From both an environmental and an economic perspective, there's a strong case to be made for extending the life of older PCs, whether that means keeping machines a while longer at your organization or donating them to a worthy cause. Unfortunately, some companies are discovering that there can be risks associated with using older machines: A computer manufacturer may have stopped offering free support for preexisting manufacturing problems.
Let's hop into the Wayback Machine for a moment and set the destination for October 2005, when Dell acknowledged that faulty capacitors could be found in the motherboards of some of its OptiPlex SX270, GX270, and GX280 business machines. An incorrect electrolyte formula within the capacitors caused the production of hydrogen gas, which in turn caused the components to bulge, seep brown goo, and eventually fail.
Dell's response: Rather than issuing a full product recall, the company offered to replace the motherboards [PDF] of affected machines for free. Customers had five years within time of purchase to take advantage of the program -- with a deadline of Jan. 31, 2008.
"Customers whose machines failed prior to January 2008 got the free motherboard swap. Customers whose machines failed with exactly the same problem after January 2008 got an explanation that the [program] had expired and some additional comments about Dell 'company policy,'" said Neal Nelson, operator of an independent computer testing lab in the Chicago area.
Now, Dell had launched the program in 2005. Why would anyone be using machines dating so far back? It could be that the machines still meet their needs -- or given the state of the economy, they can't afford to upgrade. Another reason: Organizations such as schools and nonprofits are receiving these machines as donations.
Troy Brown, who sells computer parts through his Web site The Cap King, has seen a spike in demand for replacement capacitors. "There are a lot of people looking for replacement capacitors," he told me via e-mail. "I get a lot of small orders but also a few large accounts like schools, hospitals, and computer refurbishing companies. If the economy and Vista were in better shape, I am guessing a lot of these machines would just get scrapped, but with tight IT budgets, a lot of places and people need to keep these machines up and running."