10 ways to tell you need a new laptop

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How do you know when it’s time to upgrade your laptop to a newer model? Well, there can certainly be tell-tale signs that your hardware is nearing the end of its useful life, or has even gone past that point – and that’s what we’re going to explore in this article.

Specifically, we’ll look at 10 of the most common ways that indicate it’s time to look at buying a new laptop in an ideal world (assuming that it’s financially feasible, and you have the funds to spare, of course).

You may not have much choice, mind, if you encounter that most serious of issues: namely your laptop being completely dead, or at least appearing to have shuffled off to the great silicon graveyard in the sky. So let’s discuss that scenario first off…

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1. You press the power button and nothing happens

This is the true moment of dread for all laptop owners: you press that power button, and absolutely nothing happens – there are no signs of life.

In this case, there are some basic troubleshooting steps you can take. For starters, plug your notebook in to the mains (if it isn’t already), then try to power on again. If it is plugged in, make sure the cable isn’t loose, and indeed it might be worth trying a different power socket (just in case there’s a problem with that – unlikely, but you never know). Also, use a wall socket, not an extension, in case the latter might be faulty.

We won’t go into further potential solutions in detail here, as this isn’t the purpose of this article, but you can find more troubleshooting help online by Googling (and we have some advice for MacBook users here).

At any rate, assuming your laptop still fails to come on after doing some basic troubleshooting yourself – and of course that it’s outside of warranty coverage – you’ll need to make the decision about whether to take it to a repair shop or dealer (like an Apple Store for a MacBook) to have it fixed by a professional.

This is where you need to weigh up the pros and cons – how much will the repair cost? If it’s an important component which has given up the ghost inside the laptop, like the motherboard for example, it could be expensive to replace. And if your laptop is old, and somewhat outdated, plus maybe it wasn’t that expensive to begin with anyway, the truth is you might be better off spending a little more money (maybe not much more) to get an entirely new machine.

So in that case, making the move to buy a new laptop – which will come with completely fresh components that should last for years and years (hopefully), as opposed to an older repaired machine which might only limp on for a little while longer – obviously makes good sense. You’ll have a new portable, with more cutting-edge components and a new warranty to boot, and depending on the cost factors we mentioned, this scenario is likely to be the clearest cut case for replacing your current notebook.

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2. You could fry eggs on your laptop chassis

Is your laptop getting very hot when it’s been on for a while? Does the chassis seem abnormally warm to the touch in certain areas? Is your machine being very noisy – with the fans inside seemingly spinning as if their lives depended on it much of the time – and are applications or games running very slowly, generally speaking?

When laptops get older, they can develop heat-related problems which show these kinds of symptoms. These might occur simply due to the age of internal components, and the stress they’ve been under over the years, and the kind of heat levels that build up inside the laptop’s case.

If it’s a cheap notebook, the cooling system could be rather poor, and components might have been thermally stressed more than they should have been – and also, the build-up of dust over time, which enters the laptops cooling vents and can gum up the system (or fans) can make keeping things cool a more difficult job than it should be.

Many laptops aren’t designed to be opened or serviced by the user at all these days, and there’s nothing much you can do about this, at least from a curing rather than a preventative perspective. It’s possible a professional repair outlet may be able to help – for a price, of course – but in all likelihood, with an older notebook, overheating and slowing down is just one of those signs that it’s time to buy a new model.

Windows 10 problems

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3. The screen isn’t what it once was

Another obvious point to look for is a failing display, which can really mar your overall experience when it comes to using a laptop. The screen may have started flickering, for example – which could be bad for your eyesight as well as your sanity – or it could suffer from a physical fault particularly if you’ve dropped the laptop. That could result in a cracked screen, or one with a corrupted section, or a display that fails entirely.

If your laptop screen has a major issue of any kind, it’ll likely need replacing with a new display at a repair outlet. However, as we already mentioned, it might just be more sensible, or more cost-effective in the longer run, to buy yourself a new laptop (again, that entirely depends on your situation as we discussed in section #1, and obviously with a more expensive laptop, a screen replacement could make financial sense).

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4. Your laptop is just really old

Maybe your laptop is well and truly outdated. It’s great to get value out of a machine by owning it for a long time, making good use of it over years and years, but you eventually have to draw the line somewhere. 

Usually when everything starts to slow down for no apparent reason – the real reason being the age of the hardware, in terms of spec, and also wear and tear – and there are also tell-tale signs like when the operating system on your notebook is no longer supported, for example. (Remember that Windows 7 portables witnessed their operating system go past its end-of-life date at the start of 2020).

In short, if your laptop is getting towards a decade old, it’s certainly worth thinking about getting a new one just on that basis. Although that said, if you aren’t having any particular issues with it, and the machine still does everything you want it to, more or less, there’s obviously no need to rush to the next purchase.

Laptop keyboard

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5. Keyboard blues

The keyboard is another component on a laptop which can stop functioning properly, and sometimes certain keys stop working. It may not be all that expensive to get a repair shop or dealer to replace the keyboard, but with some notebooks – there are models which have the keyboard fully built into the top deck of the laptop – this can be a more onerous process. 

That being the case, it might be a good opportunity to consider going for a new notebook.

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6. Flat battery

Over time, the maximum capacity that a battery can hold diminishes, as the battery is depleted by being repeatedly charged. So when you first buy a laptop, it may last for many hours while out and about on battery power, that longevity slowly ebbs away. Eventually, this process can leave you with a laptop battery which doesn’t last longer than 10 minutes, meaning you effectively can’t use your notebook without having it plugged into a power socket.

The obvious solution is to change the battery, but that’s not always possible as some laptops have power packs that simply aren’t user-replaceable – not realistically, anyway, although the manufacturer may offer a service to do this. At any rate, given the usual repair cost considerations, you may just be better off purchasing a new laptop, rather than being lumbered with a machine that you can’t use without it being plugged into the mains.

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7. Portability please

There’s another point that kind of ties in with the ‘laptop being old’ reason, and that’s if your laptop is indeed an older model, it may be pretty chunky and quite heavy. Advances with contemporary notebooks have meant that portables are now much thinner, lighter, and generally more, well, portable.

So if you do use your laptop when on-the-go a great deal, and you’re fed up of lugging a bulky and heavy machine around with you, purchasing a new notebook will invariably get you something far sleeker and easier to carry about (like the Dell machine pictured above).

That in itself could be a good reason to make an upgrade, plus with modern laptops, battery life can be much stronger – we’re now looking at claimed longevities in excess of 20 hours, another major boon for those who wish to use their portable for long periods while traveling.

(Image credit: Future)

8. Gadget paranoia

Another way to tell that you might benefit from having a new laptop is if, say for example, you’re traveling to what might be considered a high-crime area, and you have an expensive notebook – so you’re paranoid about taking the device in case of theft.

In this case, you’re not looking at getting a replacement laptop, of course, but rather a very cheap secondary machine that you can use in these sort of scenarios (instead of perhaps relying on just your phone, and its tiny screen).

Obviously you won’t be able to get everything done on that notebook that you would on your primary high-end laptop, but it could still be useful in a pinch (and don’t forget the secondary laptop might also make a decent temporary backup machine in case some kind of disaster strikes your main laptop).

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9. Hard drive hang-ups

Do you have a laptop which uses a hard drive? These are now effectively clunky old bits of storage technology, and hard disks have long been superseded by solid-state drives (abbreviated to SSD) as the latter are so much faster. Moving from a laptop with a hard drive to an SSD, you will notice a world of difference in terms of overall performance across everything you do.

Again, this rather falls into the category of your ‘laptop being old’, although that said, even contemporary notebooks can have hard disks still. As well as being much slower, hard disks also use physical moving parts which make them even less suitable for a laptop than a desktop PC – simply because notebooks can be dropped, and hard drives can be damaged (with potentially disastrous results if you haven’t backed things up) in that sort of incident.

So if you’re still stuck in the world of hard drives with your portable, it’s well worth considering switching to a new laptop which has an SSD purely to benefit from the performance and robustness of the latter.

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10. Sales fever

Perhaps one of the most obvious ways of telling that you need a new laptop is when the big sales days roll around, and you have a seriously itchy mouse-trigger-finger hovering over the buy button on a notebook with a particularly hefty discount.

Okay, so this is perhaps a case of wanting a new portable rather than needing, strictly speaking, or maybe it’s a mix of both – because when it comes to some of the incredible deals you can get on Black Friday or Amazon Prime Day, that distinction can get pretty blurry if you’ve got any spare cash lying around in your bank account.

If any of the above points we’ve made don’t apply to your laptop now, but look like they might ring true in the near future perhaps, it could be a prudent pre-emptive move to grab a great deal while you can.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).