I’m still a bit wired over the post from a day or two ago, insisting that a 1.7Ghz machine with a healthy amount of RAM and a decent-sized hard drive would be a detriment to anyone learning Linux.
More and more that strikes me as completely counterintuitive, and for plenty of reasons. I already explained that an older machine is a challenge, whereas a newer machine is a luxury.
But honestly, when someone wants to learn Linux, or at least try it out, I don’t recommend they go buy a new computer. I suggest they find a 4- or 5-year-old laptop, and learn the ropes that way.
And aside from three reasons to buy old machines instead of new ones — power demands, noise levels and Linux compatibility — there are other good reasons to use an old computer to learn about penguins.
- Cheaper. That’s probably the most obvious one. Suggesting someone needs a high-end machine to learn Linux suggests they need a new computer to use Linux, and that’s implying money. I wouldn’t endorse that under any circumstances. Save your money and use an old machine for your education.
- More impressive. Geeks love to see computers burst to life in a blaze of glory. No one will be impressed if you install Linux on a flashy new octuple-core super-personal-computer with 12Gb of memory and a terabyte hard drive. Do the same thing on a 12-year-old Pentium and geeks get interested. Heck, pull that off and you can even start your own blog.
- Expendable. If you forget to compile fan support into your kernel, and you end up melting your 333Mhz Pentium II processor into a puddle of goo, you might be sad for about 15 minutes, and then you’ll find a replacement on eBay for US$12. Do the same thing with a 6-month-old quad-core, and you’ll be crying in your tasty beverage. (Oh, and do that with your 66Mhz 486DX laptop though, and you might be crying in your tasty beverage too. … Wait, did 486s even have processor fans? )
- Compatibility, compatibility, compatibility. Why run the risk of having to wait six or eight months for software support to catch up with a new computer, when you can get started immediately with a leftover 750Mhz Thinkpad? Support for older machines has been honed and refined over the past decade, and then at least you have the relative assurance that if something goes wrong, it’s probably not the software.
- Historical lessons. This is a bit oddball, but if you work with older machines for long enough, you start to understand the hardware evolution as well. I knew zilch about the switch from straight PCMCIA to CardBus until I ran aground with a 100Mhz laptop. I knew zip-zero-nada about ISA sound cards until I finally got one working with Debian. Spend some time with an old computer and you see how the arc of technological history traveled. …
- Power suckers. You can argue this point with me if you like, but I will stand on any sinking ship so long as I can continue to insist that a 14-year-old laptop has a lower power draw than your octuple-core behemoth. You won’t convince me otherwise. Sorry.
- Cheaper (to upgrade). What’s it take to max out the memory in a Celeron laptop? Uh-huh. And what’s it cost to buy a comparable amount of memory for your quad-core laptop? Uh-huh. So long as you’re spending money on your education, you might as well save some for pizza. Feed your brain and your face, on less of your precious cash.
- Enlightenment. This is an off-kilter one, but there’s something to be said for finding your way out of technological imprisonment and trimming your life requirements down to a smaller, older, and less powerful machine. If you can rely more and more on that old computer to teach you Linux, you might learn a few things about maximalism in life, too.
No, no. More and more it’s just obvious to me that you really should learn the ropes with a leftover, secondhand machine with mid-grade specs at best. Going over the top, hardware-wise, just to learn a new operating system strikes me as ill-conceived. Not that my opinion matters, though.