Physical Failure as a Measure of Computer Longevity
Certainly, when a computer ceases to function it is no longer useful to its owner. From the time the computer was first turned on to the day it failed to function properly is a measure of how long the computer lasted. As mentioned above, the modern computer is made up of many parts. The failure of a primary component such as the CPU, memory, motherboard, etc. means the usefulness of the computer has ceased. Failure of a minor component such as DVD drive, USB port, or internal fan simply means that the computer’s usefulness has decreased but not necessarily to zero. Companies, when deploying hundreds and thousands of computers in an organization, are constantly calculating the productivity losses due to these two types of failures.
Some manufacturers place failure estimates on their products that estimate how long the component will last until its first failure. Often printed on hard drives, the Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) is just such as estimate. A MTBF of 30,000 hours means that under normal load, the hard drive can be expected to fail at its 30,000th hour of operation. Of course, this is just an estimate based on statistical operations and it is only an average. While some hard drives with a MTBF of 30,000 hours will fail before this time, some will continue to operate far beyond.
Computers especially are sensitive to changes in ambient heat, humidity, and power spikes. Some components in the system attempt to control these factors but users typically put their computers through far more situations than a component manufacturer can simulate in a lab. The result is no way of knowing exactly how long a computer will last.
The best way to guard against unexpected computer failure is to do two things. First, do regular backups of pertinent data. Automated backups are best since they require no human intervention. How often to back up is a question of data sensitivity. If you absolutely cannot lose your data from a previous day, daily backups are recommended. Second, make sure you have a backup computer where you can access your backed up files. It may take days or weeks to fix a computer, especially if the computer is under warranty by a large corporation. The need to procure Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) numbers, diagnose, and repair the computer can be time consuming and frustrating when needed files cannot be accessed because of routine hardware failure.