"Planned Obsolescence" Is A Waste: Where To Repair Your Electronics

The consumer electronics industry doesn’t want us to know this (especially Apple, considering how frequently they update their iPod product line), but with care and a little maintenance, you can make your recent electronics purchases last longer than a couple of years. We should know: in the past five years, we’ve had large scale malfunctions (all out of warranty) with an iPod, a Tivo, a laptop hard drive, and an Xbox. Here is a short list of some places that can help you get your product back in working condition, so that you don’t just toss it out and buy a new one unnecessarily.

For broken iPods and laptops, we’ve had great success with TechRestore, a California-based company that offers overnight repair service (which is really more like 3 to 4 days when you count the overnight shipping in both directions) and doesn’t gouge you on prices. Thanks to them, we have a first-generation iPod that still functions fine, now that it has a new logic board and battery. We’ve noticed that they’ve recently expanded their services to offer repair services for PC laptops and Playstation Portables as well. Another popular iPod repair service is iResQ.com.

If your previous-generation Xbox or PS2 goes out, you might want to try Llamma.com or Xboxrepairguide.com (which also offers parts for Nintendo handhelds and the Gamecube). You can buy replacement parts, how-to guides, or arrange to send in your broken device to be repaired or bought for spare parts.

When our Tivo stopped working, we did some quick troubleshooting with the help of the WeaKnees website and realized we needed to replace the power supply. A new one arrived in a week, and it was easy to swap out with the blown one.

If you’re afraid of damaging your own equipment, think of it this way: it’s already broken, so why not give yourself a chance to try a new challenge? And sometimes electronics are more resilient than you might imagine: we managed to pour diet coke into our Tivo while we were repairing it (don’t ask), but after letting it dry completely, it still functioned without problems.

The technologically literate might scoff at these services and just suggest you find your own spare parts on Ebay. But if you’re like us (eager to do-it-yourself but not sure how to pronounce “solder”) or even less technologically savvy, one of these places can save you hundreds of dollars or more without making you pull your hair out.

Resources:
www.techrestore
www.iresq.com
www.llamma.com
www.xboxrepairguide.com
www.weaknees.com

(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. JayThree says:

    Apple is one of the best regarded companies when it comes to how long its products last before having to be replaced.

  2. Bix says:

    @JayThree:
    I take it you’ve never owned an iPod, then.

  3. Nilt says:

    we managed to pour diet coke into our Tivo while we were repairing it (don’t ask)

    But I sense a good story there. Dangit! I want to ask!

  4. m4nea says:

    The amount of iPods that break vs. the number that last for years is a really small ratio.
    It’s a common stereotype that they don’t last, mostly due to web sites like this one. :)

  5. juri squared says:

    Hell, I get all excited when my electronics go out of warranty; while it means I’m going to have to pay for my own parts, it also means I don’t have to avoid opening my stuff so as not to void the warranty.

    As soon as the TiVo warranty expired, we hacked that sucker with a much larger hard drive. :D

  6. Amy Alkon says:

    When I lived in New York, I counted on Tekserve for Mac repair:

    [www.tekserve.com]

    They were great…kind, helpful techs, and reasonable prices. Haven’t used them since the 90s, but if you’re in Manhattan, they’re worth a try.

  7. justelise says:

    @David Bixenspan: I agree with Jaythree. I have had an iPod from every generation except the first. None have had ANY hardware issues. When I need more space I sell the old ones on eBay and buy myself the newest model. I know people with first gen iPods that still work. All you have to do is invest in a decent shock absorbing case and treat it well.

  8. Chris Walters says:

    This is Chris, the author of the post. I didn’t mean to imply that Apple’s products are shabby — I was implying that, because they refresh their lineup so frequently, they stand to benefit from you purchasing a new iPod every couple of years.

    Having said that, though, I’ve had terrible luck with Apple. My original iMac’s power converter thing went out in the first year I had it; my 1st gen iPod broke after three years, and both my titanium powerbook and my G4 iBook had hard drive failures within 24 months of purchase. Nothing so horrible to make me stop buying Apple (the good still outweighs the bad), but like as with any CE device, failures happen. This post is simply about what to do with your items when they break.

    Oh lord, I hope I haven’t started an Apple rocks/sucks thread…

  9. Amy Alkon says:

    One word: Applecare.

    I once had a motherboard replaced via Applecare…I believe the motherboard cost more than I originally paid for my laptop.

  10. Hexum2600 says:

    I worked at Best Buy for years, and we used to see iPods come in all the time. The thing was, we sold so ridiculously many of them that even for maybe seeing a dozen or so on a weekend day, we would sell (including the shuffles) maybe 50 a day… and we were seeing the same people come in time and time again indicating either a lemon or the customer was causing the issues.

    Anyway, I’ve had great luck with Apple products and horrible luck… I’ve also had great and terrible luck with Toshiba, or Sony, and HP, and even parts like BFG graphics cards and Kingston and Corsair memory.

    Anyway the point is… its all cheap. Cheaply made and Cheaply priced compared to how much it would cost to last a much much longer time. I buy electronics realizing teh reason they are so affordable is because they won’t last fifteen years. If I had a problem with that…

    I wouldn’t buy them.

  11. weave says:

    My first generation ipod still works just fine. It’s five years old. Now I admit I don’t use it everyday, maybe only a few times a month, which is probably why. I don’t do a full charge/discharge everyday and that’s what uses up the battery.

    If you use your ipod for a full charge cycle everyday that’s like 6-10 hours of use per day. If it dies after about 400 complete charge cycles, I’d think you got your money out of that battery.

  12. Buran says:

    @JayThree: It’s kind of hard to overcome the shortcomings of battery chemistry, no matter how much money you have.

    Replace the battery or have a thirdparty service do it for you, and don’t drop it. Then you’re set.

  13. Falconfire says:

    @David Bixenspan: I have and only after 5 years did the hard drive on my iPod 1st gen go. The problem with iPods over other Apple products which last decades (yes decades, people still use SE 30’s for email servers) is that the iPod by design gets subjected to a much larger amount of wear and tear. But if you treat your iPod right (which I would venture to guess 80% of people out there do not) your not likely to have a failure.

  14. voteccow says:

    I’ve gotten a couple things repaired or replaced outside of the warranty. My PS2 was 2 years outside the warranty and I figured I’d just give it a shot and call sony to see what they would say, low and behold the person on the other end said that since they couldn’t diagnose the problem over the phone, they’d fix it for free. Mind you this was the launch unit PS2 model. They sent me a box with prepaid postage and I sent it out, three days later I received a unit with replaced parts working good as new. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to try to see if the company will do something for you. I also had a Nintendo DS Lite replaced that way.

  15. ColoradoShark says:

    @jurijuri: Amen to that. Very cool to upgrade my 80GB drive to 300GB so the Tivo holds 150 hours instead of 40 hours.

  16. Mr.Purple says:

    @Amy
    Digital Society all the way!
    digsoc.com

  17. kable2 says:

    I am a electrical engineer so I can tell you, yes planned obsolescence is real. That and to make electronics that last longer costs a few cents more, this adds up when you are making thousands of units.

    also remember that todays cutting edge tech is next years doorstop.

  18. acasto says:

    I think the term “planned obsolescence” gives many companies more credit than they deserve. It implies they have the ability to engineer something intended to fail after a certain time. I think the terms “crap” and “cutting corners” would be much better to describe it; early obsolescence just happens to be a side effect of this, making it appear planned. Unfortunately for us consumers, it is hard to find a quality product period these days.

    As far as real planned obsolescence goes, I think it is a combination of hardware/manufacturing, software, the current state of technology, etc… all woven around a bunch of companies leeching off other companies. It doesn’t have to be hardware failure that makes something obsolete. Microsoft definitely does their part by almost forcing people into their latest releases of software. The hardware companies see this, and probably figure there’s no use in building something to last for ten years because it’ll be worthless (as far as Bill/Steve is concerned) in less than three. This coupled with cutting corners to drive down price, thus driving down quality, results in an environment where it’s just cheaper to buy a new gadget than fix the old one.

    I think another part is simply marketing and consumer education. Motherboard problems aside, you can make a computer (desktop or laptop) last for a long time if you don’t think of it as a singular unit. The hard drive is probably the most likely to fail device period. The fact they can be as mobile as they are operating at the speeds they do, is impressive they do last and run so well. Anyways, if you know enough about something to care for it, upgrade it, repair it, you can make most stuff last a long long time. I’ve only ever threw out one computer in my life; and that was because lightning scorched it’s insides. I even have two Pentium 166 laptops at work that still function. One old Thinkpad is just sitting there, but can still boot to Win95, and the other Dell Latitude is controlling a serial remote reboot switch, running 24/7.

  19. Bay State Darren says:

    I’ve heard about DIY’ing a new battery for an iPod (never heard about the logic board). Anybody have any experience?

  20. TonyTriple says:

    What is this world coming to when “planned obsolescence” takes the form of battery replacement. Really…wow.

  21. Televiper says:

    Planned Obsolescence is not designing a fail date into the product. It’s basically this: As you release produce “A” to the market, you already have plan for product “B” because you already have reliable prediction for when product “A” will no longer be profitable.

    There’s also a lot of things like household appliances that consumers won’t pay for. So they build them so cheaply they’re impossible to service. The biggest issue there is plastic. Plastic is extremely difficult to repair effectively when it cracks. It also ages poorly, looses it’s colour, becomes brittle.

    I still believe the vast majority of modern consumer devices either go directly to the dump, get shelved for dust collection, or get submitted to severe abuse long before they reach the end of their life.

  22. leejames says:

    I can vouch for llama.com for Xbox repair. The staff were very polite and answered all my questions when I needed a new DVD player for my Xbox. The guides were very extensive, too. I recommend them to friends that don’t take a broken Xbox as a cue to upgrade to an also-break-prone Xbox 360

  23. cde says:

    @Televiper: No, planned obsolescence IS designing a fail date into the product, or an usable life where the chances of it still working go from 90% to 10% over night. Like dell batteries that stop working for no apparent reason just a month or two out of warranty. Those little microchip processors on the batteries can do more then just regulate charging.

  24. Televiper says:

    @cde:
    Come on enough with the conspiracy theories. That’s called FAILING not going obsolete. You CANNOT design a battery to fail on a particular date especially when you can’t predict it’s operating parameters. The warranty is based on what they know about the battery’s life-cycle. When it fails within 2 months people blame planned obsolescence. There are millions of Dell batteries that work well beyond the warranty date. The only thing I missed from the general definition of planned obsolescence is the part where the obsolescence is purposely designed in. If a battery stops working it’s called a “field failure.” If a battery is no longer useful because it’s basic design is no longer competitive or simply isn’t compatible with a major segment of the market it’s called “obsolete.” If the battery is simply very old but there’s still demand for it, it’s called “legacy.” If a battery is no longer manufactured it’s called “End of Life.”

    When something fails just outside of warranty it’s called a COINCIDENCE. Especially since lithium-ion batteries are subject to aging.

  25. Televiper says:

    From: [batteryuniversity.com]

    “Aging is a concern with most lithium-ion batteries and many manufacturers remain silent about this issue. Some capacity deterioration is noticeable after one year, whether the battery is in use or not. The battery frequently fails after two or three years. It should be noted that other chemistries also have age-related degenerative effects. This is especially true for nickel-metal-hydride if exposed to high ambient temperatures. At the same time, lithium-ion packs are known to have served for five years in some applications. “

  26. mac-phisto says:

    the hardest part for me is getting parts, that’s how i know the obsolescence is planned. servicing many electronics is simply impossible b/c parts are scarce or non-existent. this may not be true w/ CEs that have high penetration, but try getting replacement parts or even an exploded view for anything else & you’re pretty much screwed.

    that’s why i think companies are having such a hard time servicing units anymore – well, that & the fact that most service centers are staffed by low-wage board swappers instead of skilled electronics personnel. even finding an accessory part (such as a proprietary charging cable) can be a chore as soon as a year after purchase. companies used to have stockpiles of parts like this a decade ago – today it seems like you’re lucky if they have even salvaged parts from a scrapped repair unit in inventory.

  27. cde says:

    @Televiper: Then what about when the cells, taken out of the “dead” batteries, are put in with the electronics of a “new” battery, and all of a sudden work again?

  28. cde says:

    @mac-phisto: It’s like cars where you can’t get the specific switch or part you need, but have to get the entire sub-assembly. Can’t replace the 20 dollar feul sensor if you don’t buy the 340 dollar fuel tank/pump assembly.

  29. FLConsumer says:

    A couple comments:

    1) Batteries:
    Batteries CAN be made to have a longer life… but at the expense of runtime. Thicker plates = fewer plates per battery, which gives less capacity, but a longer lifespan for the battery. manufacturers know this and are usually most interested in capacity (how long the device will run per charge) rather than life of the battery.

    2) Buy better quality stuff!
    I stopped buying consumer-level gear a long time ago. I either buy enterprise/industrial computer equipment or broadcast/industrial audiovisual equipment. Sure, these items will cost more and may not have all of the features of your lower-priced consumer gear, but it can take a tremendous beating, will continue to run for decades, and the manufacturers will stand behind their products. The real benefit are the huge performance gains. Audiophiles spend (waste) thousands of dollars on snake oil & snazzy-looking audio equipment, trying to get that “right there at the recording sound.” Psst.. Let me let those folks in on a little secret — just buy the recording studio gear. Then you’ll be able to hear it exactly as it was recorded.

  30. Televiper says:

    @cde:

    “Then what about when the cells, taken out of the “dead” batteries, are put in with the electronics of a “new” battery, and all of a sudden work again?”

    For me it usually means someone is doing a really shoddy job at debugging. Common sense says that the electronics failed. Common sense says that in practically ALL Dell batteries would die within a year after the 2 year warranty.

    Also… most electronic components found in an automobile are standard off the shelf affairs. Simply put, the Auto-industry doesn’t want to run it’s own sub-sector of the component industry. Go to Digikey, Newark, or Mouser with the correct part number and for the most part they can help you. But, there are custom components, and components that simply don’t get sold in onsies and twosies.

  31. Major-General says:

    @TonyTriple: It is when the battery is designed not to be replaced by the end user.

  32. OwenCatherwood says:

    Planned obsolescence is more of a factor in other areas than computers, in such areas as vacuums, microwaves, toasters, etc. where a company’s only hope for continued revenue is to intentionally design the product with lower-quality parts in the hopes it breaks and the consumer will be forced to come back and buy a new one. In these areas, it’s been going on since the 1920s, when companies looked for ways to generate extra cash outside of having the “superior” product.

  33. rockergal says:

    I guess I am a rebel, since I never owned an ipod, I bought a cheaper mp3 player (Phillips) that had more features than an ipod and it still works.

  34. bohemian says:

    This biggest factor in planned obsolescence is lack of parts, well and crappy non repairable parts like plastic.

    You can’t fix that item when you can’t get parts or proper repair diagrams anywhere.

    My favorite still is Dell’s power supply and motherboard scam. They used proprietary versions of both in their cheap desktop PCs. When either one went there was no way to fudge a standard part for the proprietary one unless you replaced both the motherboard and power supply together. Both parts were about $360 each from Dell.

  35. theblackdog says:

    Why hasn’t anyone mentioned cell phones? Those suckers could last for years if the cell phone companies weren’t always playing the “You need a new phone or you won’t have any friends” card.

    Then again, I don’t really want to give up my cell phone now because I just hacked it to remove Verizon crippling the phone features :-D

  36. theblackdog says:

    How about cell phones, you can make those suckers last for years, and since some are finally standardizing their batteries, you can get replacements for a long time.

    Besides, now that my phone is out of warranty, I hacked it to get rid of Verizon’s crippling software :-D

  37. balthisar says:

    Wow! I’ve never had any significant problems with any electronic products other than hard drives (which I guess you can say means I’ve had problems with Apple computers, home made computers, TiVos, but not yet iPods). Makes sense, since this mechanical component is the weak link in electronics systems.

    My TiVo is a Sony first gen, my iPod is whatever generation was popular in ’03, my computers are replaced because I wanted Intel rather than PPC, but they were running strong and still sold used for more than most PC’s sell for new.

    Do you people abuse all your stuff, or what”?

  38. orielbean says:

    For the do-it-yourself-ers out there – if you open up your device and are looking to resolder or generally mess around with the stuff inside, always be sure to remove the battery and safely discharge your capacitors. That way, if you short the board, ground it out somewhere, or pour liquids on it, it has a much higher chance of surviving and not discharging its amps into you and your heart.

    Just a tip.

  39. drummer_kev says:

    @ BAY STATE DARREN

    I replaced my iPod Generation 1 battery with one from Newer Technology that had 50% more power for $20. Fantastic investment and they included installation tools which made it a snap.

  40. bdgbill says:

    I can’t remember the last time I had somethng electronic fixed.

    Think it was the hard drive in my first laptop. I had paid about $300.00 for a warranty through Best Buy (a mistake I have not repeated since).

    They had the machine for 8 weeks and returned it with no operating system.

    By the time I got it back I had long since bought another machine.

    By the time electronic stuff breaks there is usually a much better product available for half the price you paid for the broken machine. That added to all the work required to ship things and communicate with the repair center is just not worth it.

  41. slapBOXmaster says:

    Don’t use tekserve unless you are a business looking to spent extra cash. Anything you can get there you can get online or even the apple store for alot less. I can’t speak for the repair service but general sales are a total ripoff.

  42. flackman says:

    @orielbean: We beat us to this very important step. Especially when we are dealing with power supplies, we need to make sure our capacitors are discharged. This is a fairly simple process I encourage us to look for on the Google. Capacitors may hold a charge for a long time after the power supply is removed!

  43. jeffeb3 says:

    I had a laptop that a friend of mine gave me because the power connection on the MB was broken. He figured that it would cost more than the LT was worth just to replace the MB, but I bought another connector on ebay for $6 and soldered it on. For some reason it doesn’t quite fit together exactly right, but it’s a great machine for my grandmother, who just uses it for dial up email.

  44. Trackback says:

    Planned obsolescence is a truism of our times. When we buy something, we expect it to have been constructed not to last as long as possible, but to last just long enough to satisfy the consumer and convince us to buy from the same manufacturer.

  45. mermaidshoes says:

    FYI, apple has an ipod battery replacement program. if your ipod is giving you trouble only because of a dead/dying battery, you can get a new ipod (of the same type that you had) for about $60: [www.apple.com]

    i did this with my third gen ipod after nearly 3 years of almost-daily use, and the replacement ipod lasted about 1.5 years. my nano has been going for a year and shows no signs of stopping.

  46. sxs says:

    @Falconfire: You bring up a good point regarding the frequency of usage and its impact on an item’s lifespan. I use my ipod every day and carry it everywhere. I live in Manhattan, where almost everyone I know does the same thing. The frequent use may explain why most people I know go through, on average, an ipod every 18 months. – and mind you, I keep mine in a hard-shell case! I just got the motherboard on mine replaced and had the screen replaced on my last one (I go to portatronics, where they do on the spot repairs)- the cost of the repairs is high enough that I know a lot of people just fork out for a new ipod. Personally, I marvel that we all continue to buy the things when they seem to break all the time!

  47. @m4nea: That’s ludicrous. The problem is that you’ve been completely brainwashed into the idea that if a piece of electronics lasts for 5 years, it’s “well-made”. My father, an electrical engineer, bought a whole German-made stereo system back in 1979 that remained TOP QUALITY until 2006, when it retired with honours. Even then, only the amplifier crapped out. And even THEN, it was only a single, single piece which unfortunately did not exist anymore.

    There is no reason in the world that an electronic device cannot last for 20 to 30 years. Easy.

  48. vitonfluorcarbon says:

    Some products are just plain junk. No question about it. I don’t think I’d put any mentioned in this article (based on some people’s repsonses not every agrees with me) in that category. While the xBOX is not junk, they definitely have a DESIGN or QUALITY issue or would not be extending everyone’s warranty.

    Most companies do not plan obsolescense for their own financial gain, but they do design a product to meet certain design life goals. The design life goals are based on time, hours of usage, miles, etc., depending on the product. Any good company will determine what the balance between useful life and affordability to purchase to arrive at a design life goal, typically referred to as the B10 life. A product may have an anticipated B10 life of 2000 hours of use, which means that of everything that is produced, one can expect statistically that 90% will be in service with over 2000 hours of use, which is not too bad if the company sets the life goal to be consistent with customer expectations for the product they manufacture.

    Anything could be built to last forever, but how much more are you willing to pay? Is there any value in designing a car to last for 30 years, when most people won’t keep them longer than 10 years?

    I don’t work in automotive, but I met an analyst consultant from Europe who has. He asked me about the B10 life of the equipment I work on. I answered his question, and then asked what a typical design life was for automotive applications. He told me 300,000 km (187,500 miles) for most European manufacturers. He did not know the goals for the US companies.

  49. SOhp101 says:

    Electronics can last for much longer but the reality remains that high end electronics are sold and marketed for their status appeal (ipods easily fit into this category–much more expensive than other mp3 players). People who frequently shop in this category are usually looking for the next new thing anyway so performance/features precedes longevity.

    Like someone said earlier, if lifespan is extremely important, buy a commercial/industrial grade product.

  50. olegna says:

    The only Apple product I have is an iMac, acquired in January and dead pixels are starting to appear in the built-in LCD screen. (Firefox doesn’t work very well on Macs either, which I blame on Mac not Mozilla, probably trying to get everyone to just stick with Safari.) No big deal, just press the pixel with your finger and it snaps back to normal, but for a nine-month-old computer with a built-in monitor, this is annoying considering I have much older LCD screens that haven’t had dying pixels appearing. Also: the Imac gives me the “spinning disc of death” (forcing me to re-start) a lot more than my Windows-based generic desktop and Dell laptop running Windows does. I’m not a Windows fanboy or anything, it’s just that Linux is still too undeveloped to runn the apps I need to run — but I am planning on experimenting with it some more with my laptop. (So, no, I’m not here to plug Microsoft OS, just annoyed by the knee-jerk defense by the Apple fans every time somebody points out a legitimate issue.)

    Anyway, the iPod might work fabulous like everyone says — and indeed you might “get your money’s worth” out of the battery, but clearly Apple designs its products to encourage customers to toss out working components and just buy the new version. (After all: it’s easier and more appealing to just buy the newest iPod than to mail in the old one to have a battery replaced, or pry it open yourself with a screwdriver and DIY, saving you over $50 and wait time.) This makes economic sense to Apple since the profit margin is greater for people buying new products as they’re unveiled. Apple encourages you to toss out the old and buy new every nine months. For all of Micrisoft’s weaknesses, it was interesting that it re-introduced Windows XP on pre-loaded machines (sold by Dell) because of the demand. Apple would NEVER do anything like that, and Apple fans are so interested in being part of the Zeigeist that they wouldn’t consider sticking with what works.

    However, locking batteries inside iPod is friggin’ annoying and I don’t understand why Apple fans defend stuff like that.

    The iPhone is designed the same way. Isn’t it weird that the iPhone is the only phone in existence that you have to MAIL IN TO THE MANUFACTURER to change a battery? A sucker born every minute, I guess.

    PS – I can’t change the Hard drive on my iMac because it’s not designed for anyone buy licensed Mac “Geniuses” to do it for you — so Apple is also designing products so Apple users have to go to Apple stores to reaplace hard drives any 11-year-old with basic knowledge of computers can can change.