Best practices for a PC end-of-life policy

Organizations that deploy PCs need a strong and clear policy to handle hardware maintenance, end of life decisions, sustainable disposal practices and more.

As soon as an organization deploys PCs to its users, management and IT staff must plan for equipment end of life and how to dispose of materials with sustainability in mind.

Management needs to strike a balance between keeping costs down and ensuring that users' endpoints are still updated frequently enough so there aren't issues with device performance and thus productivity. Organizations may have pre-set lifecycles to retire PCs, but major unexpected issues can arise before that occurs. Ultimately, it falls to the IT team and any additional support staff to enforce the PC lifecycle policy and determine when a PC should be retired at its end of life, even if it's outside of that lifecycle's limits.

How to identify when a PC is ready to be retired

Regular checks of the performance of an organization's PC inventory are a proactive measure that IT can take to ensure hardware is functioning properly. However, by performing their daily tasks, users act as another way to monitor performance without the need to commit IT labor.

If users complain about slow performance, crashes or other issues, it could be a sign the PC needs to be replaced. Slowness in opening files, running programs and accessing the internet can cause frustration and ultimately decrease efficiency. Frequent crashing or freezing can result in losing unsaved work, leading to time spent restarting and recovering files. These interruptions can further reduce productivity, so IT teams should encourage users to report such issues so they can dive deeper into the hardware's performance on a case-to-case basis.

Newer software and applications might not run on older hardware, and users might be unable to use the latest tools and applications needed for their work, resulting in missed opportunities and reduced productivity. Old PC hardware is often unable to install software updates, and if a PC no longer receives software updates, it might be vulnerable to security threats, leading to data breaches and further lost productivity. If a PC frequently needs repairs or replacement, it can cause additional downtime for users who cannot access their apps and files. Again, this can lead to missed deadlines and decreased productivity.

A diagram showing the three policies IT needs to follow to align with sustainability goals.

How to plan for PC lifecycle and end of life

It is essential to ensure PCs are maintained and upgraded as needed so users have access to reliable and efficient tools to do their jobs effectively. Hardware lifecycle management is part of every operational IT department. The lifecycle covers the following stages of procuring and managing desktop PCs:

  • Purchasing new endpoints.
  • Analyzing and maintaining the health of the PC.
  • Removing the device from production.
  • Wiping data from the PC.
  • Disposing of the PC.

As PCs get older, they become more prone to hardware failures and compatibility issues. IT administrators might set a policy to replace PCs every three-five years, depending on the organization's needs and budget.

Maintaining PC hardware helps organizations to prepare for and mitigate hardware issues before end of life is reached. Regular maintenance can help identify and fix potential hardware issues before they become significant problems that might tank a whole device. This might include cleaning out dust and debris from fans and vents, updating drivers and firmware and running diagnostic tests to check for issues with the hard drive, memory or other components. Users should regularly back up data to avoid data loss in the event of hardware failure.

Upgrading hardware components is an option to extend the lifecycle of a computer. More RAM, a new hard drive or other hardware components can improve performance and extend PC life. If a hardware component, such as a hard drive or power supply, is failing, IT can replace it before it causes damage to other components. It is important to weigh the cost of upgrades compared to replacing the PC in this decision.

High temperatures can also cause hardware components to fail. Monitoring a PC's temperature using software tools or physical temperature sensors can help prevent overheating and damage to machine parts. IT administrators can monitor performance metrics such as CPU, memory and disk usage to identify when a PC struggles to meet user demands.

Antivirus software can help protect PCs from malware and viruses that cause hardware issues. With this software in place, IT administrators can support users to mitigate hardware issues with older PCs, helping to extend their useful life and avoid costly downtime or data loss.

How to dispose of PC hardware at end of life

IT departments can sustainably dispose of PCs in several ways when they are no longer viable or useful.

Organizations can also check with their local government to see if they have a recycling program for electronics.

If the old PC hardware is no longer functional, organizations can recycle it. Many electronics retailers offer recycling programs for old electronics, including PC hardware. Organizations can also check with their local government to see if they have a recycling program for electronics. Some computer manufacturers or third-party companies even offer trade-in programs where organizations can exchange old PC hardware for a discount on a new computer.

If the old PC hardware is still functional and business policies allow it, organizations can sell it on websites like eBay or Facebook Marketplace. Second-hand selling ensures that old hardware is reused and not discarded in landfills -- at least temporarily.

Another option to consider is donation. Many nonprofit organizations, such as schools, libraries and community centers, accept older PCs to provide technology to those with no access to it. Organizations can also donate to a refurbishing center that specializes in refurbishing older PCs to extend their useful life. These organizations might repair, upgrade and clean the PCs before donating or selling them at a low cost to individuals or organizations in need. By donating older PCs to these programs and organizations, organizations can ensure that valuable parts of the device are reused and the PCs are disposed of responsibly, reducing their negative effect on the environment. It's important to research and choose reputable organizations and programs that prioritize responsible disposal and recycling.

Whichever method organizations choose, administrators must erase personal data from the hard drive before disposing of old PC hardware. IT admins can do this via a data-wiping tool or by physically destroying the hard drive.

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