I see PCs idling everyday. The PCs around here range in age from 1 to 8 years with the average being more than five years. We welcome donated PCs 8 years old because they work well and give us little trouble except that some have uncommon parts so a dying motherboard or hard drive cannot be replaced easily. That really is not a problem because the donated machines cost us almost nothing, just freight.
Our typical user hardly gets over 30% CPU utilization except when booting. In fact, my terminal server has a hard time getting to 30% utilization even when 20 thin clients run off it. Clearly these machines meet our needs. Why then do so many feel the need to chuck 3 year old machines? Well, not as many as there used to be. Those who make a living installing PCs have been telling the PHBs that 3 years is all the life there is in a PC. How they did that when failure rates were of the order of 1% per annum is beyond me… The PHBs no longer accept such nonsense and are looking at extending the life of PCs to five or six years in many cases. A recent survey found that 69% of businesses run PCs four years or longer. Some of that was clinging to XP and some was belt-tightening due to a slowing of growth but it is reality. Because businesses found they can get away with five year old PCs, they accept the ideas that PCs do not wear out and that smaller and cheaper PCs may do. After all there is not much difference between an old PC and a new thin client except size and price.
Beside necessity, people are also seeing that smart-phones and other mobile PCs are quite useful. That means older PCs which have similar capability are also useful. The facts that XP is deprecated and “7” won’t run on old PCs means that GNU/Linux will be seen as a way to extend the life of PCs. I see that every day getting better performance from old PCs with GNU/Linux than with XP.
Some businesses are making money refurbishing old PCs. They can easily do that because the machines are available for the price of freight or even less if other businesses pay them to take old machines away. The upselling done by M$ and its “partners” has given refurbishers a couple of hundred dollars in which to play. They can clean and install GNU/Linux for less than $100 and sell the machine for a bit more than $100 and make a larger margin than an OEM selling for M$ on new machines. This happy state of affairs can last several more years until XP machines are exhausted. I doubt anyone will be convinced that a quad-core hair-dryer with 4gB RAM should be discarded in less than 5 years. When the cost of keeping that other OS becomes too much folks will use such machines as terminal servers and run GNU/Linux. “7” may well be M$’s last mass-distribution OS.
The value of old PCs increases with time as we increasingly run apps on servers. They make decent thin clients and cost very little except power. Simply by tweaking the BIOS to boot PXE, a business or other organization can extend the life of the PC several years and get new performance from a terminal server. I have been doing that for years in schools and now it is happening in business which mostly considers the bottom line. I was considering the top line only, what it cost to do IT. Any way you do it, the performance per dollar goes way up if you hang onto PCs longer than 3 years. Do the maths.