People frequently ask, “How often should I upgrade QuickBooks?”

Here’s the flip side of the question: “How often should I upgrade my QuickBooks computer?” Let’s talk about that.

In the corporate IT world, there are policies for that. Many will replace machines after three years.

Small businesses could adopt that policy too and establish a product life cycle of somewhere between two to five years, and just plan for scheduled equipment replacement.

But a lot of small businesses want to squeeze as much life out of their equipment (computers or otherwise) as they can to help keep expenses down. What then?

Here are a few scenarios that could trigger a computer replacement decision:

* One obvious time to get a new computer is when the old one has failed, or seems about to fail. I had a Dell desktop that was starting, after a few years’ use, to whine sometimes. I’m not sure if it was the power supply or the hard drive, but it really didn’t matter. It wasn’t going to get better, only worse. And when it finally failed for good, it would be a bad day for me. So why go there? I replaced the machine.

Now some might say, “Why not just replace the power supply and/or hard drive?” Well, you could do that. I’ve replaced power supplies in machines back in the day, and it’s not a super big deal. But you have to make sure that you acquire the right kind, take your machine apart a little bit…it’s a multi-step hassle to me now. Replacing parts costs less, but it still costs. I’d rather invest that money in a new machine that will last longer.

* Another scenario for replacing a computer is when the hardware, operating system, and main application (QuickBooks!) start to get out of sync. For example, if you buy a new computer today with Windows 7 on it, and install QuickBooks 2012 on it, everything is perfectly synced up. QuickBooks will have been well-tested under that hardware platform, and it will have been well-tested under Windows 7. Should work great.

However, if you are trying to run a really old version of QuickBooks on a brand new computer, it might not work right. Likewise if you are trying to run a brand new version of QuickBooks on a really old computer. Running QuickBooks under versions of Windows that weren’t on the market when your version of QuickBooks came out might not work. Versions of hardware, Windows, and QuickBooks should all sync up for best results.

* You should also maybe replace your QuickBooks computer when it gets too slow. Now, if QuickBooks is running slow for you and your computer is pretty new, then it is probably because the data file has gotten really big and needs to be supercondensed.

But if your computer is pretty old, and your file is not all that large, and things are slow, then it’s time to consider making a hardware upgrade. When QuickBooks runs slow, it is more likely to experience data corruption. Why go there?

* If you run QuickBooks on a network, it’s a very good idea to have all your workstations approximately of the same vintage and computing power — even the same brand and model, if you can manage that. Likewise with your networking hardware. Dull uniformity is a beautiful thing in a network.

On the other hand, sometimes you can keep using your old computer for a long time and don’t need to change anything for years. If you are content to run QuickBooks 99 on a decade-old-but-still-going-strong machine running Windows XP (but please, not Win ME!) then more power to you. (Just make sure your backup system is a good one…but then that would be the case on any computer!)

CRAZY EXAMPLE: We do data support for an old discontinued non-Intuit accounting software product line called BPI Accounting. We mostly do file repair for people who have damaged BPI data. I got a call the other day from a lady who until now had been running her BPI accounting software on an APPLE IIe! As in, from 1983 of so. Unbelievable. But it had been working just fine for her until she accidentally formatted one of her program disk(ette)s. Oops! NOW it’s time to shop a new computer, and maybe a new version of QuickBooks!

What’s your approach? Do you have a rule of thumb to guide the timing of your computer purchases?

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