The lesson of the Celeron

I didn’t mention the results of my two-day experiment with the Celeron, when I wrote out its coda the other day. That’s not fair really, since it was doing quite well in its final moments, before its catalog of shortcomings suddenly came to the forefront.

Originally I did that purely to see if I could get most, if not all, of my day-to-day tasks done — to the inclusion of watching DVD rips against the framebuffer — on a machine as slow as 300Mhz. That was my original hypothesis, and the reason I had that little experiment in the first place.

And the answer is yes, with a caveat or two. All of the standard software and tools that I needed, with the addition of access to framebuffer image viewing and mplayer playback, were all possible and accessible. And quite speedy really, even for a machine with so many defects. In some cases — such as surfing with elinks — the results were much better than my Pentium … which is of course, only to be expected. πŸ™„

The only stumbling blocks were some of the DVDs I encoded with higher-detail codecs, or at resolutions that were intended for slightly more powerful machines. In those cases it was simply too much effort for a 300Mhz Celeron to decode, resize and output at a rate that gave enjoyable results.

But aside from that one small, and rare, situation, the results of my little experiment were successful. I could conceivably round out the daily chores and fun that I allow myself with something as slow and powerless as a late-model Celeron with a meager 64Mb of memory.

I would love to finish this post with the words, “So could you.” Unfortunately, there are probably very few people on the planet who would agree with that statement, and even fewer who would acknowledge it. The fact is, what I consider to be usable is mostly garbage to other people.

I could even append that last line by pointing out the financial, social or environmental benefits of sticking with something as classic as a decade-old Celeron, but it wouldn’t matter. The trend in consumer electronics has rolled far and away from the idea of saving money, or looking for function over frills, or reducing our global garbage footprint. The idea of scaling all the way back to a framebuffer and console applications is really a giant joke for most people, no matter what context I might attach it to.

So be it. The point here was not to underscore the frivolity of popular electronics in 2010 or to alienate anyone by suggesting it’s cooler to live at the command line, but rather to point out the possibility for one person, with an open mind and a willingness to learn, to maintain a contemporary digital lifestyle with US$20 in hardware that would otherwise be in a landfill.

And if any of that brief, bright experiment appeals to you, you can be person Number Two. :mrgreen:

Edit, 2010-06-17: A day later, this post seems unnecessarily bitter toward the end. I’m not going to clip it, but I’ll say now it sounds like some old person whining about “kids these days.” πŸ™„

4 thoughts on “The lesson of the Celeron

  1. Sean Whitton

    I salute you K.Mandla.

    I only recently started to agree with your philosophy towards electronics. It upsets me that before I did, I had already built a powerful desktop and bought a pretty powerful laptop. But that is where it ends. Thank you for helping me to achieve that.

  2. Prinzzchavo

    Hello, K.Mandla.

    Don’t worry about the old-person-whining. You are not alone on that …erm… fight.

    The good work you are currently doing, sharing such an amount of useful information nowadays, is helping me develop a Project for a non-profit, with just a bunch of rusty computers, so, please, keep doing what you are good at!

    I totally agree your ideas and would like to remind you and the other people reading this blog, that, although we, “first-world-people”, already forgot that computers are meant to be useful, there is still a 90% of people in this planet who think a 15-year-old computer is high-tech. Try to convince them about iPad-stuff, and you’ll see what happens… πŸ˜‰

    …and yes, our global garbage footprint ends up on their lands, too.

    Once again, thanks for the good work.

  3. BoabaWhales

    I do use a powerful desktop that I built in 2007, dual-booting full-fledged Ubuntu + gnome and Windows 7. But at the same time I have a IBM X23 (Pentium IIIm), 2002, that I also use, with Arch linux without X. Console & framebuffer only.

    I’ve shown my systems to many of my friends and they are by far more interested in what the X23 can do. I’ve even succeeded in convincing a few around me to embrace the command line and to try to do without the mouse.

    I don’t think going back to old technology is a “giant joke” for the young generation. It is just unfamiliar territory that we’ve never experienced before. (my first computer came with Windows XP. Console? Framebuffer?) It’s not that we think going back to old technology is a joke, we simply didn’t know we can watch movies without X.

    Once we get our feet wet, and have enough knowledge to get ourselves around, “old technology” doesn’t seem so old anymore. In fact, they are newer to us than Windows XP!

  4. Pingback: fbterm on a 150Mhz Pentium MMX, 32Mb « Motho ke motho ka botho

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