This might sound odd in the wake of my purchase of a core duo machine last week, but even before that I was pondering exactly how slow a machine I could conceivably step down to, without inconveniencing myself to the point of affecting my work or leisure.
After all, I can comfortably handle around 90 percent of everything I do with computers with a measly 120Mhz Pentium, and the only things that are missing are CD access and DVD rip playback — both things that the hardware just isn’t prepared to handle in a 14-year-old computer.
At the same time the 550Mhz Celeron which has accompanied me through thick and thin over the past two years is decidedly strong enough to handle everything I do, and play movies and give me CD access (reading but not writing). So I could argue that a Pentium III-grade machine is actually overkill, if the burden of performing all those things doesn’t at least make it sweat a little.
If I had to put a number on it, I think I could get away with a 300Mhz Pentium II machine: Something with about 32Mb of memory in it although more is always better, proper framebuffer access (unlike some machines I have known), a decent audio card, as few fans as possible because there’s no need for the noise, perhaps a CD writer and some way of accessing a network through PCMCIA or USB. I don’t ask for much.
I am 99 percent sure that machine would cover all the essentials for me. The limiting factor is mplayer of course, and the limiting factor for mplayer would be whatever codec is the most difficult to handle. But removing that from the equation means an even slower machine is just as useful.
The irony of this is, about two years ago I had a machine of those exact specifications but handled most of those tasks graphically — to include video playback — instead of really taking advantage of the hardware and relying on the console. Hindsight is 20-20, but I have a feeling I could get a lot more out of that machine now, knowing what I know now and having a better grasp of things.
But no matter. It’s very unlikely that I will be liquidating my entire menagerie any time soon, and trading up for a single Pentium II. I have a feeling I could do it, but it’s not something I plan on.