde laptop won’t have USB 3 and maybe even SATA 3 – that’s a big deal if you shove a SSD in it.
    On the GPU side in case of a gaming laptop, GPUs get outdated very fast because the new ones are always plenty faster and games become more and more demanding ( unlike the CPU side where for most pretty much anything is good enough).
    So yeah in general it’s better to find a good deal on a newer device than a good deal on an old one when it comes to computing devices (tabs and phones too). There is a bit of extra value in newer ones and it takes longer for them to become outdated. That’s doesn’t mean that the world will end if you find something older that suits your needs.

    • I don’t dispute Moore’s law but I do question whether such a simple law applies to a topic as complex as retail economics. At any one time while shopping for a laptop, you’re going to be bewildering array of laptops with a variety of prices, specs, abilities, etc. Some times the best deal is going to be on a cheap older laptop.

      Also, that law is more of an observation that chip complexity grows with time; it does not say that a newer chip will necessarily be better than an older chip. For example, we can point to the Core i3 and the Core i7 to show that an older chip can be better.

      • Moore’s law is the *result* of the competitiveness of the semiconductor industry. Originally it was merely an observation of the rate of technology progress (the number of transistors that could fit on a given chunk of silicon) that became used as a benchmark for competitiveness: if your product line didn’t keep up you ended up as road kill. Any many did.

        By the late 80’s Moore’s “law” was running the PC business because Microsoft (and others) factored it into their software development process, calculating what a mainstream PC should be like by the time their product released and tailoring the software for that class of system. It worked. It also drove the hardware upgrade cycle for years. (The biggest glitch came when DRAM manufacturers conspired to fix and raise prices. Suddenly software that had been written for 4MB RAM systems, like OS/2, found mostly PCs with 1-2MB. It added an extra $300 cost to switch from DOS/Windows to OS/2.)

        In recent times, Moore’s Law has been more about overall power (and power consumption) than about transistor counts and Intel has been focused on competing with ARM licensees more than AMD which is why most of the gains from manufacturing process improvements (die shrink, new materials and designs, etc) are going into reduced power consumption, fanless processors, and tiny SOCs that are giving us USB-powered Windows PCs, $100 wintabs, and soon Intel computers inside rings and pendants.

        So Moore’s Law is still delivering.
        It’s just not delivering old-school benchmark boosts. Instead, it is delivering more subtle but no less valuable benefits.

        In traditional PCs the most visible improvements will come in the form of no-moving-parts PCs with very low power needs, lower costs, and higher reliability. And, in those markets where it matters, better number crunching.

        Moore’s law isn’t a law of nature but of business. And the semiconductor industry is a Red Queen’s Race. Companies that ignore Moore tend to end up in peril.

        • To put it more briefly: “new and improved” isn’t just about chip benchmarks but about product value to the buyer.
          Blindly trusting aphorisms is as bad as buying into market segmentation PR hype. And vice-versa.

          • Do you work for Intel?
            The so called low power benefits are Intel’s marketing and so are the cost benefits.
            They got record margins, they give Atom for more than free, dies sizes are getting smaller and smaller , the chipset moved on die, the GPU moved on die whether the user needs it or not.
            How much was Core M? Some 280$ for 82mm die area. Compare it in perf and price to Tegra dual Denver and then imagine that Tegra on 16nm ff
            As for more perf Intel is doing that too , just selling it at crazy prices. After Nehalem they with the E line with a different socket and huge price. You can get more cores in what used to be normal die sizes but not for 200-300$.
            In competing with ARM , Intel itself admits they aren’t competitive and that’s why they are wasting billions on contra revenue.
            I’ll also remind you that those 100$ Windows PCs are heavily subsidized by both M$ and Intel and it is just a very costly bait and switch (won’t last forever), not related in any way to technological advances.

      • It absolutely does mean that new chips are better. In a perfect world and we’ll use that to keep it simple , a die shrink means you can fit 2x the transistors in the same area .
        As for what you want to say with i3 vs i7 i got no idea at all and you shouldn’t refer to them as i3 and i7 since that’s an empty term. Intel uses the same label (aiming to mislead) for very different chips. A i7 xxxxU is low power and much lower perf than non U i7.
        But w/e you meant to say i suspect that you don’t factor in that now it’s a special time when the lack of competition allows for strange situations. With some luck that might change next year when AMD has new cores.

  12. I don’t use laptops, as I don’t like their keyboards, but I will speak about older versus newer desktops. I bought a Dell desktop 10 years ago. While it was noisy, it never failed.
    In anticipation of XP’s demise, I bought a Dell desktop with Windows 7 and Core i5 processor. Within two years, the power supply failed, and six weeks after I bought a new power supply, the computer stopped functioning again.

    My conclusion: the older Dells were more reliable. Can’t blame it on China manufacture, because my old Dell came from China.

    I bought a 7 year old Dell for under $100, and it is working.

  13. I buy and sometimes sell Lenovo laptops. One of my personal favorites is the T61. These old soldiers run well and can be found with 4gb ram for under $100.00. Buy a SSD, flash the bios and you are golden. I am using Windows 10 and I swapped out the optical drive for a second hard drive loaded with Linux.

    While newer machines are faster and more powerful if most of what you do is Facebook or basic office work you don’t need a 8gb or 16gb i7 or better beast. In fact I would suggest even a T42 or T60 for the average user. Either coupled with a Linux distro will run for years. The problem with older used laptops is parts are far more likely to fail sooner then a newer system. They tend to be heavier then newer computers and use older tech The T61 is SATA 2 duo core. Fast enough for me though.

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