Thursday, September 02, 2010


We've seen more and more cases where perfectly fine PCs get totaled by malware. The analogy to a car being totaled is apt: You slide into a barrier on ice in your 2002 Camaro at 10 MPH. No injuries, airbags don't deploy; the fender's messed up, front suspension too, the engine mounts go a little whacky. Fixable, right? Not!

The insurance guy says your car is worth $5K and the repairs will be $6K. Your car has just been totaled.

Think about the similarity to PCs but apply 'Internet Time' and 'Moore's Law': PCs change far more rapidly than automobiles. I need to remind customers all the time that the $1K PC they are buying today would have been $5K a few years ago - if it was available at all. Add in the cost of labor: probably not accelerating in this economy, but a good technician still bills out at $80-$110/hr.

How much can you afford to invest in that old 'PC Clunker' when it gets into an 'accident' with malware? (BTW: malware isn't the only malady: OS updates, hardware failure and abuse may be more familiar if less less likely threats.)

I assess the damage across several dimensions:
  • How old is it?
  • Is there important information still on it?
  • Is the software installed on it recoverable? (i.e. do you have the rights and/or media, keys, codes, updates, configuration details, etc. available to make a new PC work like the old one.)
  • How well did it perform before the crash?
Do you want to spend the cost of a new PC costs fixing up an old one? Not unless there are compelling reasons. For example: your old software won't work on Microsoft's latest OS (which is all you can find,) or the additional time and cost to configure a new PC is intolerable if not impossible. We wear-in PCs like old shoes. Sometimes, you just can't find one that fits as well.

We estimate that migration of all the stuff from an old PC to a new one can take from two to four hours - that adds hundreds of dollars to the equation. Your mileage may vary, but the pain is real.

What can you do to avoid having your PC totaled? Keeping it well maintained is a good start: update antivirus programs, safe surfing practices, store copies of the software, license keys and summary of significant configuration changes you've made in a separate place. This is like the little book you have in your glove compartment that records when you got oil changes and factory recommended service. It's a good idea for your PC too.

We recommend that important PCs use backup imaging software like Backup Exec System Recovery Desktop Edition and Acronis True Image. Both are available for under $100 and allow you to capture everything on your PC to a USB hard drive. On-line backups are fine for data - and may be OK for DOCs, databases and photos - but getting your programs and the functionality of a finely tuned PC back is just as important, if less emotional. You won't appreciate all that stuff until it's gone!