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At time of writing the two laptops that consist of the technological horsepower behind Insightful Waffle are in something of a bad way. One of them is in the process of being replaced, whilst the other has to use an additional set of fans to be able to run properly. Sufficed to say, neither of us are particularly in love with the situation. Indeed, many laptop owners round the world begrudge the state of their laptops because they seem to break easily and then cost a lot to replace. Or they have to be sent away to for ages to be repaired. Huzzah to that.

One of the main issues this brings up is the idea of technological obsolescence, or more precisely technology designed to last a short amount of time. It is not at all a new argument or consideration. Why this is allowed to seemingly perpetually happen? Why does this affect only certain things a lot of the time? Importantly, is this a purely bad thing? Well, with what little time left of my laptop not over-heating, let’s try and get to the bottom of this one.

The answer is perhaps more simple than it seems, but combines the three questions at various points. Are laptops with an average life of 2-3 years acceptable to the average consumer? Probably not, but are better laptops coming out at a 2-3 year span good for the average consumer? Well…One of the major considerations of why this whole thing might be okay is the idea that technology rapidly increases in performance. To pack everything in, and staying with the laptop example, you’re inevitably left with little space, especially for sufficient ventilation.

There’s also the whole use thing. If you consider the prevalence of social networking, people are more hooked up to things in general, so usage of devices goes up. In that sense, maybe it’d be more beneficial if everyone had a desktop, but then again that’s not necessarily useful for all. Also, only using social networking probably isn’t going to be doing damage to your laptop, but it’s more about access – if you’re staying on for Facebook, you’ll probably do other things, like watching videos, possibly playing games, etc.

Not that I’m saying it’s our fault. It should be very possible to have a great performing device without it starting to over-heat within 12 months of purchase and first use, but it is worth thinking about. Then again, you can look at it from another angle too where if you consider netbooks or tablets have lower failure, but then again they do have less in them. Can that not be extended to laptops too? Well, people expect as up-to-date tech as they can have whenever they get something new, so, we go back to densely packed pieces of equipment. Sure, there is the chance that with better tech comes better performance life-span, but it’s not a shoe-in. Have you seen some of the cooling systems ultra high-end PCs use? Some of them look like mini plumbing systems.

When you start expanding the picture you begin seeing similar trends too. This is bound to occur though considering how every device is getting closer to being like every other, so parts are going to start over-lapping and be used in multiple devices that before won’t have had much similar (case in point, the Google TV set [Update 2012 – increasingly, televisions and attached set-top boxes are achieving this, unsurprisingly. The previous link is reflective of this and though a simple google, should provide you with a cursory glance at what’s going on]). That’s not to say your TV will break because it has the same components as this crappy laptop as arrangement is completely different (and some have plumbing) but, it is worth considering for future equipment. Media convergence and all that jazz.

So now you really start talking about demand. Do people want lower-tech stuff that’s cheap and gets the job done? Well, yes. Look at how many stock Dell desktops sell, or the very humble mobile phones that people use. However, look at exactly how many they sell. Go into a lecture hall and the amount of Blackberrys, iPhones, Androids and any other smart mobile devices to be seen, whilst certainly making you wonder just where the hell some of these people get the regular money from, clearly highlights a very, very strong market for up-to-date tech. This is why netbooks aren’t a massive seller, but tablets are a growing trend. People like having new shiny things and whilst them breaking is a begrudging matter, they’re more than happy to jump ship to the latest shiny. That and how many people bought the first iPads and iPhones and not only knew that with a very short time a better version would come out, but they would then go out to buy them!

Perhaps we’re going off topic? Let’s rein it in a little bit then. Laptops come with a warranty and you can get them repaired, but to what end? Mine started over-heating about 8 and a half months after purchase. It shortly after got repaired. 3 months after having it returned, it started over-heating again, but naturally was outside of warranty. If only I had bought the extended warranty. It’s almost as if retailers know the situation. So you’re left with the choice of having it repaired and losing access to it again, or buying something new. Given how expensive laptops are, you can pick up a decent one for a relatively not bad price. Not everyone will do this, but enough do. Enough to keep the process of wanting newer and better things going.

So we do ask for it then, but only as a result of what we have to work with. I’m sure people would be prepared to pay a little bit more for something that works better and it can be done. Higher range laptops do have better failure rates and you think that laptops are really that expensive to make? There’s an unquestionable point that a lot of technology sucks in terms of life-span and we bemoan this happening, but spend 5 minutes in a tech shop and you’ll certainly be glaring into the bright gloss of the new shiny thing with longing eyes.

Now, time to remove this laptop from my legs before it burns me.

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