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.
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 is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue