back to article Old PCs: When it's time to die

Often, PCs are like old soldiers: they never seem to die. In many cases the old workhorses keep on going, so long as they are not touched and nothing major explodes or dies. We know this from your comments and we see this in our research too. The upshot is that the lifespan of mainstream PCs, for users who are not too …


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  1. Gabor Laszlo

    When you said old PC..

    I thought you mean the 5-10 years old PCs and laptops I see every day (I offer PC service as a side business). They get upgraded to the max RAM their little motherboards can carry and reinstalled with Linux Mint (or Puppy, for the _really_ old ones).

  2. HighlightAll

    Enough is enough

    Enough is enough when Linux becomes too fat for the platform. Every PC should enjoy a decent OS before it dies.

    1. Daemon ZOGG

      RE: Enough is enough

      Linux is never too fat for old PCs. It just needs a little more thought before installing. For example:

      Choose a "stable release" distribution that offers the option to initially install without a GUI. From the bash shell, install a GUI that will have a smaller memory footprint (i.e. Fluxbox, XFCE, LXDE)--( You can also re-compile the kernel and weed-out any un-needed support modules/drivers to further reduce demand on hardware resources. ;D

    2. Oliver 10

      FOSS is like the Fountain of Youth

      No need to trash the machines, For transaction workers, and I am one for the most part:

      Win98 era machine ----> DSL Linux or Puppy is very complete and capable

      Win2000 era Machine ----> Lubuntu, Debian

      WinXP (up to about 2004) ----> Lubuntu, Debian

      WinXP/Vista/7 (2005 on) ----> Ubuntu

      Also Linux is easy to make into hybrid thin clients on old machine for any big iron tasks using any of several protocals. OK so there is multiple distro's to maintain (its not a monoculture, BUT no licening hassles, no software audits, malware prevention and remediation goes WAY down....)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Re use

    Back in 1987 I ordered a Mission 486DX for CAD work. It worked well and was very reliable whilst the cheapo's in accounts bought Amstrad's and wished they'd hadn't. In 1991 it was retired from CAD work, and became a word processing station, then further retired in 1993 to become part of a production line test set up. It was still chugging merrily away in 1995 when I left the company. Keep them cool, keep them clean, treat them right and they'll last years. How about security? It was never connected to a network, all data passed by 3.5" FD.

    methinks the need to upgrade these days is not as prevalent as it was. The step change from 486 to Pentium was huge, IMO we don't see that these day, only small incremental changes.

    1. Mako

      "Back in 1987...

      ...I ordered a Mission 486DX..."

      I presume you had to wait two years for delivery, given that the 486 wasn't realeased until 1989.

    2. Peter Kay

      I don't quite agree

      The leap from 486 to Pentium was actually quite small until the pentium 90-100MHz was out. Slower pentium chips offered insufficient benefit over a 486DX2-66, never mind the DX4-100. There's been a significant performance overlap in everything from the 286 upwards between the fastest prior generation to the slowest latest generation (286 16MHz > 386 16MHz, 386DX40 > 486SX16 etc).

      The performance difference between slowest previous generation and fastest current generation is pretty large, however.

      Having far too much old kit, I submit that anything slower than a PII is now a bit too old. Even fast pentiums are getting bogged down with more modern Unixes.

      If web browsing is needed, I wouldn't want to use much less than 1GHz of P3, around 700MHz of PowerPC (no flash) and probably 600MHz-ish of MIPS. Even if those configurations are basically usable, a Core2 system's performance is splendid in comparison.

      1. Pirate Dave

        @Peter Kay - I mostly agree

        for the most part, I agree with you, although there are still a few instances where a slow computer will do OK. For instance, my NTP server is an ancient 486 HP desktop from the mid-90's. Why? Because it's a small footprint computer that _just_ fits into a hole in the back of one of the server cabinets. I change the power supply fan every few years, but other than that it's been soldiering on since I put it into service in 2001. I could easily run an NTP server service on one of the newer Linux boxes or VM's, but, well, there's some nostalgia to keeping it going on that aging box. NTP doesn't need much horsepower and even if the box smokes all its chips, it's not the end of the world, it's just the end of time.

        But yeah, with Dell Optiplex 520's available refurbed for $120 or so, it's kinda hard to justify keeping a 300 Mhz PII around for anything other than the most specialized of needs.

        1. Peter Kay

          It's a fair point, but..

          mostly it only works if you run old software on old kit. NTP is terribly undemanding so I can see that you might get away with it.

          Try new software on old kit and it struggles. For instance I fairly happily ran uTorrent on an 486DX33 20MB under NT4 with the large disk driver installed. You'll struggle to provide that level of functionality even in a stripped down BSD Unix these days.

          I do have a 300 MHz embedded AMD box that's fine for running an OpenBSD firewall, but the same kit is barely adequate for running a NetBSD shell box (perl is grindingly slow). Debian (or indeed XP) was quite happy on a PII 300, though, provided I didn't ask it to do anything ridiculous.

        2. AdamWill


          I recognize the 'emotional value', but you could save a ton of money in the long term by using something like a pogoplug - one of those absurdly low-power ARM things in tiny cases which come with a basic Linux pre-installed - for such basic purposes. (or, as you say, just use a VM on an existing box that's up all the time). An old 486 probably doesn't consume quite as much power as a modern full-fat desktop, but it sure consumes more than a tiny ARM box.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Up

          re: quote

          "NTP doesn't need much horsepower and even if the box smokes all its chips, it's not the end of the world, it's just the end of time."

          Very well put.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        I definitely dont agree

        I had a 50Mhz 486 - I STR it outperformed the 70Mhz Pentium of the day.

        And its still works - more than I can say for a lot of more recent machines with those suicidal gel capacitors.

  4. spegru


    While being quick to admit that managing a large 'estate' may be different, I just have to point out a couple of experiences with PC hardware vs OS (yes Linux)

    My previous job gave me a new Dell laptop in 2005 running XP. I remember commenting how fast it was compare to a previous Win2000 machine. However over the following 4 years it became slower and slower and was almost unusable in the end.

    At home I have compact desktop machine that is at least 7 years old, running Linux Mint. While it's not being the fastest thing on the block, it works fine. Yes it's been rebuilt with newer versions a few times but the basic hardware is unchanged

    Time to move away from a Hardware centric view on these things perhaps?

  5. Barry Tabrah

    The legacy hurdle

    One of the main bugbears of machine replacement can be legacy support. In an organisation that has in-house software that was written by staff that left 3 years ago this can be an issue. Particularly when those applications required much fettling to run on the old machine in the first place.

    There is also the question of virtualisation. In an organisation being pushed towards virtualising everything, from its servers to its desktops and applications, the replacement of desktops becomes a contentious issue. Do we replace them now if they're going to be replaced with thin clients in a years time?

  6. nematoad Silver badge

    Ah yes, the old treadmill approach

    It seems to me that this article is really an apeal to refill the coffers of Microsoft. Just because the PC in question does not have a multi-core CPU or 4 Gb of memery is no reason to scrap it. Intelligent use of other O/Ss will lengthen the lifetime of said PC.

    Besides aren't we all supposed to be saving the planet? If we can get more use out of existing machines why keep emitting all the noxious pollutants involved in the manufacture of a PC? As I write this an image referring to the article about the niobium/tantalum war in the Congo is sitting to its right. Surely cutting down on the use of such scarce and contentious resources is a good idea. I think that the author has been listening to the bean counters a little to much.

  7. George of the Jungle
    Thumb Up

    More old computers

    I had a Digital Equipment Celebris 590 (Pentium 90MHz system), manufactured in 1995, running ipCop as my firewall. I got the box for free in 1999, and it's been working (with the occasional time-out for power failures) ever since. Even though I talk about it in the past tense, it is still running - my ex-wife got it as part of the house.

    My current ipCop firewall uses an old Dell Pentium II running at 233MHz - speedy! I may replace it with a mini-ITX system I have laying around, just to cut the amount of electricity it uses.

  8. Ball boy

    Will this become a less significant problem? Yes, probably

    With the rise in virtualisation and SaaS, I suspect many people won't need to upgrade their desktops. Consider: my CRM is on-line, my accounts package is on-line, my email is on-line: why do I need to upgrade my local box when my most common interface to my world lies within a web browser? I only really use the power of this expensive hardware investment when I'm presenting to someone - the rest of the time, I'm more relient on the performance of the 'net and remote hardware and, if I'm honest, there's no real *need* to have much power available to me here and I could do my job just as well with the old laptop I had six years back. Okay, we adopted the SaaS route with gusto a couple of years back - but we're not that far ahead of the masses really and, I suspect many mainstream businesses will move more to SaaS in the next couple of years.

    However, if we all go down the terminal services route, surely the local box is even less relevant?

    Either way, I don't see a pressing need to move to the latest OS on the desktop; yes, it looks nice; yes, it's powerful and allows me to task-switch better and yes, I can probably avoid some security issues that might eventually bug me in the old OS and old hardware - but if all I'm doing is running a web browser or a terminal session, do I care about all the above? I suspect it's not so much of an issue.

    As an aside, I'm not convinced businesses realise the true cost of IT. Back in the day, we'd all sit a new employee down at a desk and give them a phone, a typewriter and a desklamp. Their business model didn't require any of these things to change for ten years or more but now, we're spending vast sums on maintaining what we bought only last month, just to protect it from attack and so on - and after three years, we're under pressure to replace it all with new. I don't think business mind this, providing we can prove there's a productivity gain in doing it - and that's getting increasingly hard to do! Once we shift to SaaS, what reasons are there to spend anything on flashy desktop upgrades? Surely, they become as irrelevant as the desktop lamp and typewriter?

  9. Rogerborg

    Hello, I'm obvious generality!

    I'm just going to say something non-committal, then not offer any actual concrete conclusion or advice. Now, who'd like a fuzzy hug?

    1. Dr Paul Taylor


      "why do I need to upgrade my local box when my most common interface to my world lies within a web browser?"

      Because the browser is the only thing that doesn't work on the ten year old hardware.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: bloatware

        "Because the browser is the only thing that doesn't work on the ten year old hardware."

        That will be quite true in the near future if your IT department mandates IE9 on the grounds that it is "the latest version of the internet". Quite false otherwise.

        With careful use of RDP, a similar line of argument might apply to *most* business users. The keyboard you type on, the screen you see, the mouse you waggle, ... none of these need much of an upgrade.

    2. The Fuzzy Wotnot

      Yes please!

      I have the name for it!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "I'm not convinced businesses realise the true cost of IT"

      I've only seen one company honestly asses it... and that was after they had been bought out by a venture capital firm and under a serious restructuring. It's interesting to see what happens when someone comes in with an axe swinging and forces an IT org to give serious consideration to what they really need to run their business.

      The real problem is that IT departments have two competing priorities: 1.) to support/improve core business functions directly tied to the bottom line and 2.) to keep their users happy (i.e. a popularity contest) by providing what they think/say they need. You will rarely find anyone with the balls to a.) openly/frankly have that conversation and b.) dare to challenge the superiority of user satisfaction over core business needs. Everyone makes some compromises here, but swinging too far to either end of the spectrum usually means you're on your way out unless you own the company (like the venture capital example, and Ernie Ball's story here:

  10. Giles Jones Gold badge

    OS slow down

    Many people swap their computers due to the OS getting into a mess and being over burdened with systray icons and other "helper" applications that are actually swallowing up lots of RAM.

    There's so much software out there. Software that is so bloated and slow that they install so called "fast start" programs that are run upon bootup, I'm not going to name companies (hint: a PDF reader and Java). These pre-load part of the application into memory so it appears to start much faster, but just wasted RAM.

    Often what is needed is a re-install of Windows and a bit more RAM in the computer.

    1. Carl Williams
      Thumb Up

      Just about spot on.

      I installed Windows 7 on my 2 Year old Dell Core2 laptop yesterday and by the time I'd finished the basic build I had to stop at least 7 programs starting at boot by tweaking MSCONFIG. At least four of those apps were from said PDF document reader supplier.

      Still getting decent XP performance out of a 1.1ghz Pentium m once tweaked.

      My folks even have an old Dell Inspiron laptop that have a P2 400mhz CPU that can be used with XP if you keep it basic.

      Keep and reuse until they die.

  11. Red Bren

    It's the environment, stupid

    Not in the green sense but in the application landscape sense.

    "Much of the cost of replacement is in the provisioning and roll-out, application licences and end-user training for new applications."

    I'd say there is a significant cost in carrying out integration testing to make sure the new kit plays nicely with all the existing applications and equipment. When it (usually) doesn't, you have the knock-on cost of updating legacy systems for no benefit. How many bean counters will fund a rewrite or purchase of new client and server software when business critical apps run fine on old kit with the original OS and there may only be marginal perfomance improvements when you use the latest OS on the latest kit?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    I know the feeling well ...

    Having the morning chat with colleagues during bootup, making the coffee while waiting for the blasted thing to log in. Having a dump when hours of tedium watching hourglasses gets too much.

    I wonder how many hours of my working life will be spend watching the little hour glass, banging and shaking the mouse in the hope that will speed things up

  13. Anonymous Coward

    missing the point

    Many of your points are valid. However you have missed the most important point. Once a PC has served its time (I'm talking about a business platform) a refresh will release the value of the old estate. A 3/4 year old refresh will give you a tidy sum to ensure you do a data wipe (often ignored by the IT dept) a new asset count (always a guess prior to this) and the chance to sell on your old estate quickly and cleanly (not given to staff as a thank you or put in the cupboard 'just in case my new one breaks down'). We are not talking about £2000 desktops anymore...a refresh will ensure a common platform for new security features, provide an amnesty for all those unlicensed boxes hidden a way and ensure your engineers can concentrate on the latest s/w (not DOS and windows ME).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I tend to find that banging and shaking the mouse...

      ...does indeed speed things up.

  14. Doug Glass

    Why Ask Why?

    My 1999 Ford F-150 pickup starts fast, gets very good gas mileage (petrol mileage?), is paid for and cheap to insure. Everything works well and it fits my butt very nicely after 200,000+ miles. That 321868.8+ km for you that use the MKS system. The vehicle does all I need it to do in near-vintage style. Not to mention it stills looks mint.

    My old AMD socket A XP 3200+ CPU desktop runs a fully updated, cleaned and maintained XP system with ease. And it does everything I need it to with ease and has power to spare for my needs. I have two identical machines so i tried Windows 7 Home Premium 32 bit on one. Just as soon as I disabled all the menu sliding, animationing and fading it's actually faster than XP in every way except video encoding. But I have my bride's multi-core box for that.

    We throw away way to many good old things including our elderly citizens in many cases. Keeping the old and capable just feels right to me.

  15. Martin


    One advantage of upgrading to a modern PC is power - or lack of it.

    I'm in the middle of replacing all my five-year-old machines at home (already running Linux) with low-power jobbies and SANs - I'll get the capital cost back in less than three years in lower electricity costs. And they'll be faster and quieter than the ones I already have.

  16. Bruno Girin

    Old but usable

    My main laptop at home is a 6 year old ThinkPad T42. Maxing out the RAM, swapping the HDD for an SSD and swapping Windows for Ubuntu has given it 4 of 5 additional years of useful life. It's actually a lot faster and more responsive than the brand new work ThinkPad T410 running WinXP I am typing this on.

    The only downside about this is that I have no believable excuse to upgrade the home laptop to a shiny new toy.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Power

      Only if you run 24/7. Three years is about 25000 hours. Depending on your old and new machines, you might save a tenth of a kW with a new computer if the old one was really crap and the new one powers down more intelligently. Depending on your provider, you might get 6 kWh to the pound. That gives you about £400 to spend on the upgrade.

      So yes, the figures just about add up, but switching off when you aren't using it would push the payback period out way beyond that.

  17. eJ2095


    I get handed a lot of old pcs that are about 5 years old all really need wiping and i just give them away to people who have young kids so they can use them instead of the kids destroying there swanky new laptop.

    Mind you my next door neighbour still has his Dos3.2 running on his box with word star

    He recently asked me to source two 5 n quarter inch drives which i got for free both work fine.

    Only probs got now is his printer is playing up so any one with a old printer and centronics connector on the back and want to give it a new home let me know ta...

    On a different note i still have my work Amiga 1200 68040 Tower running oddly enough.....

  18. JaitcH

    Today's Western brats are too picky, only fast, free PC's needed

    In a Canadian city there was a drive to get corporations to donate computers to a charity whose volunteer members would recondition them and install free Linux OS and operating suite and they would BE GIVEN AWAY to underprivileged kids whose parents had little money to spend on computers.

    After a while there was a considerable stack of unwanted, fully working computers. A friend, who was one of the refurbishing volunteers, told me the computers 'weren't acceptable' to these ungrateful brats 'because they were too slow for games.'

    Junking them was considered, so I said rather than waste everyone's energy how about donating them to overseas students. Now there is a 40 foot container standing in a yard, which when when filled with working 3-4 year old computers, is transported here to VietNam where they are distributed to the more remote areas of this country so children can gain knowledge similar to those resident in the cities.

    We have now placed over 3,100 computers in small, remote villages and recently a national drive has enabled many of them to be connected to the InterNet at no cost by a national communications company here.

    We are now looking at Laos and Cambodia.

  19. AceRimmer1980

    Any old iron

    I did something last weekend that I've never done before - throw away* some PC's.

    I've always had PC's made from standard bits, ATX cases and the like, easily upgradable, and the bits left over can be used to make another FrankenPC. The lowest-spec one I chucked out was a Pentium 4 2.4 ghz, with a geforce AGP, and 512Mb of RAM. Had (most of) it since 2001, still worked perfectly. Don't use 'em, need the space, resale value naff-all, to silicon heaven, where all the calculators go.

    *By chucked out, I took them to the Freecycle area of the local tip. No doubt they went to good homes.

    1. unitron

      Are you anywhere near coastal NC?

      I could swap you a dot matrix for some of those 1.2 M floppy drives.

  20. andy gibson

    6-7 years @ "not demanding"

    I manage almost a hundred Fujitsu tower PCs - Celeron 1.8's with 512Mb of RAM, 40Gb hard drive that are almost seven years old getting daily stick in a secondary school. In that time not one PSU failure and only three hard drive failures. I'd love to replace them with something faster, especially so I can deploy something newer than Office 2003, but sadly there's "no money, and those machines are still working".

  21. Nuke
    Thumb Down

    He's a PC Salesman

    This guy sounds like a PC salesman.

    His very first "issue" is not about the PC at all, but about software. If that's his problem, has he never heard of upgrading software? That deals with his points about productivity and security.

    Sure, if the software gets too big for the PC you need a bigger PC (or just more memory). But most PC's these days have far more memory and HD space than is needed in 99% of commercial desktop environments - which is what he is talking about.

    I'm looking right now at the "System Info" of my typical XP corporate machine, with Lotus Notes, Word, IE, Media Player and other cruft all open. Only 8% of its 10Gb (yes) HD, 3% of its 2.3 GHz CPU and 40% of its 2Gb memory are in use.

    As for reliablity, this PC has not missed a beat for 3 years. Our IT support guy spends 99% most of his time helping people use their software, not on breakdowns, so I'm no exception. New PC's and software are his nightmare, not his wet dream.

    As for boot-up time, every time we have new PCs or major software changes it gets worse; not necessarily because of the OS but because of the extra layers of corporate cruft.

    1. Pirate Dave
      Thumb Up

      your IT guy must be magic

      I'm still trying to figure out how he got XP, Notes, and Office to fit into 800 megs of disk space. That's pretty impressive.

      1. Nuke

        @ Pirate Dave

        Apologies, I tried to read the Used Space and Free Space the wrong way round. It is actually using only 10 Gb of a 150 Gb HD, about 7%. I should have checked that 10 Gb; my point stands though.

  22. Justin Clements

    Strange Article

    Another strange article from one of the magazine contributors of The Register.

    If a 10 year old machine running Windows 2000 has managed to dodgy the security/virus/etc bullet after 10 years, then it's likely to dodge the bullet for the foreseeale future. In fact, such an old OS on the machine is probably not a big target for hackers because there are so few of them in the first place.

    As for power - i'd be interested to see that one, but again, short of binning an old desktop for a laptop, or maybe just changing the monitor, I'm struggling to see any huge benefit again.

    And again, as for cost of support, if the machine has lasted 10 years without being thrown through a window, then it's ongoing support is probably quite low as it's probably quite reliable.

    I hate to say it, but this is a very poor article that The Register have allowed to be posted.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    10 YEARS, thank you very much.

    First: Pentium II. It booted Win95 when it first came to life, and ended up with XP SP2. I can still remember it had 394MB of RAM, and it came with 64MB only. Only formatted 3 times, including the upgrade to Win 98 and Win XP. And I played all games possible on it, thank you. 10 years chugging happily. The PSU on it had a fan that died, but easily replaced. The thermal paste evaporated after 8 years below the tiny fan on the slot, but it didn´t die. Sold it in perfect working order.

    Second: Pentium IV. This mean old codger booted Win 95, Win 98, I regret to say Win Me, and Win XP. As with the others, it begun with 256MB and ended with 3GB, topping out the mobo. Suffered one lightning bolt strike, that fried onboard sound and network (the lightning came through a video capture card that fried a VCR and a TV), but it still works. Yes, I own it.

    But the champion is an IBM Aptiva Pentium I. This crusty old geezer, that I owned before the PII, was donated to charity, and later, as in 15 years later, I visited the place where it was STILL RUNNING. Passive Cooling has got to do anything with it. Yup, no fans, the only loud noise was the 4GB HDD, upgraded from the borked 1.2GB that came in it.

    Most of my machines lasted 10 years, one lasted appaling 15 and still going. My next one will last another 10, I hope so. Saved me tons of money. I usually skip 3-4 Moore's Law generation, each time.

    1. James Pickett
      Gates Horns

      Same old...

      "I usually skip 3-4 Moore's Law generation, each time."

      But, thanks to MS, the new stuff goes at the same speed!

  24. James Pickett


    “Meanwhile, the PC ages and slows down as it is loaded down with new or updated software.”

    Only if you subscribe to the upgrade treadmill. A 10-year old PC running Win 2k, Office 2k and Opera/Chrome/Firefox will do everything most ordinary mortals will need and as quickly as a new PC running the current MS bloatware. I know this because I have one at home and the other at work - my old PC starts up in under a minute from POST (even quicker if I use Lubuntu)...

    As for security, I think most of the bugs are written for current versions, so another reason to remain unfashionable.

    1. Pirate Dave

      one thing

      that a Win2k machine won't do is watch Instant Videos on Netflix.

      Second thing it won't do is run the new version 4 VMWare Infrastructure Client.

      I know because both of my computers still run Win2k. Other than these two things, I've not seen anything else I can't make work, or do without. I can get by without the Netflix thing, but the VMWare thing is becoming a PITA. Damn them to hell for using software components that require XP...

      I still like 2k - as far as I'm concerned it's still got the best UI Microsoft has ever done - stable, not a lot of cruft, working plug-n-play, and administrative things are usually only a click or two away and not buried 5 or 6 clicks deep like in their later OSes. But the VMWare thing is getting too aggravating so I may upgrade to Server2003. I tried running VMWare Server on my Win2k box, then running an XP VM inside of it so I could admin my ESX 4.x boxes, but it's just toooooo slow on this old IBM box.

      Oh, my box is an IBM xSeries 225 from around 2003. Dual Xeons and 2 gigs of ram. Plus a 6-disk U320 RAID array. Sweet it is. Although it's slower than the slowest nowadays. But still, it does most of what I need it to do - admin the network.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Oh look I remembered the title this time

    I find this highly ironic, since Ive contracted in infrastructure IT for years and the eternal cry when you need to hardware for a rig or test setup is "no budget for machines until its being deployed", at which point we usually rescue something horribly outdated and install linux or bsd on it and press it into service again where it ends up BEING deployed, and stays live for the next X years. In more extreme cases Ive gone off and bought stuff from ebay or other sources out my own pocket without being able to claim it back, but hey ho needs must when the devil of deadlines approach.

    Meanwhile in the offices upstairs, where all the secretaries and managers sit, theres a guy full time wheeling round new kit on a tea trolley because their actual machine has reached 2 years old...

    Why is it ironic? well its the test rigs and the servers we cobble together that actually consists of our products we resell. Also "machines slowing down over time as new things are installed"??? blat, re-image job done.

    I think the author of this article must sit in a upper management office full time or something else equally as clueless, rather than actually being on the coalface as it were...

  26. The Unexpected Bill

    They're everywhere...

    There's more old PCs out there than you'd think...

    In my own personal inventory, machines that are used daily include a few Compaq Deskpro EN boxes (Windows 2000, XP and one with PC-BSD). They do everything I want them to do, were dirt cheap to acquire and seem to be just as tough as nails. There's an HP Vectra VA Series 6 running FreeNAS with the blistering raw power of a 200MHz Pentium Pro backing it up. It runs FreeNAS and appears as an Apple Time Capsule to about seven or eight Apple Macintosh computers. Despite its advanced age, it works better than the real Time Capsule from Apple. Last I knew, it had been up for more than 150 days!

    There are others, including a bunch of early Pentium and even a few 286/386/486 boxes around. Most of these do intermittent duty or are members of my IBM PS/2 vintage computer collection.

    I do freelance consulting for home and small business. You'll find almost anything there...most recently, I worked on someone's 2000-era Dell Dimension XPS PIII to remove a few pieces of malware. They were thinking of buying a new computer, but this one does everything they want or need to do. They did eventually buy a laptop for use when traveling, but the old Dell keeps right on ticking.

    At work I have an eight year old NCR Pentium 4 as my main computer. It's clocked at a whopping 1.5GHz. It's been through several operating systems. A newer machine would no doubt be nice, but this one does *everything* that needs to be done and does it well.

    What this underscores is the ever-increasing reliability of computer equipment and the fact that even older equipment has enough computing power to meet a lot of user's needs. Getting a new computer just does not represent the amazing performance boost it used to...

    There are times I miss that feeling of years past. Buying a $20 Dell OptiPlex GX620 in good working condition corrects my perspectivce, though.

  27. Graham Bartlett

    Upgrading costs more than just hardware and licenses

    Imagine you're working somewhere that's basically a company full of geeks. They don't know much about running a network, but they damn well know how to get around WinXP, Office 2003 and all the various apps they need.

    Then IT upgrade everything. WinXP becomes Windows 7, Office 2003 becomes Office 2007, and various stuff gets locked down because it's best practise.

    Oops. The guys who needed particular settings for their gear now need to figure out how to do it in Windows 7 (assuming there *are* drivers for it). A company policy of making the screensaver kick in after 10 minutes without a keypress (and preventing the user turning this off) means that unattended overnight test runs have to become attended daytime test runs. And everyone swears a blue streak at the new Office interface.

    And it all costs money in productivity.

  28. thecakeis(not)alie

    Old PCs.

    They're grand! Make excellent thin clients. Espessially with Linux installed on them. What's even better is XRDP - it allows you to use the fast RDP protocol to tlak to a linux VM. What's that you say? A Linux Terminal Services environment has been born?


    Bye, Microsoft. Maybe we'll meet again if you realise the value of innovating again. (Thanks for the past decade's worth of employment, but the future is different and you are the past.)

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Bye, Microsoft?

      If that seems too brave, Linux is quite happy to talk to a Windows RDP connection and a *Windows* Terminal Server licence can be yours for less than 100 quid per seat, which is much cheaper than a fleet of new computers even after you've bought the server(s) to run it on.

      No use for home, of course, but a sizable minority of business users could be converted to this method and the only difference they'd notice would be the performance improvement.


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