Thinking of upgrading your company’s tech gear? Now’s not the time.

Thanks to supply chain problems, getting new PCs, smartphones, routers, hubs, or what-have-you is harder and more expensive than ever. For now, stick with what you’ve got or consider used equipment.

I live on technology’s bleeding edge. I usually update my computers, smartphones, Wi-Fi access points, and other hardware bits every 18 months. Usually. Many companies typically replace their PCs and servers every three years. Typically.

But 2021 is not a usual or typical year. Supply chain problems are slowing down deliveries of everything from iPhones to cars to holiday toys.

This will not—I repeat—will not be improving anytime this year or even in the next few quarters. As Brandon Kulik, Deloitte’s semiconductor industry research head, recently told Ars Technica, “The shortages are going to continue indefinitely. Maybe that doesn’t mean 10 years, but certainly, we’re not talking about quarters. We’re talking about years.”

You see, the supply chain slowdown is not just a container ship traffic jam outside the port of Los Angeles. Nor is it just because manufacturing and transportation have slowed worldwide because of COVID-19. It’s a perfect storm of long-neglected factory, transportation, and logistics systems.

For example, for decades we’ve neglected storage and warehousing in favor of just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing. JIT works great when all the components do indeed arrive just in time. If they don’t, you’ve got real trouble. Say a miracle happened and we had all the chips we ever needed in all the right places. Would that solve our car, computer, and smartphone shortage problems? Nope.

Besides CPUs, FPUs, and all that, chips need plastic substrates that make up printed circuit boards. Substrates, which connect chips to circuit boards—perhaps the least sexy technology ever—are also essential. And, yes, we have nothing like enough substrates or substrate factories.

The result? You see it every time you try to buy a new car and you can’t get the one you want. You deal with it when you look to refresh your corporate PCs and can’t buy your preferred machines. As IDC analyst Linn Huang recently pointed out. “Semiconductor shortages, as well as logistics that remain impacted, are shortly going to force OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] to raise prices.” How much? He expects a “10% to 15% price increase imminently, with a risk of it climbing even higher.”

So what can a small business do? I suggest sticking with the PCs you already have. As I’ve pointed out, Windows 11 really doesn’t bring you any improvements, so you don’t need to upgrade to it nor buy new computers right now just to run it.

Besides, while I or a video rendering pro might appreciate the difference between the hot AMD Ryzen 9 5900X and, say, one of 2018's top CPUs, such as the Intel Core i5-8400, most office work doesn’t benefit a bit from the newest and fastest CPU.

Sure, there are upgrades that can make a difference, but you don’t have to get a new PC for them. For example, replacing an old, slow HDD with a new, fast SDD is always a win. Or, as always, simply boosting RAM from 8GB to 16GB can give creaky PCs a new lease on life. 

Does the idea of opening up your PCs or laptops give you the heebie-jeebies? Computer repair techies are still out there. Look for someone with CompTIA A+ certification and you should do well. (If you do feel up to popping the top off your machine, but you’re not exactly sure what to do, check out the excellent iFixit Repair Guides.)

If your hardware really is running too slow for productive work, take it to one of the local shops or check with your internal IT team to see whether you can speed it up. There are still many cheap and free good software updates and cleanups that can give older PCs a boost.

If your PCs really are ready for the junkyard, instead of new and pricey boxes, look to reputable used gear resellers such as Back Market for replacements. Or, do what I do, which is look at Dell and Lenovo for refurbished or overstock hardware. These often represent good deals and sometimes come with warranties just as good as their newer counterparts.

Sure, it’s not as much fun as having the best new hardware. But between shipping delays and price increases, making the best of what you already have—or buying older equipment for discount prices—makes a lot of sense.

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