Apple Hardware Lifetime - Rule of Thumb

In the business world, the going rule of thumb is that PC desktops get replaced after every 4 years and PC laptops get replaced after every 2-3 years. Based on my experience over the last 3 years at my church I can see why as many of my Windows devices start to have larger amounts of support requests generated at those points in time. Having scheduled retirements also assists with budget forecasts.

Obviously individual people will push hardware far beyond that that, and get away with it especially in small situations. I am not exactly interested in those edge cases.

How do I handle multi-year budget plans for replacements of Apple devices? What is the general rule of thumb that Apple devices should be replaced after X number of years? For people with 30-40+ Apple laptops, desktops etc, how do you plan for scheduled replacements?

So long as the device has an ssd, we are not seeing a legit need to replace them on a traditional replacement cycle.
So in our case, we are running both Mac and PC until the device is no longer able to met the requirements of the job role. Our 5yr old airs perform very well for most end user needs, though we do replace batts if they won’t hold a charge over an hour. If a device finally dies, then we’ll go look for a replacement. Often the new machine goes to whoever could best use a newer device and then their current one is trickled down the line.
Creative media peeps do get upgrades every 2yrs or so as they have a legit use for as much horsepower as possible.


The general rule seems to be 5 years for desktops and 3 years for laptops. In the case of laptops they take more physical abuse and tend to have smaller memory and storage compared to desktops. A lot also depends on system requirements for new version of Apple’s OS. Recent releases have focused on performance enhancements and avoided bloating, which is allowing some to stretch their time in service.

I tend to recommend to our clients to simply mark machines ready for
replacement on a predetermined cycle and once they hit that date
verify the system is still performing adequately. Also, systems that
can be upgraded to SSD and 8GB of RAM normally get that as a life
extension. Honestly the latest several CPU bumps haven’t been all that
significant so there isn’t a huge need to proactively replace machines
that are working, but you do still want to budget for growth and
machines that die. Especially with the new pricing structure for
something modern inside.

We had been replacing Apple devices on the same schedule as our Windows machines, every three years. But we have recently changed that seeing how Apple sometimes goes years between large model upgrades (Mac Pro anyone???). We now are going 4 years between Apple computer replacements. I was seeing no point in turning around and giving a person essentially the exact same model laptop they were using that is now deemed “ready for replacement”. Especially now with SSDs in all of their model laptops, they should go that long. Echoing what Jason said though, Creative Media potentially could be upgraded sooner…if Apple would ever update the Mac Pro. I have Mac Pros coming up to our older “3 year” mark that I have no reason to replace as the model Apple has on their website has not changed…

We are starting to use the Apple Leasing program in 2017. It makes for easier budgeting and if we see a machine is good we can keep it and pay the buyout or return it and start new lease. We are doing if for 3 years. With the 90% of cost and us getting about 6% discount on them we can add in applecare (since they are leased a good idea) and Joint Venture and pricing is good. We are also using the DEP from apple and Meraki System Manager as the MDM and doing a corporate time machine on a QNAP so moving to their new machine will be easy. We are doing this with our MacBooks, iMacs, Mac Minis and eventually our Mac Pros (they were all purchased before we decided to start leasing).

We would put Apple devices in the same schedule as Windows/PC. One reason for the usual 3 year cycle is the common 3 year on site warranty from companies like Dell, so most devices are under warranty.
We have money in the budget each year for replacement, and are now at a point where that covers most needs. We are on a 3-4 year plan, unless a given system is problematic or job function requires a more powerful system, which moves it up the queue. Sometimes replacement can be delayed a year if the user has modest needs and the system still works.
Most of our Macs are large venue presentation so they may need upgraded sooner, depending on needs.
We move 3 to 4 year old laptops to checkin and other single use situations, since the system is still quite functional.
Be aware that many newer Macs have memory hard wired, so cannot be upgraded. Even some mini’s are that way.

  • Greg

We’re the same as @jpowell. As long as the machine has an SSD and doesn’t show any signs of bad performance, we don’t follow the 4 year replacement.

At the 4/5 year mark, we do budget for a replacement, but usually don’t replace until 6/7 year mark.

That’s probably why Apple started decreasing hardware support in OSes.

Bill, or anyone else for that matter, I am very interested in the apple leasing program. Can someone point me in the right direction of who to contact to get the ball rolling?

We’re building our own experience with Apple products having moved over to (mostly) Mac Mini desktops and MacBook Pro laptops almost 3 years ago. I’m finding the standard wired keyboard the hardware piece that fails the most with Apple’s Magic Mouse the next most common item to fail.

I’d be interested to hear whether that matches your experience or not, and whether you would suggest other alternatives? Maybe these problems have been resolved in the last three years? or not? What say you?

A few years ago when budget money was tight all we could do was upgrade a few machines. Only heavy users like graphic design or video editing got the new machines. To make a machine last a little longer the hard drive was replaced with a SSD and if possible memory upped to 8GB. For desktop or presentation type machines we also replaced the video adapter. Usually spent $150 or so total per machine.

Now we have six, seven, eight and nine year old machines running. Most users can’t tell the difference between a six year old Dell with a SSD and a brand new one. We still replace users machines at the six to eight year mark and keep the best to use when we have training sessions.

The hardware failures we usually have are keyboards and mice. Doesn’t matter Mac or PC. It is the users banging on the keyboard or spilling drinks, and food that cause the most problems.

Our Macs are mostly located in the sound booth (except graphic design). But, our refresh cycle for Windows is that full time employees get a new computer every four years. Then, the computers we get back are reimaged and outfitted with SSD’s and used for part time staff, receptionist/security desks, volunteer stations, volunteer check in stations, checkout laptops, etc. This allows for the absolute most used computers to be less than four years old (full time staff, 40-50+ hours per week), while extending the life of less demanding uses to 8-9 years or so. It makes it so that you are not buying a brand new computer for every computer need. I would estimate that only 1/4 of the total number of computers we have on our network are on a regular brand new computer refresh cycle. We have been doing this since I came on staff in 2005 (rebuild/redeploy… adding SSD when the technology became affordable over the last few years), and it has worked out very well. Standardization is key!

That being said, the sound booth Macs are outfitted with SSD’s and pushed as far as they’ll go being that they are mostly used for single purpose functions, such as propresenter or house music. Primary worship centers have the newest Macs. We also have cold spares that are not brand new that could be used in the case of a failure as well, while we work on repair/replace.

We have a general rule of 3 years from purchase, pc or mac. SSDs help with the speed, but too many of our ministers are fanboys. There is no way I can leave them with a 4 year old computer (my pc is 4+ yrs old, like you guys I keep my pc pretty clean and chugging along). The exception to this is Administrative Assistants desktops, check-in computers, video editing and ProPresenter macs are also excluded.

If we do not have a use for a computer that has depreciated off the books in 3 years (IRS rules), then the former user gets first crack to purchase it for personal use. After this, anyone may purchase it. This has been well received

It sounds like most people are in the 3-5 year mark for replacement. I probably need to revisit our upgrade plan for the next budget cycle. Years ago when we still had a lot of Dell laptops I started the process of budgeting for 1/4 of our staff computers to be replaced each year (4 yr life cycle) which made things real easy to budget (100 staff = 25 computers a year at $x,xxx). Some years we are under and some years we are over but we keep it pretty consistent. When we made the change to Mac last year we did a lease because we had to buy almost 40 MacBook Pros / Airs. I’ll have to let you know in a few years how that decision pans out. Any purchases outside that original lease we just buy outright. I’ve found that the resale of even a 4+ year old MacBook Pro can really help recoup some cost.