Once again: Don’t do it

It’s that time again. It’s time for me harp about buying a new computer for Christmas. I know, I know: This is the third year in a row. But the times don’t change, and the situation is the same every year.

And I know it’s pointless. The people who are set on buying new computers are going to bicker with me, or rationalize the purchase, or tell me how terribly old their computer is. Regardless of what I say, their minds are made up.

And I know it’s wasted effort. My rant isn’t going to actually prevent the interaction from taking place. It might only persuade one or two people not to make a purchase. It does nothing to stem the flow, to keep companies from advertising or intercede in the transaction. I’m attacking the symptom, not stopping the disease.

And I know it’s inappropriate. Your business is your business. Your lifestyle is your lifestyle. Your way is your way. For me to tell you what to do is presumptuous, and a tiny bit rude.

And I know it’s an issue of perspective. Old, to me, is something clunking along in the i486 bracket. And anything after 2000 is beyond perfectly usable. Anyone born after 1992 will think that hilarious.

And I know it’s empty. Talk is cheap, and blog posts are even cheaper. I’m not in a position to come over to your house, obstruct your driveway with my body and physically block FedEx from delivering to you. So my complaint is only words, no action.

And I know it’s farcical. I’m crazy; I acknowledge it. I run my life and this site with machines that date well back to the last century, and see no fault in ripping an operating system down to a flashing cursor to make a computer usable. Not many people do.

But I don’t care, really. I feel obligated to serve as gadfly at this time of year, and remind you that new junk doesn’t equal love, that corporations are taking advantage of your emotions to make money, and that the machine you have is probably fine, you just need to look at it in a different light.

Of course, having said all that, I see now that I’ve wasted all my time and space, before I ever got to the point. So I’ll distill it and leave you with its essence:

Don’t buy a new computer for Christmas. It’s too expensive, it’s a shallow gift and the one you have is fine, I’m sure. Save your money, or give it to charity.

Oh, and Happy New Year. :mrgreen:

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21 Responses to “Once again: Don’t do it”


  1. 1 Armor Nick 2010/11/09 at 10:54 PM

    I sort-of agree with you. Don’t buy a NEW laptop; buy none or an ‘old’ one.
    When I bought my laptop this year and saw what a disaster it was with Linux, I swore I’d never buy a brand-new laptop again. And why would I, when perfectly fine laptops are available at half the price?
    But when I say old, I don’t mean the laptops usually shown on this site though ;)

  2. 2 Doug 2010/11/09 at 11:31 PM

    I have a dilemma. I have three computers that won’t quite do what I need, even though K. Mandla would probably only consider one “old.”

    What I want to do: watch H.264 and WebM/VP8 videos. My 2.2 GHz single-core Celeron/G3100 mobo VGA/2 GB desktop can’t hack it, let alone my single-core Atom/1GB netbook or Micron PII 266/192MB notebook. All fine computers running Linux, but none with the horsepower for contemporary video and codecs.

    If I understand correctly, 2G hardware assist for video is still spotty under Linux, so the least costly alternative would probably be to replace the Celeron with an Intel socket 775 dual-core with more horsepower. Still better than buying a new computer.

    All of my “underpowered” computers are just fine at doing most other things, but modern video takes horsepower that I currently don’t have.

    • 3 snek 2010/11/10 at 12:01 AM

      @Doug
      I must worn you about power usage of s775 processors. My old P4 3Ghz which I use as a mediacenter uses almost double the power of my 6 month old AMD Athlon2E (scales from 0.8 – 2.8Ghz using at max 45W) based server. Plus trying to buy DDR1 these days will set you back more than a cheap DDR2 dimm WITH a motherboard. Also you will win back the money within a year or so of leaving it on thx to a lower power bill.

      I know it’s been discussed here before, but I am not comparing laptops, I’m comparing desktop CPU’s.

      Mind you there are plenty of netbooks which DO play 1080p, just make sure it has a CrystalHD chip or an nVidia chip higher than GeForce 6, then you shouldn’t have any problems.

      If you can’t compensate by sheer GPU power then you do need a more beefy CPU. Like I mentioned above, I use a p4 3ghz as mediacenter, but I didn’t mention it has an nVidia 8800GT I had left over (hehehe yes, left over, my gamepc has a 260GTX and my server an old 6600GT but also plays 1080p thx to CPU).

      • 4 Doug 2010/11/10 at 12:30 AM

        @snek
        Interesting. My box is a bit newer — Dell 530, Celeron 450 @ 2.2GHz, socket 775, 2 sticks of 1 GB DDR2 RAM, G3100. The box is my main desktop, not a media center. I find that 2 GB of RAM is fine for my needs. Rest of the box is OK for now.

        While AMD CPUs have better price/performance and power consumption for a low end machines, I’d have to replace mobo/CPU/RAM with an AM2+/AM3 mobo, dual-core CPU, and DDR3 RAM to enjoy the lower CPU power consumption. (DDR2 is effectively obsolete and expnsive.) Undoubtedly this would be a better CPU, GPU, and RAM but that doesn’t appear to be warranted to accomplish my goals at minimum cost.

        Codec support at minimum cost is my primary goal.

    • 5 Bob Anderson 2010/11/11 at 2:07 AM

      I have an Atom netbook with the lousy gma950 chipset and can watch 720p videos in mplayer/vlc, hw-accelerated and all. Avatar and CGI movies in general benefit from the added resolution.. even on a 1024×600 screen :)

    • 6 zenfunk 2010/11/11 at 6:29 PM

      Try mplayer with (hard-) framedropping activated. The frame drops are not noticeable at all (unless you try a HD movie on your PII probably), and you get no audio lag and stuff. In practice it means a big performance boost for movie playback.

    • 7 mulenmar 2010/11/11 at 6:54 PM

      My first thought on seeing this was, “You’re kidding me.” Then I thought, “Of course, most video I play these days is only 480p at the most, so I shouldn’t judge so fast.” :P

      My laptop, with a Pentium 3 850MHz CPU, just 384 MB PC100 RAM, and an ATI Mobility M3 can play H.264 and VP8 video just fine, and it’s from 2001. Just pass mplayer the “-vo xv” flag, so it uses the XVideo hardware acceleration option and frees up the CPU from much of the video decoding and display. Perhaps throw in the “-framedrop” option too if you need to.

      With those options, I have no problems playing 480p videos. For 720p, I might occaisionally need to play with the “nice” command to smooth out playback a bit, like so:

      sudo nice -n -10 su mulenmar -c “mplayer Videos/My_video -vo xv”

      Replace with your user name and video, of course. ;)

      It also helps to make sure your video driver and XServer have enabled DRI. At the bottom of my xorg.conf, for example, I add

      Section “DRI”
      Mode 0666
      EndSection

      Enjoy. :)

      • 8 mulenmar 2010/11/11 at 7:00 PM

        I should also mention that if you STILL can’t get decent playback, you can always recompile your own mplayer package. With your Pentium4-based Celeron CPU and your Atom CPU netbook, you should have SSE2 instructions (check /proc/cpuinfo to be sure) available. When taken advantage of, multimedia performance is GREATLY increased over even the i686-compiled packages available in Arch Linux.

  3. 9 Celsius1414 2010/11/10 at 1:31 AM

    Would just like to say that “I feel obligated to serve as gadfly…” is my nomination for phrase of the month. :)

  4. 10 NOYB 2010/11/10 at 6:02 AM

    Buying a used laptop can be a bit of a gamble, actually. Many used laptops have a history of abuse and therefore may not last very long. Be prepared for possible need of repairs.

  5. 16 Jose Catre-Vandis 2010/11/10 at 6:47 AM

    Others have mentioned the crunch point – media playback – of current video codecs in particular. Unless you devote your “old” hardware to hours of relentless re-encoding/transcoding to a “lesser” format, you are going to need some GPU beef or a new CPU with enough grunt to cope. I am getting by with one old Shuttle PC (1 GHz processor) with a PCI (not -E) Nvidia 8400GS card for 264/HD, and use an Asus EB1012 ION as well. The latter is just starting to fall onto the 2nd user market, and well worth the money for general desktop use and current media playback. Just keep an old machine in the background for overnight encoding! I tend to encode everything I need (mainly TV programmes from DVB) to Xvid, plenty good enough, but the stuff you find on the net these days is all high faluting (?) HD or 264. Each to his own, or tool that suits the task, keep ploughing that furrow KMandla :)

  6. 17 seidos 2010/11/10 at 11:40 AM

    i watch all my media on this 13″ toshiba. 1.47Ghz duo core 2GB ram. works fine for me. no hi def television.

  7. 18 Linuxbakkie 2010/11/10 at 6:29 PM

    I agree with you, nowadays it seems that the old pc’s (or laptops) doesn’t work after x-mas.

  8. 19 damaged justice 2010/11/11 at 5:54 AM

    Z80 based, homebrew hardware and software:

    http://www.retroleum.co.uk/electronics-articles/previous/

    I’d buy new hardware if those cheap, efficient netbooks existed that we were promised. But it’s a lie, like cake or flying cars. Told to keep us complacent so we keep buying terahertz crotch-burners, and thinking it’s perfectly acceptable for a so-called “portable computing device” to have a battery life of less than 24 hours.

  9. 20 Dmitry 2010/11/12 at 8:02 PM

    I bought my new laptop last Christmas. But simply because old one had major problems with HDD, so I did not want to take a risk to be left without laptop.
    As a result, both HDDs (new and old) crashed this year. New laptop was warranty one, so they replaced HDD. Though, I had to keep backup somewhere.
    Now I have 2 laptops: new one and old one, both with replaced HDDs.
    And, as a joke, new laptop does not work with any Linux distro I have tried so far.

  10. 21 PeterStJ 2010/11/14 at 3:43 AM

    I found your blog searching for good music player/manager for the console as I only have old laptops (at home, at my parents and at work – all with 256RAM which is not enough for ‘modern’ distors) so years ago I returned to mostly using console apps (returned, as once I had only Pentium 133Mgz with 32MB of RAM and X started but was not usable with more than one application) but was missing a good music organizer/search utility.
    I was very implressed with your obsession with old hardware and making it work and usable. I am not such a tech savvy but I am an ecologist and I am very impressed with people trying to use their area of expertise to help out the planet as best as they can. So thank you for your blogging efforts. Thanks to it I have also found a few apps I have not encountered before (like charm – instead I was using vim scripts to blog).
    As of the purchase of new electronics and especially computers – I know the chores, I am faced with the fake need of ‘new’ every once in a while and often people argue that the new models are better, because they use less power. Well, here is the thing, most laptops and other electornic goods take more energy to be manufactured and transported than what they will take for the entier period of usage, especially if they are to be considered obsolete as per the standard these days – up to 3 years.
    I have been happily using my machines for the last 7 years and I can easily see me using those for at least 5 more providing nothing on the components fail. I have even blogged about it: http://malwkgad.livejournal.com/230300.html


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