Time to refresh your approach to the PC refresh cycle?

12 February 2018

Prof Mark Jolly, head of sustainable manufacturing, Cranfield University

Prof Mark Jolly, head of sustainable manufacturing, Cranfield University

The average PC is a lavish and exotic piece of work: copper from Chile, gold from Mali, iron ore from Brazil, nickel from the Congo, bauxite from Peru.

Many components depend on rare earth or platinum group metals highlighted as under threat in the EU’s Critical Raw Materials, the fragile supplies of which are described as Europe’s ‘Achilles heel’.

And yet, these treasures are thrown out as part of the standard ‘refresh’ of IT estate. The typical lifecycle of 3-4 years – when the cost of maintenance is believed to be greater than the cost of replacement – has recently shifted to be closer to 4-5 years.

But there were still 260 million new PCs purchased last year (according to IDC).

New work by Cranfield University research student Mauricio Alva Howes has provided evidence for a re-think. Organisations can save significant costs and demonstrate corporate social responsibility by looking at re-furbishing over replacement.

In his study, Howes carried out a range of benchmarking tests comparing the performance of re-manufactured HP, Lenovo and Dell laptops – machines that have been cleaned and refurbished – against that of new models from the same brands. 

Tests on the most typical uses of PCs in a work setting – email, word processing, and the use of spreadsheets, databases and video conferencing – showed overall that the re-manufactured computers performed at between 93 and 97 per cent of the level set by the new computer.

There is a small fall-off in performance when it comes to graphic processing and, in some cases, with battery life, but in terms of everyday use by employees, the differences are minimal.

Thus, new and updated models don’t deliver value.

The re-manufactured laptops used in the research came from IT re-use and recycling business A2C Services which recently launched its Circular Computers service.

This enables large employers with huge IT estates to opt for a circular economy approach: they can send their used machines for refurbishing, and take on a supply of re-manufactured PCs rather than buying new hardware every three or four years.