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November 10th, 2015

System Requirements: When Is ‘Enough’ Enough?

Old hardware. Laptops in one corner, sitting in a crooked series of piles, some of them just daring someone to try their luck, with one pile looking as if someone, at one time or another, succumbed to that dare. That’s what I found when I arrived at the business warehouse that was donating Reglue a number of laptops and other peripherals — things such as mice, keyboards and 500GB hard drives.

Old computers

While the warehouse guy went to get some paperwork, I began looking through some of the donations, taking a closer look at this “obsolete” hardware. Most of these were Dells, but there were also a mixed number of Sony, HP and Toshiba laptops and notebooks. The lack of MacBooks was obvious.

I begin going through some of the piles, making a new pile; as I inspected each one, I set it down neatly to the side of me. Dell Latitude D620s seemed to rule most of the piles, along with a mix of Dell Latitude D820s and a few Sony Vaio X series netbooks mixed in. In other piles I found a lot of ASUS EeePCs, with various releases included. The other laptops were all Acer Travel Mates and HP dv6000 laptops.

All of these laptops were dual cores or core duos with 4GB or more of RAM already installed. Some of them came with USB powered DVD/CD ROM devices, outside of the actual laptop. I think what gathered my enthusiasm the most was the amount of machines that had obviously been well taken care of. Aside from one other generous hardware donor, this was the best donation we had received in a long time. I was ready for the warehouse guy to slap his forehead and tell me there was a mistake and these were not the laptops we were looking for.

But to my point…

This level of laptop, for us, is a fantastic donation and most of these laptops will last our Reglue kids for a number of years. However, I was, and still am, a bit confused as to how the laptop has evolved. I am finding laptops with dual six core chips with up to 64GB of RAM. I am left with my mouth hanging half open as I read the specs of some of these machines.

I have run a few VMs at a time and used a 16GB RAM machine to do it. I also ran a number of BOINC projects on this machine too, but it was a desktop with several 120mm and 80mm fans, and blow holes in the top along with the many vents on each side. Outside of that, it served as a foot warmer in the winter if ever used at all.

Will there come a day when these are considered “old” and donated to organizations such as Reglue? How about a gaming rig that runs into five figures. Can you imagine that? I can’t.

I am sitting next to an Intel quad core with 12GB RAM and sundry hard drives and backup drives across two IP addresses. I consider that excessive, but do you know why I built it? Because I could, and I assume that’s the same motive for many of us who are skilled enough to build our own computers.

However, I am beginning to question my motives.

There is no escaping the fact that outside of commerce or government there is little need for a computer with an octa-core chip with 32GB of RAM. And yeah, it’s nice to have that horsepower, but in actuality, how many of us really need it?

When I take a computer to a Reglue Kid, the specs on the machines are pretty much the same: a minimum of a dual core with 4GB RAM. For music and engineering students, I will bump the RAM up to 8 gb if necessary. However, that isn’t always cost effective because the cost of many models of DDR2 PC2 RAM has gone through the frickin’ roof, and to bring one of our kids up to an 8GB upgrade can cost as much as $150. In those cases, (and they are few) I’ll build them a computer from the motherboard up, using the current RAM in use at the time.

And the subject always comes up in these discussions: I am advised to seek a distro with less of a application footprint, to choose a “lite” distro. First off, the term “lite” irritates me greatly. I associate the term with “miserly” and “stingy.” I can do that, but it would be nothing but a disservice and frustration to the child getting the computer. (S)he’s not going to be able to use it for many academic uses, so why would I do that? That’s not going to happen at Reglue. But when the computer is going to be used for nothing but research and simple word documents and presentations, then yes, a “lite” version such as Lubuntu is used often.

The truth is, none of what I or Reglue does would be possible without the GNU/Linux desktop and software. In our case, hundreds of kids have a computer in the home whereas without Linux, we could not have given that computer to them.

So, all of this to ask you one question…

When will the madness of the need for ever increasing hardware specs stop? When will enough be enough? There are a lot of people who want to know your opinion.

**********

Reglue needs a new delivery vehicle in order to continue its mission to deliver computers to school children who can’t afford them. You can help by visiting its Indiegogo page.

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

32 comments to System Requirements: When Is ‘Enough’ Enough?

  • Eddie G.

    Well since no one else is going to answer I will. First of all there is a strange, almost perverse push by the media to go bigger, to go faster, to go higher, to go farther. It never seems to end, this incessant push to outdo last year’s model. Do you know what the difference is between a Galaxy Note 4 and a Galaxy Note 5?….aside from some background changes, and maybe a bigger screen NOTHING! So why do people go crazy for the next iteration of the “same old thing” with a new set of makeup? (This was my number 2 reason for leaving MS behind, I saw that 98….2000…..NT 4.0……Me…..Vista…XP ..7….8….10….are pretty much the same thing with different looks to ’em give or take an application here or there!) But If your laptop or desktop still works fine, why is there this need to replace it with the latest an greatest which will EVENTUALLY become “outdated, old junk”? I

    I think the main reason is: If we all stopped chasing New & Improved? A lot of companies would go under and not survive. A LOT of different industries rely on making you feel like you’re inferior if you’re using last years model, color, flavor, size, setup etc. I don’t know exactly how much more difference there can be between a Dell Inspiron laptop from two years ago, that had 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD, and one that has 8GB of RAM and a 128 SSD….aside from faster boot times and snappier response from the SSD. But does that makes the 500GB machine obsolete? No. I think the problem is people aren’t focused like they used to be. There was a time people would buy things…a car….a phone..a laptop…a desktop PC and they would use it until it couldn’t go anymore, nowadays?….people only have to hear about the next iPhone coming out before they stand in lines at 4AM waiting to buy one for over $700.00!What’s wrong with this picture? I myself have a few machines that are considered “old”…(A Gateway laptop running Fedora Linux, a Sony Vaio with 4GB RAM and a 320GB HD, I have a Compaq….another Sony, a small Dell Latitude and another HP. These machines aren’t even all functioning right now, but I can have them repaired and install any version of Linux on them in a jiffy. I will be holding on to my machines for as long as they can survive. by the time I’m ready to buy a new machine?…they’ll be nothing but a thin piece of glass, with touch ability and hover-mode!

  • Duncan

    I ran my last machine, an old dual-socket (originally server targeted Tyan) 3-digit Opteron system, purchased in 2003 IIRC, into the ground. It lasted eight years, and was still running if I kept the room it was in cold enough… 60F/15C or so, when I finally declared it dead. This is Phoenix, and that in the summer was both cost prohibitive and hugely uncomfortable — here, people put on sweaters and jackets when the temp drops below 80F/25C, and I was sitting there in 105F/40C outside temps dressed up in a winter jacket, sweats under jeans, and a knit hat and gloves, trying to keep the computer running at least long enough to get a good feel for street prices for a replacement I definitely couldn’t afford in the middle of the great recession.

    I had upgraded it over the years, sure, to a pair of top-of-the-line dual-core Opteron 290s (from the original 242s) and 8 gig of DDR1 RAM (from the original half gig). I’m running gentoo, built and updated from sources, so that was actually a usable upgrade.

    I knew the thing like the back of my hand, too, every driver for a custom Linux kernel, the NUMA options since it was dual socket and thus dual memory controller (with the memory controllers in the CPUs), the AGP config and using part of the configured AGP space to avoid having to bump-buffer reads to still 32-bit-only PCI… everything, which was why I was so reluctant to part with it. Plus the mobo was a Tyan server board that originally cost me $400 plus for the mobo alone, and my goal, unfortunately not to be, was 10 years out of the thing. But when I took it apart that last time, I saw what the problem was, the infamous bulging/exploded capacitors thing, from mobos of that era. I even thought about trying to replace them, but decided it simply wasn’t cost effective to try, either professionally due to the labor involved, or on my own due to the risk that it still wouldn’t work or would blow out for some other reason in days or months.

    Fortunately, because I really /didn’t/ have the funds for a replacement at the time, Fry’s Electronics gave me a $2000 limit credit card, which was way more than enough. High interest but I used less than $600 of it and paid it off early as my job luck changed right around that time.

    Now I’m running a 6-core AMD Bulldozer1 based fx6100 cpu, overclocked slightly to 3.6 GHz, 16 gig DDR3, PCIE, USB3, SATA3, AHCI… I threw in the old drives and an expansion card using the old SATA1 chipset I had drivers compiled for (I don’t build drivers I don’t use so would have had to go to the library and download something to boot with, otherwise) to do the switch to the new mobo — I upgraded to a PCIE Radeon card but my old AGP card was Radeon too so that was fine — and then rebuilt the kernel with drivers for the AHCI standard, which hopefully shouldn’t be as hard to keep compatibility with on the next upgrade.

    Since then I’ve upgraded to a pair of SSDs running btrfs in raid1 mode for everything but the media partition, which is still on spinning rust, and I’ve looked at upgrading the cpu — since I can and parallel kde update builds could certainly put more cores to use if I had ’em — but I’ve really felt no need to.

    OTOH, once I was out of the financial doldrums of the great recession, I /did/ upgrade my monitors, now three full-hd 1920×1080, two of which are actually TVs since at their size, 42 and 48 inch, it’s cheaper to buy TVs and simply not use the tuner (I’ve not watched TV since I got fedup with the ads and inability to do the on-demand I got on the web since sometime last century), than to buy actual monitors of the same technology but without the tuner. They’re stacked one over the other on one wall, with the old 21-inch monitor from my previous generation still connected as the third monitor on another wall.

    My next goal is an 80-inch 4k, effectively very close to two of those TV stacks next to each other. But I didn’t buy the LED TVs (here in Phoenix, nearly 24-hours a day about nine months of the year and some of the day many days the other three months) power for a computer or TV is paid for twice, once to power the device, and again to pump the heat outside via AC, so LED TVs/monitors really make a difference!) until full-hd 42-inchers dropped to $400, and with an 80-inch 4k being roughly four times that, I’m not planning on getting it until I’m looking at $2000 or so, so it’s likely to be a year from now or more.

    BTW, I didn’t yet mention, did I, that one benefit of switching from MS that I’ve really appreciated, is that now there’s more to spend on the hardware. =:^)

    But the 42-inchers fill one wall now, and the 80-incher will fill a different one, so there will be nowhere really to go from there, unless I upgrade houses, which is is a FAR more expensive proposition, basically out of my price range. After that, it’ll be maintain-only, pretty much, tho I imagine by then I’ll be ready for that CPU upgrade at least.

    I did have a generation 1.5 netbook (Acer Aspire One) somewhere in there as well, but it was 32-bit only, and is long since gone. I don’t do cellphones as I don’t like the location tracing or the semi-proprietary even androids are, and I’ve never been able to cost-justify them in any case, tho with free wifi so many places now, I’ve thought my next portable might be an amd64-based chromebook or possibly tablet, with the original OS wiped and gentoo installed (amd64-based so I can easily share packages built just once on my main machine). But that’ll likely be after the 4k 80-inch, as well.

    As for that current mobo, it’s (Gigabit) U3 level so heavy copper traces and mil-grade caps. Maybe it actually /will/ last me the decade that Tyan didn’t, due to those leaky caps. Tho the Tyan lasted 8 years of heavy use, so I’m not complaining too much even if it was a $400 board. At ~4 years it’s not the legacy technology that the Tyan was at 4 years, tho I imagine by 8 or 10 years it’ll be looking technologically long in the tooth. But at the four-year point anyway, replacing it isn’t even on the radar yet, and I don’t expect it to be for at least another couple years, which means it could well be 8 years old before I replace it.

    Tho by that time, prices should be down far enough and the power sipping new ones should save me enough on my Phoenix power bill that it could well be a better investment just to buy the new one anyway and get the savings on the power bill, even if the old one’s still working just fine, as I hope it is.

  • Since 1985, I’m now on my 7th desktop / floor system, each one more powerful than the previous by an order of magnitude. The first one was an 8-bit computer with a Z 80 CPU @ 2.88 MHz, 64 KB RAM, dual 360 KB floppies, running CP/M. Then in 1989, on to a 16-bit 80286 @ 12 MHz, 1 MB RAM, 20 MB HDD running MS-DOS 3.3. In 1994 I bought a 32-bit 486 DX2 60 MHz, 4 MB RAM, 120 MB HDD, Windows 3.11. At that time the World Wide Web came crashing through the living room wall, so after only 2 years I swapped the 486 for a 133 MHz Pentium with an 800 MB HDD and eventually 64 MB RAM, Windows 95 and later NT 4. That was my last pre-built system. In 2001, I built my own box with a Pentium 3 @ 933 MHz, 512 MB RAM, 40 GB HDD. I ran Windows 2000 on it initially, but in 2003 I installed Gentoo Linux with the KDE desktop and never looked back. The next year I handed the P3 over to my daughter and built a new system with a P4 @ 3.0 GHz, 1 GB RAM, 200 GB HDD. That system, with the addition of more disk space, served me until 2010. Then I built a system with a 64-bit i7 Quad @ 2.8 GHz, 6 GB RAM, and the disks from the P4 system until 2012, when I put in 2 x 1 TB HDD in RAID-1 for the system, and 4 x 2 TB HDD in RAID-5 for /home.

    I’m still quite satisfied with this rig, and for now, it looks like the days of order-of-magnitude leaps in computer development are gone. I will eventually get a mobo / CPU / RAM replacement, and will of course replace the disks when they go flaky. And perhaps I will even buy an SSD one day. But I’ve definitely experienced the “Enough is enough” moment. With the 32″ 2560 X 1440 LED screen that I bought last year, and a heavy-duty SteelSeries keyboard built to last a lifetime, I don’t expect to upgrade anything until I really have to.

  • It has been this way since the beginning of the computer industry. While it is definitely true in technology, it is also true in a number of industries. How many people do you know, perhaps even in your own family, that want the “best of everything”? So, Bill Gates told us in the 80’s that 640K was enough for anyone… but he was so wrong. In a competitive market, having higher specs helps. Since they hit the GHz wall they have had to add more cores, more threads… more of other things… and of course the video card and storage industries are two additional layers.

    Nintendo is one of the very few companies that has intentionally been conservative with their hardware refreshes. While the Nintendo Wii added innovative motion control, the hardware underneath really wasn’t that different from a Gamecube. When the came out with the Wii U, they added the innovative gamepad, but again… underneath the console was really not very different from a Wii. Nintendo has been greatly criticized for not keeping up with the Jones… which of course are Sony and Microsoft. Doing it that way, Nintendo is actually able to manufacture their hardware at an affordable price where they can actually make a profit on each unit sold. Sony and Microsoft, not so much… but who is winning in the market?

    One property about the gaming console industry that the computer industry could learn from, and I doubt it was intentional, is that a game console (in recent years anyway) seems to have a shelf life of 5-7 years. The computer industry is more on the 2-3 year cycle. The smartphone market is more on the 6-12 month cycle. How does having a few more years, and less models to choose from benefit the consumer? Developers who get more experience with the hardware and can optimize for it. The first generation console games are usually pretty good, but the following years will be even better as the software developers better understand the hardware. The PC gaming industry is horribly broken with a videocard being hot for maybe 1 year before it is replace with something bigger and better. If PC game developers are not always developing for the next card around the corner they’ll fall behind… and as a result, they almost never get the ability to refine and mature and optimize. In the PC market, stuff changes so fast so that software developers can make better software without the necessity of having to master the hardware and optimize for it. The need to produce efficient software has greatly been reduced by the hardware treadmill… which has only reinforced said treadmill.

    You can probably write this same article again in 10 or 20 years (if we get to live that long) because I doubt much will have changed.

  • Uncle Ed

    Okay, I’m boring.

    I have always had a conflict between my ordinary little-boy desire for shiny-shiny, faster, more powerful, etc., and the side of me that asks what I would gain if I upgraded my computer. I am now old, very old some days, and I can’t think of a reason. I assume this lack of drive indicates shortage of testosterone or that Armageddon is imminent.

    I had swapped for a laptop that is a small step ahead of my daily driver and sent it home with my grandson, who needed a computer. He sent a nice email of thanks and was enjoying it a good deal and doing everything he needed in a computer…until he found a game that required more from the video card.

    Checked with friends, including Ken, and learned the garden-variety laptops aren’t going to have video that does games well. I’ve found parts and pieces for a system that will fluff up his hair and dim the lights when he uses it and will deliver it next time I pass. And I’ll retrieve the laptop I gave him and probably give it to somebody who needs a laptop a small step ahead of my daily driver.

  • Mike S.

    This is a fun topic, so I’ll chime in too. It’s all about planned obsolescence, right? Microsoft, Apple, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Huawei, Acer, Asus, LG, Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and so forth all make way more money if consumers cannot use or do not wish to use older hardware.

    The companies intentionally invest in graphics-intensive games to drive the obsolescence. There are plenty of great video games that are ten or twenty years old, but adding refinements to those games won’t drive new hardware sales like releasing something breathtakingly beautiful that only runs on a brand new (whatever).

    The area where planned obsolescence bothers me the most is Android phones. Google and its partners keep the support cycle for devices intentionally very short to milk consumers of money. I hate it. I want to get involved in the Replicant project to fight back, but all of my work experience as a software developer has been Java and Javascript – not device drivers and similar.

  • My Acer Aspire One Netbook has seen some good times. But it strained at doing certain tasks with its Atom N450 processor and 2GB Ram.

    I found a MS authorized refurbished Lenovo T510 m450 ThinkPad on eBay for $200 with a WD 160GB HDD and 4GB of DDR3 ram.

    It’s the 1st gen of Intel’s core i5 series (dual physical cores and 4 hyper threads). I’ve since added 4GB to max it out at 8GB and replaced the HDD with a Crucial 1TB SSD. Also, I’ve added an eSATA HDD docking station and have a mount point set in fstab to a WD 7500rpm 1TB HDD to do rsync incremental backup with ‘Back in Time’.

    I take pity on those using Windows and especially the victims of Windows 10.

    Funny sidebar,
    I went last weekend to Wal-Mart looking for inkjet cartridges for my HP F300 (about 5 years old). None to be found and the nearest model would cost me an extravagant $50 for the black and color cartridges. My eyes moved to the right and I noticed an HP InkJet 2130 for $39. Needless to say, I bought it and the F300 went into the dumpster. This is forced obsolescence.

    Otherwise, life is good in Linux Land.
    (Antergos Linux)

  • Mike S.

    @Dietrich I definitely agree on the printers. It’s like a drug dealer – the first hit (printer plus initial cartridges) is so cheap it’s almost free, everything after that is outrageously expensive.

  • Mike

    Games have always been a big driver of computer technology…more speed, more capacity, more everything. They push the envelope of what’s possible.

    For me, the race for ever better hardware is still important. I am a big fan of emulation of classic hardware and software (including games). Emulation of many platforms demands excellent hardware and there is always room for lots of improvement.

    While my uses aren’t typical, there are plenty of use cases out there that require “MOAR SPEED!” that have nothing to do with commerce or government, e.g. emulation, 3D-modeling, hi-res video editing, music production, etc.

    Just because the “typical” user can get by with a five year old machine doesn’t mean it is right for everyone.

  • Mike S.

    But Mike, I think it’s important to make a distinction between different reasons for upgrading. Some people who are upgrading their hardware do it because they want faster games, or video editing, or emulation. I think that’s mostly fine.

    But many people would be satisfied with the performance they had when they bought the machine, they just no longer have it. The Windows registry has grown too large. Or they have too much bloatware. Of there are now forty five background processes running at all times on their Android phone (which happened to my wife).

    For those people, if they knew how to reset their devices to factory in a clean way or how to install free operating systems, they would be fine with what they have. Instead they’re spending hundreds of dollars that would be better used elsewhere in their household budget replacing hardware that could fit their needs for another five years.

  • Mindaugas

    The truth is, that it is capitalism, my friend. In capitalism, increasing hardware specs never stops.

  • Ric

    No one has mentioned security. And that’s what’s so great about Linux. Let me explain.

    If OS vendors provided security updates for all of their older systems — like MS, to give them credit, did for years with XP — then one reason for “upgrades” would disappear. But increasingly Microsoft, Apple, Google, and others have abandoned supporting an OS that’s more than a generation old. And worse, the newest OSes often won’t run on older hardware. Apple is, of course, the poster child for this insidious program of forced upgrades, but others are joining the madness. The point here, though, is that we’re all online these days, and maintaining security patches is vital. Hence the need to get the latest OS. (And even then …)

    With Linux, you can stay patched without having to get the biggest, fastest, newest computer.

  • Mike

    @Mike S.

    > “But many people would be satisfied with the performance they had when they bought the machine, they just no longer have it. The Windows registry has grown too large. Or they have too much bloatware. Of there are now forty five background processes running at all times on their Android phone (which happened to my wife).”

    That’s what happens when you run a non-free OS produced by a company that doesn’t respect you or your freedom.

    The point is there are legitimate reasons for upgrading to the fastest tech available that have nothing to do with corporate shenanigans.

  • CFWhitman

    My powerful desktop is an AMD Bulldozer eight core with 16 GB of RAM and a 1 TB hard drive. I also have a 256 GB SSD that I intend to put in it, but haven’t gotten around to doing yet (it’s not the installation of the hardware, but the re-install of the software that I’ve been putting off). It has an AMD HD7870 graphics card. The hardware is overkill for everything I do.

    I have what I use as a server which is one of the first generation Athlon 64 processors (I think that puts it at around 2004) which was given to me with no hard drive. I have two 2 TB mirrored drives in that, and I put a Gbit Ethernet card in so that it could handle network traffic from my desktop while streaming video to other clients (that didn’t work with the 100 Mbit card).

    I have my HP Chromebook 14 with 4 GB of RAM and the 16 GB EMMC drive replaced with a 128 GB one. It has Xubuntu on it rather than Chrome OS. I have this machine for the 8 hour plus battery life.

    I have at my disposal a few Core Duo laptops with memory ranging from 1 to 4 GB. I keep a couple around that I use and let others use at my home and I give the rest away to nephews and nieces (I try to get the RAM as high as I can before I give them away, so lately 3 or 4 GB).

    Do I ever feel bogged down running Linux on any of these machines? No. I occasionally have something that requires 4 GB of memory (theoretically more on the desktop), but not that often.

    With Windows, it would be a different story. I have seen OEM Windows installs which bog down the machines they come on, which are more powerful than most of the machines I run. A cleaner Windows installation can be better, but it still feels slow next to a Linux installation with an Xfce desktop, which is the heaviest desktop I run.

    I actually have a couple of older 32 bit machines that have been given to me where I run lighter weight versions of Linux so I can get usefulness out of them. I don’t really consider them dead simple enough to give away to most folks though.

  • CFWhitman

    My last post should read “Core 2 Duo laptops.” Somehow I left out the “2”.

  • Dorothy Canuck

    I just retired my 2007 desktop (single core, 2 GB RAM, 3.5GHz cpu) due to its massive size. Bought 2 used Thinkpad T410 laptops on ebay.ca, which I just love, due to great keyboards. They both have 3GB RAM and intel i5 cores, are not blazing fast 🙂 but good enough for web surfing and email reading. Not a gamer so don’t particularly care about graphics. Speakers are surprisingly good for a laptop, and one of them is being used to play music with a 5 year old set of Logitech speakers. I retired my bought-new-in-2012 HP pavilion g6 with 6GB RAM as I have never liked that keyboard. One of the Thinkpads was in new condition when I got it, and the other one had a bit of wear on the trackpad which is no big deal, so am very happy with my purchases.

  • frankreid

    I bought my first computer in 1983. It was a Tandy Radio Shack model 4P with the CP/M operating system. I moved on to the DOS machines, then Windows. Today, I use Windows 7 to write books and have eight on Amazon.
    As Microsoft moved to 8, then 10, I knew I would never continue to follow them for two reasons. They were only interested in making more money (a common corporate need) and also because I didn’t need to. I had never relied on their support and use my own anti-virus program to help me.
    I have considered writing a book, “Join the XP Rebellion.” I don’t use that any more but it is interesting to see the statistics that still about a third of all computers, world-wide, still run XP and have no plans to change up. Most are companies with proprietary software that won’t run on the later OS.
    I have four computers in the office; three are Windows 7 and one is Linux Mint. I’m looking to move my entire writing/publishing effort onto the linux platform.

    The constant need to have a faster computer is, in my opinion, driven by the gamers. Killing at the speed of light over the internet is what is wanted. But it really is just human nature.
    The question was asked, “When will it stop?” Well, never. Or at least not before we all stop demanding faster cars with a more cool appearance. I’m reminded of that old Tom T. Hall song about the cowboy poet. He said what he wanted:

    “It’s faster horses
    Younger women
    Older whiskey
    More money”

    This need to have more powerful computers certainly won’t happen in my time.

  • nonya

    Right now I have a Lenovo A60 with an Dual core AMD 64 athelon x2, 2Gb of ram, upgraded from a 750GB seagate drive to a 500GB Western Digital. I also have 2 IBM T43 laptops with 1.8 gig single core processors, 160 gig hard drives, 2 GB ram and 15.1 inch screens. These machines serve me very well, including running some older games like Medal of Honor, Smokin’ Guns, Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Unreal Tournament. Most of the newer games turn out to be rehashes of older ones with higher res graphics bolted on. Most of them are not worth the insanely high prices for a game that will be played for a few weeks, and then its only use is to be sold for less than 1/10th of its new price.

    These are all refurbished, off-lease machines that I was able to get for less than $200.00 They included a fresh install of Windows, and now dual boot with Linux Mint 17.2 (KDE). The A60 desktop has a Thinkvision 4:3 aspect ratio screen that I will only give up when it dies. I hate the shortened so called “wide screens” that have been foisted off on us as somehow better than the 4:3 aspect ratio screen. Come on people, the shorter screens are cheaper to manufacture, and yet have been hyped as better, and many have bought the lie!

    The point is that most people (or businesses) would not need faster machines with more ram every year or two if it wasn’t for Windows getting more bloated with every new version.

  • Unbeknownst

    This issue affects me just like as other people who have been toiling in the IT area for a number of years. Computers (specially over here) were extremely expensive in the beginning.

    I’ve been meaning to do some sort of two- or three-dimensional table to rank and display capabilities versus requirements. It can be either done generically with e.g. some CPU rating in one axis and memory amount in another — cells would contain lists of applications which could be run with that amount of resources. For instance, at coordinates (“32-bit x86 1GHz+ PAE”, 1GB RAM) we would list Xubuntu, Libreoffice etc. (recommended requirements, another dimension could be the “minimal” needs).

    Alternatively, one could build it the other way — and I suppose it can be automated: given an application and other characteristics (like document size), the table could show recommended hardware requirements.

    All this would make for a beautiful and useful graph, me thinks.

    I did some experiments running a KDE distro with 2Gb RAM, a XFce one and a jwm one (Puppy in a 1Gb RAM PC) recently, but I’m still drawing conclusions from it.

    What is dismaying is that DEs have been improved and now the amount of memory seems to become a meaningful factor. And while a 512Mb RAM machine would be enough for three-page documents and 640×480 videos, we need perhaps 4 GB RAM for gigantic spreadsheets.

    Movie playing could benefit from a fast video card to play at Full HD, for instance.

    When I was young (11 y.o.?), we set to buy a car and I said a blue one would be great. My father said: “Son, we’re buying an used car, it has to be in good condition first of all… we cannot really pick colors with used cars”. It would be the same with used computers IMHO.

    With respect to those machines which are too powerful (e.g. 64 Gb RAM), I believe there are researchers who need it and which are poor, too. If they’re doing Free/Open source research, that will benefit poor people — I guess it could be a good use to “lend” them the machines…

  • sgagne

    I like the subject so much i will byte on this one!…
    I hurd, has of today 2966 Linux workstation… I say that cause every day there is more and i need to check my web console to see…
    Since april 2014 a lot of our workstation have been decommmission and then return in service has a linux workstation (Upgrading them to handle Win7+ would have been totally prohibitive).
    Sure, not all of them are usable!… But i use youtube to make the cut… So what is the minimum requirements?… With openbox/pcmanfm/lxpanel i am able to use youtube with a pentium M 1.6Ghz and 512Mb of RAM!… So our desktops are tuned to this… I don`t recommend this kind of setup beyond primary school. Normally people tend to keep there laptop longer than there desktop so i see this kind of machine mainly on laptop. But you now what!? All those core 2 duo desktops looks like Ferrari with 1GbRAM compare to Windows!
    When i started this project ( its been three years already ) i was having labs partially converted with mixed WinXP and Linux and the kids were running to get a linux workstation to play! 😉
    Recently a teenager ask why his Windows workstation (Win7) was not running has nicely the one in the library (The 35 workstations in the library of this school are Linux workstation).
    I used smartmontool to get an idea of the age of these workstation and most of them have around 400 days of use which i consider about 30 to 40% of what they can do.
    So i fell like the maytag guy waiting to get these pentium M decommissioned so i can raise the ante…

  • John S

    Still running Ubuntu-Fluxbox on a 2GB RAM dual-core Pentium ex-Vista PC. With next year’s LTS this combo will run fine to 2021. But of course the EPA-mandated lead-free solder on the motherboard will give out first and put my 10 year old Dell in a landfill. (Thanks, Obama.) I likely will spend the $29 and bump the RAM to 4GB someday. My Windows PCs? A 20-year-old P3 running Windows 98 and a 25-year-old 386 running Windows 3.1.

  • Innocent Bystander

    I don’t need any power. A reasonably old laptop HP Elitebook 8530w with 8GB RAM is plentyful enough for any task I need. However, I am green oriented. Low power consumption is my most important critera. And that laptop overheats like hell even with Lubuntu or LXLE. Once I get annoyed, the heavy weight of the laptop and its enormous power supply become unbearable.

    This is why I will look for a new laptop. In my personal scale “enough” is a Linux machine, allowing to work comfortably without excessive energy consumption.

    For a desktop, this would be a CPU having the same performance than the 8Y old E8400 Core2 + 16GB RAM with the original power consumption reduced by at least 50%. I think by 2016, this goal is reachable. I am less familiar with laptop specs, but I would like a light laptop that doesn’t spin the fan permanently and having just enough graphic power for office / development type of work. Not sure if such laptop exists yet. If such a laptop is technically impossible to design. Then I prefer a low power, yet well designed Chromebook. For the heavy work, I will do on the desktop.

  • I bought my first laptop in 1999 and used it for 6 years, thanks to Linux. I bought my second one in 2005 and used it for 10 years (LXLE is your friend). I don’t plan to ever purchase another laptop. The number of friends and family ready to give away their Windows PC after 3-4 years of use is almost a non stop source of computing power. These machines are much like you describe in your article above … very capable when coupled with an appropriate Linux distro.

  • Kevin

    A recent article stated that Linus has said he is holding off on implementing more security features in the kernel for performance reasons. So apparently yes we still need even more powerful computers…

  • Jorge

    A couple of weeks ago I revived an old Acer Extensa 1690WLMI with the so far excellent Q4OS for 32bit. The laptop was virtually unusable with WinXP SP3, it was dead at a dark corner of the house. Having uses systems that made the most amazing things with 16kb ram or the excellent Amiga line of computers some of wich lacked important features like memory protection, i can confirm that nowadays people don’t care about and mostly don’t know how to write quality driven, decent, economy oriented software. And who needs to do that when you can waste 100gb only for the OS (how is this even possible???) on your plain new 2tb drive?

  • Mike

    @Kevin

    Actually Linus’ point is that there is always a tradeoff when it comes to security. This is often handwaved away by security “experts”.

    Secret documents in a waterproof steel safe encased in 100 feet of reinforced concrete and sunk to the deepest point in the ocean are not SECURE, they are USELESS. The distinction is important, but typically overlooked.

  • Mike S.

    @Mike
    To support your point, Bruce Schneier – who is probably the closest thing the security industry has to a rock star – wrote in his own book that he fully understands and supports organizations and groups that don’t make security a top priority. An organization has a goal, and security is part of the requirements but not the goal itself.

    As part of all of this, I wonder if the Rust programming language will gain popularity. Rust has mixed reviews, so far. A skilled C++ developer can write code that’s as safe as Rust with some effort. A skilled C developer can write code that’s as safe as Rust code by lots of effort. But even the best developers in the world make mistakes, maybe tools that stop us from shooting ourselves in the foot without sacrificing performance are the future.

  • Hi folks,

    I’ll add my 2 cents…

    My server was built in 1998 and I still run it 24/7. Tyan Tiger with dual P3 550 Mhz CPUs (upgraded from the original P2s). I own 7 computers that are over 10 years old. I also have a working Amiga 500 from 1987 but honestly it only gets used once a month. Mainly because there’s no easy way to get ethernet on it. Once the P3’s came out they were really fast enough for me.

    Also in the P3 era (1999) that was when I started using UPSes for all my computers which no doubt added to their longevity. Plus nowadays people chuck out so much electronics that anyone with a little knowledge can get a computer for next to nothing. Also older computers had less integration and were more repairable. I basically have become a bit of a computer minimalist, Linux + icewm. Oh and my printer was made in 1997, an HP laserjet 5N which still works great 🙂

  • @Scott C., you wrote:

    “Nintendo is one of the very few companies that has intentionally been conservative with their hardware refreshes.”

    Give thanks to Hiroshi Yamauchi (sp?) for that philosophy of Nintendo. The NES (Famicom) used a modified 6502 (renamed the Nintendo N2A01–[source: MAME source code]), which was considered an old processor when it was considered for the NES/Famicom. The company had a slogan, if I remember it correctly from the Japanese translation: “Seasoned technology” or something like it…

    But I digress. My current computer system is a Dell Dimension with a P4. I’ve refurbished old desktop PC’s for friends and put on a customized Ubuntu distro made for their needs, mostly just because they need a computer for “Facebook and some games they have on CD.” Then when I deliver the system to them, they get a bit upset. “It’s an old computer!” I tell them they don’t need a quad-core CPU and all that just to run a browser for Facebook–the Firefox I installed is a recent version–and I checked meticulously on the WINE AppDB to see if their games will run in WINE, which 97% of the time, they will.

    Not all do, though. Most of the people I basically give refurbished systems to are delighted to have a computer. And if they need Windows installed, for any reason, I’ll be glad to accommodate, just they have to acquire a legal copy first. I tell people even though the OS installed is free, and downloaded, but is legal to. I won’t torrent Windows for them.

    But system requirements are going insane, yes.

  • Eric

    Personally, I don’t care for computers that could run KDE, Gnome, or Unity. My golden rule of thumb: if a computer runs Firefox, Libreoffice, Gimp, Virtualbox, and Eclipse on top of LXDE without problems that’s my perfect computer.

  • @Eric… Couldn’t agree more.

    But I’d replace Eclipse with Kdenlive in my situation, but that’s just me. 😉 Otherwise, GIMP (transparent PNG images for static video overlays like titles and such… “poor man’s chyron” if you want to put it in that context), VBox, LibreOffice and Firefox on top of LXDE/LXLE is my perfect system too.