I'm a one-man shop.

Have a few separate computer systems:

  • Primary desktop workhorse where 90% of my work is completed.
  • Laptop, capable of some work (apps installed), but in general used for communication, etc while traveling
  • Various tablets/smart phones never really used for "work" but maybe communication.

This past weekend I had what appears to be a video card issue in my primary system. I can work, but it's taken me from 3-30" monitors down to 1 monitor. Still able to work, but I feel exceptionally hobbled.

I live in a small town and can't just run out for a new video card - ordered one online but it'll be 2 days before it arrives.

So, my main workstation is crippled, but functional.

This got me to wondering. What if the main system died entirely and was unusable. What's a good backup plan for such an instance?

I can't always stall for 3-4 days and wait for a new system, then spend 3-4 more days installing software, etc/ to get it in working condition. A week of unscheduled unavailability is generally far too much.

I'm hesitant to just set up a second system as a backup due to costs. I'd really never need it except in emergencies but cost for the hardware/software licenses could easily approach 5 figures. That seems untenable from a business perspective. In the past I've used the laptop for a week while waiting on a new system. But due to the speed of technology, the laptop is now out of date and possibly underpowered. It could be used, but it would probably mean working at less than 30% of my normal speed.

Data isn't an issue. I have triple redundant backups and even with a complete utter system failure I can be back up and running in a day at most if the hardware is functional.

I have tons of spare hard drives. So if a drive dies, I'm covered.

I have an extra HDTV that, in a pinch, can be used as a (horrible) monitor.

But what about actual hardware failures - CPU, video card, power supplies, etc.?

(Note I'm a Mac-based office. Always have been [20+ years]. So, it's not like I can have an extra power supply for my MacPro laying around.)

I'm thinking about possibly something like an iMac.. but spending a couple grand for a system I don't really need is troubling me.

If there were a place local that rented systems, I'd consider that. One-day rental of an adequate system runs in the neighborhood of $300 though. That seems ridiculous. In fact for a week of rental I may as well buy another system.

How to do you prepare for unforeseen equipment issues?

  • FYI after spending a bit of money on a new video card.. turns out BOTH my (very expensive) 30" monitors died a few hours apart. Replacing them with 2 new 4K displays has got me back to full working capabilities again... but I gotta point out.. these 4K displays are nowhere near the quality my Apple 30" Cinema displays were -- there was a reason they cost a bit originally. But I suppose 10-15 years of use is good enough.
    – Scott
    Oct 26, 2016 at 0:35
  • Wow that sounds like a nice electric oveload in your wiring, having all these devices die togheter (or the video card dieing gave a shock to the monitors). Reminds me when I had several malfunctional primary and backup HD's after a thunderstorm, spent days for data recovering. For the displays AFAIK nowadays Apple mounts LG and Samsung panels for it's monitors, so probably the good times are gone :) BTW I always used Dell Ultrasharp (Spyder4-calibrated) and I always had very good print-monitor color correspondence.
    – Mario
    Oct 28, 2016 at 7:37
  • Well I've got 2 new Samsung 4k Displays... but they really do pale in comparison to the Apple monitors. (Of course they cost 1/4 as much too) :)
    – Scott
    Oct 28, 2016 at 15:17

3 Answers 3


Preparing for unforeseen equipment issues is a problem for any small enterprise, especially when it comes to critical hardware.

The only answer is to not rely on any one piece of equipment. The net can solve this quite adequetely for critical software backups and files (like email, accounting, quotes, invoices, contracts, graphics, video etc) through the cloud and if not entirely free, entirely reasonably priced.

As for 'my most powerful machine that I use for everything but cannot afford two of' then so be it. What exactly is the problem with a two day or three day recovery period. So a smaller less powerful machine or infrastructure is a PITA but it is an emergency measure. Short term.

Personally I have my big office machine, that I back up important files to a separate hard drive. Critical files are on the cloud and accessible from any device. I also have my beautiful laptop, that I can use quite comfortably for any task, and do so from home or customer sites as and when I want to. The loss of either my big bertha or my sleek laptop would not leave me stranded. But at home I also have my 'other' PC that I keep just in case. I make sure all three are able to operate. If my office burned down with my laptop in it, I would have my home PC. If my Laptop and home PC burned down I have my office PC. If some virus took out my home and office PC I have my laptop. If something happened to all three all my critical files are in the cloud or on my portable hard drive. If the internet collapsed I have my own copies of files. I am not sure what more I could do, and believe me, things have often happened that has meant I have had to revert to one of the backups or the other.

The car analogy is a good one. You cannot afford two cars, to have a back up in the garage at all times. But you do have access to care hire, emergency recovery or break down assistance. Or you can go out and buy a new car. Or take a taxi. It is the same with hardware, either have a spare, or have the means to get a spare and recover all your critical software.

How do I prepare for critical equipment issues? I have a backup or a spare. That is not the only answer, but for me is the best one.


It's really annoying when things like that happens :( that happened to me too a few times...

I work mainly in two offices (I would say 50-50), the main bigger home office and a second very small office in another city, also often I work at client's place so it's very important for me to be 100% mobile.

This is my setup in the main office:

  1. A desk with a powerful mobile workstation connected to a docking station, to this I connect one 24" monitor, speakers, network, keyboard, etc. It acts like a desktop workstation and this is my main work computer.
  2. A second desk with a mini tower workstation with a 24" monitor, which is essentially a clone of #1. I use Adobe software bundles that by licence are installable on two computers, other than that I use mainly Open Source software for coding, office, etc, so I don't have big expenses for double licences. This is the backup worstation in case the first has problems, but usually I use both togheter for different tasks or batches (or to occasionally watch stream tv or listen to music :) ).
  3. NAS with two 3Tb HD's in RAID 1, with remote access (personal cloud), so I can access my backup files from anywhere. Here are made daily backups of the data of the two computers.
  4. Network color laser printer, photographic printer, other devices...
  5. Small photo studio.

At the second small office I have:

  1. A desk exacly like #1 of main office with docking station, 24" monitor,etc. When I go from an office to another I just unplug the mobile workstation and plug it in the other docking station, so I have my same workplace in the two offices.
  2. A single disk 3Tb NAS with remote access.
  3. Economic printer.

When I go at client's office I just use the mobile workstation itself.

Note: all the monitors are calibrated so they match each others so I have no problems with colors.

With me I always bring a good computer case with my mobile workstation, tablet, rechargers, briefcase with papers, and all the basics.

So in case of main pc failure I have the clone desktop workstation where I can work with no problems, I'm also used to use only one 24" monitor so I don't feel in difficulty for this aspect. Also I do daily backups in 2 different NAS so I can access anytime the data from anywhere. I also use external HD's for on the fly backups or if I have many Gb to save or process.

  • But see, you essentially have 2 systems. (Which is great) My main workstation is cost prohibitive to replicate. It's not as simple as a laptop with an external monitor. -- I don't need it to be portable, and it really isn't :) I'm not concerned about actual data... triple redundant backups and haven't lost 1 byte in decades. My issue is more about hardware and whether or not I should invest in a largely unused system "just in case" - but I also realize that's kind of my choice.
    – Scott
    Oct 25, 2016 at 0:06
  • If you need to travel by car to somewhere and the car get broken, to keep going you need another car or a quick fix :) maybe in your case will be helpful to obtain a "same day (or 1 day) on site assistance" service. I buy D**l computers and they offer this type of service, for example.
    – Mario
    Oct 25, 2016 at 5:08
  • Not feasible at all. But interesting.
    – Scott
    Oct 25, 2016 at 6:10

I had an office with all the gear I needed, but struggled with too many random failures. Then I got a large UPS, which also conditioned the power line. Mysteriously, my hardware failures stopped.

Your failure of 2 monitors suspiciously close to the same time suggests a power line problem. My recommendation, then, is to get a good, large UPS. It won't cover all your bases, because gear can fail for other reasons, but it sure is good "insurance".

  • Good point. But I do already have 3 high-end UPS systems. Unfortunately one of them had a battery that was in need of replacement. I think that was the issue in this particular case.
    – Scott
    Nov 2, 2016 at 16:17

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