I still use my laptop from 5 years ago without any problem and could see me using it for another 5 (fingers crossed). I only use it alittle (web browsing and word processing so it doesn't get a lot of wear and tear).
This question is very much dependent on how you use your laptop though. My wife uses hers heavily and it started to break down after 2-3 years (laptops get very hot which can damage or reduce performance of parts).
There is also the important question of what you use it for, if you like to play games or do things that require more processing power you'll be forced to update every year or 2 simply to stay with the times.
Laptops have two weakness 1) Heat, and 2) Hard Drives. Heat can destroy a computer quickly so it pays to open it up at least once a year and clean out the dust. Use canned air to do the job - DO NOT use a vacuum.
Hard drives usually last around 5 years or so. After that, the disk is pretty much a ticking time bomb. Replace the drive and your laptop will last much longer.
The lifespan of your laptop will have to depend on the specific brand that you own. It will also depend on how your take care and value your possession.
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The lifespan of a laptop (or any device really) depends on many factors, but if it is well taken care of it could last for many years.
As CWanamaker said, avoid heat if possible and keep it clean. If you do open it to clean it yourself, remember to touch something to release static electricity and if you open laptops or desktops often, they sell bracelets to help with this. Static electricity can destroy it quick.
You also want to keep updated anti-virus software to keep a virus from destroying the lifespan from within.
In general, I've noticed that laptops live two years less than desktops with a much sharper decline in performance. In general, I would say a laptop lasts 3-4 years and a desktop lasts 5-6 years. If you take really good care of your computer, it can last longer, but I don't really recommend laptops anymore.
I'm not sure what the "official word" is on this, but mine have lasted about 3-4 years, on average. I use the heck out of them (self-employed from home, sometimes working 12 hours a day and almost always 7 days a week), but they're well-protected from software threats so it's always been some kind of hardware breakdown. Good news is, by time one finally keels over, it's waaaaaay behind machines that are now in the same price range as the old one was when it was bought new.
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