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Spending money is rarely a small business' favourite thing. If your old computer still works, why bother replacing it, right? After all, it should last longer than three or four years.

Think again. Here are five signs that it's time to send your beloved contraption to the happy hunting ground.

1. You can make a pot of coffee while it boots. You may enjoy the slow start to the morning, but if printing a document or performing a simple search also result in toe-tapping moments, that wasted time adds up. And if you're out visiting customers with a slow laptop, they may forget what you came for while you wait for the machine to start. Yes, there are housekeeping things you can do to perk up a machine that's starting to get pokey, but soon it won't be able to keep up with you. Put it out of your misery and improve your productivity. Time is money.

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2. Little things are starting to fail. When a machine is four or five years old, and emitting a weird buzz, or the monitor is acting up, or the battery in a laptop holds a charge for all of 10 minutes, buying a new unit is worth considering. You'll get a new operating system, up-to-date hardware and, best of all, a warranty.

3. Something breaks and you can't find a compatible replacement. I was pushed over the edge when the monitor on my nine-year-old desktop died and I couldn't find a replacement that the ancient video card could cope with (nor could I find a compatible new video card). For you, it may be a new printer or scanner or other peripheral that doesn't work, either because there are no software drivers for your computer's operating system, or the connector for your machine no longer exists (remember parallel ports?).

4. It won't run the software you need. With any operating system, new versions of software eventually will not be supported. Chances are, by this time the hardware is old enough that an operating system upgrade is out of the question (Microsoft has an upgrade adviser that can tell whether your hardware can run a new OS.) You might be able to repurpose the old beast elsewhere in the company – perhaps to run Linux – but if you need the new software to do your work, bite the bullet and replace your clunker.

5. Bits are falling off. Cracked hinges and a chip or two off the corner of your laptop may not affect its functionality, but consider the impression you are giving your customers. If you walk in with a battered old machine it sends the message that either you're not doing very well or you really don't care. Would you do business with someone like that? And would you want to work for someone like that?

Once you pick up a new computer, it's not necessarily the end of the line for the old one. If it's in adequate shape, consider donating it to a school or charity that can refurbish it for lighter duty (that will earn you a tax deduction). If you decide to trash it, check for a municipal recycling program. Computers have enough toxic elements (and salvageable materials) to make this small effort worthwhile.

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