It can be difficult to feel good about your computer when you read articles about the latest and greatest technology. Add to that every tech-minded podcast or YouTube channel in the world holding up these expensive and seemingly magical devices in front of you and talking about how great they are. I’ve been there, and I’ve actually put myself back in that position, intentionally.
Harold Johnson, another contributor here at LockerGnome, recently wrote about living behind the hardware curve. He, like so many of our readers and community in general, has experienced many of the highs and lows of being seemingly behind the curve in terms of technology hardware. While it can seem a daunting experience on one hand, there is something to be said about systems that have a little more mileage.
Owning a computer that isn’t comprised of the latest technologies may put you at a numbers disadvantage in some regards, but you do have several things working for you that could be to your benefit as a user. Initial costs, smoother operation, less failure chances, less expensive replacement components, and better native support for operating systems are just a handful of these advantages.
In this article, we’ll take a look at why owning an older computer may actually be better for you than the latest and greatest the world of tech has to offer.
Lower Initial Cost
If you want the biggest and best components, you had better be willing to shell out top dollar for them. A system that could run you $500 in a year or two may run well over $1,000 today. That’s how technology works. Every month, it seems, the price for various components goes down considerably. What was once a top-dollar processor can become a bargain bin deal in a year’s time.
In many cases, this price drop can happen in months as manufacturers replicate the specs the fancier brands push on their latest products. Video cards are especially quick to drop in prices as companies slash prices to stay competitive.
There’s something to be said about buying year-old refurbs as well. Manufacturers typically have a section of their website dedicated to selling clearance and refurbished merchandise. These systems are typically 40-70% cheaper than the original product, and carries the same or an equivalent warranty. Some discount electronics stores also carry certified refurbs at a deep discount.
Bugs Are Generally Worked Out
Hardware and software rarely works perfectly out of the gate. Especially with Windows and Linux, bugs need to be worked out once the product is launched. Operating systems need specific drivers to work with hardware, and sometimes those drivers conflict with others, causing issues.
Grabbing a system with components that have been out for a year or more allows you to take advantage of mature drivers that have the bugs worked out. Anyone that deals with the latest and greatest hardware on the regular can tell you, early adoption comes at a cost well beyond the initial monetary investment. Sometimes, you have to put up with months of troubleshooting and working with developers to create better drivers.
Most Failures Happen Early On
Hard drives, motherboards, processors, power supplies, and other key components can be subject to early hardware failure. I’ve personally experienced two cases where a brand new computer had a power supply go out within the first few weeks, once with its own fireworks display.
This sucks, and sometimes you need a machine that has been broken in for a bit for projects that require a little extra reliability. Commercial-grade hardware is built to last, and you can often pick up systems that were once used by large companies and sold as these corporations upgraded at a big discount.
I still have a four-year-old Dell workstation that I purchased refurbished from a Discount Electronics here in Austin that once sat at someone’s workstation. Unlike so many consumer systems before it, this PC runs like clockwork, every time. Sure, I might just be lucky. The first-generation dual-core PC has enough processing power to run Windows 7, modern Linux builds, and even the more resource-demanding Windows Vista. Currently, it’s being utilized as a full-time Folding@Home box running at 80% processor efficiency 24/7 for the past several months. No problems, yet.
Replacement Parts are Cheaper
Just as your initial investment is expected to be less with slightly older hardware, replacement parts also come fairly cheap. If you wish to upgrade a single component, add RAM, or replace a bad widget, you can do so for less than you would spend on something newer.
Ancient computers aside, just about any component you need for a system made within the past four or five years can probably be found online very inexpensively. If you open yourself up to secondhand products, you can save a lot of money. Just be careful about what you buy, and where.
There is a disadvantage here in some cases. Motherboards for laptops and other proprietary components can be tricky to locate sometimes. For example, an old Alienware laptop I’ve had for years will probably never function again because I can’t find a working motherboard for it anywhere. Desktop PCs have the advantage of more flexibility and consistent hardware standards.
Better Native Support
Formatting and reinstalling an OS can be a chore, especially if you’re working with a newer computer. Yes, that may not sound like it makes sense, but imagine how many newer hardware options aren’t supported natively by operating systems.
Windows, for example, picks up my older PC’s components and operates almost perfectly right out of the box. My newer PC, not so much. I actually have to pre-load a disc with my motherboard and network adapter drivers in order to access the Web to install other drivers. Meanwhile, my older PC’s components have been added to Windows’ catalog of supported hardware for some time.
Granted, sometimes older hardware can get you in trouble here. Think about all the folks that upgraded to Windows Vista only to discover that their old peripherals were no longer supported because the hardware manufacturer stopped making drivers for it during XP’s lifespan. Then again, we’re talking about the PC itself here, not the peripherals.
The purpose of this article is to share my own experience with owning what some tech-minded geeks would consider to be outdated hardware. Older PCs are quite useful, and for a number of great reasons. Having an extra system around allows you to explore and experiment more with technology, and there’s nothing wrong with using a two-year-old system as your primary machine.
Unless you’re doing heavy 3D modeling, editing HD video, or gaming with graphics set on extreme, you’re probably good to go with a computer that’s a few years past its prime.
In a world obsessed with the latest and greatest, there’s still something to be said about hanging back and enjoying more mature tech. After all, even an Apple IIe still retains much of its original charm.
What about you? Do you own an older computer? If so, what do you work with?