How to Reduce PC Costs

As refresh cycles lengthen, IT managers must balance the costs of buying new desktops or laptops or maintaining the old one.

At BMC Software, older corporate desktops and laptops are given new life.

They're rehabbed and repurposed, handed down to other employees or put into test and development roles.

"We basically recycle computers," said Jim Grant, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at BMC. "We manage them as corporate assets. ... We take older Intel machines and use them as test desktops."

With a deepening recession fueling the rapid contraction of IT budgets, administrators overseeing increasingly aging fleets of PCs are faced with the question of what to do with them, since there is little or no money to spend on replacing them.

A decade ago, IT administrators routinely replaced-or refreshed-a third of their systems every three years. During the past few years, that refresh cycle was pushed out to four or five years for desktops and less for notebooks, said Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates.

The new economic realities are only increasing the pressure to save money, and for many enterprises, buying new systems is not always an option.

For those that have some money to spend, OEMs are offering a growing number of low-cost PCs and laptops, according to vendors and analysts. Those include mininotebooks, which research firm Gartner expects to grow from 5.2 million units shipped in 2008 to as many as 50 million 2012.

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IT managers who can't buy new systems need to squeeze as much cost as they can out of their entire PC environment-from reusing and repurposing their hardware to improving efficiencies through better use of management software.

"The basic business problems do not change, either in good times or bad," said Matt Kohut, a competitive analyst with Lenovo. "People are still being asked to do more with less. ... Now they're asking, -How do we exploit the hardware we have better?'"

Many businesses are simply rehabbing the systems they have and squeezing more use out of them, by either-like BMC-giving them new roles within the business or handing them out to employees.

"Hardware is pretty resilient, and it can be put into service a lot longer" than the expected life spans outlined by OEMs, Endpoint's Kay said.

"A lot of customers are very interested during these tough times in extending the life of their current systems," said Erik Dithmer, vice president and general manager for Dell's SMB Americas group. For example, "1G to 4G of memory can be added for as little as $30 and increase performance by up to 25 percent. These are steps businesses can take to get more out of their current systems until they have the dollars to invest in more up-to-date technology."

Dithmer also recommended using external hard drives to increase hard drive storage space.