The ability — or rather, right — to repair will inevitably mean using electronics longer, and keeping them out of the garbage. That’s less e-waste, but it’s also older, potentially slower and less powerful portable workstations. This is the question: how long should you keep your electronics running? When do you start getting into the false economy of repairing something just because you can? What is the minimally viable laptop?
Moore’s law died a decade ago, and we’re long past the Megahertz wars of the 90s and 2000s. RAM is plentiful, even if Chrome gobbles it up, and network connectivity is ubiquitous. We are in the age of stagnation of personal computers. The exponential growth of computing power died sometime around 2004, and we haven’t looked back since. Sure, there are advances like newer, faster, more capable graphics cards and RGB RAM, but most applications for most people don’t require high-spec devices.
You simply don’t need to upgrade your computer as often now, and this sentiment is shared with experts and amateurs alike. It was only a few months ago that Apple discontinued the mid-2015 15″ MacBook, widely cited as the best laptop ever made. It’s not unusual to see actual hackers sporting a Thinkpad X220 or T420, machines released nine years ago. The latest version of Windows has lower minimum requirements than previous versions, and except for the upper echelons of computation (primarily running Fortnite at over 1000 fps), everyone is okay with the fact that you don’t need to have the latest and greatest personal computer; we’ve shifted conspicuous consumption onto phones. If a decade-old laptop is sufficient for basic web browsing and playing videos on YouTube, how much more do you need?
We’ve seen bottom of the barrel laptops before. We’ve lusted over them. The eeePC, launched in 2007, was underpowered for its time, but it was just enough for some light browsing. There were mods, and since there wasn’t a spinning disc drive, it was surprisingly responsive. Throw on a decent Linux distro, and you have something. Not much, but something.
What is the minimally viable laptop? How cheap is a machine that will allow you to do your work? Right now, you can pick up some very nice business-class laptops from eBay for a hundred bucks. You can get new batteries and power adapters for them. If you manage to pick up a ThinkPad, all the part numbers for each of the components are available, and you can find replacements anywhere.
How low can you go on the price performance curve of modern computing devices? No one would claim a butterfly keyboard Thinkpad 701 would be useful for modern work, unless you’re one of the really weird vintage computer nerds on Instagram. These days, very few people can claim they need a top-of-the-line workstation that’s also portable. Video editors and engineers notwithstanding, just about everything runs in a browser these days anyway. There must be a middle ground somewhere between the four inch thick laptops of old and the modern day luggable. What is it?
In my Thinkpad buyer’s guide from two years ago, a guide that’s still oddly accurate, the sweet spot for a laptop that will still see daily use is a dual-core Sandy Bridge CPU, 8 or 16 GB of RAM, and negligible storage because you’re going to put an SSD in there anyway. The only problem with these old business-class laptops picked up on auction sites is the display resolution. Seven hundred and sixty eight vertical pixels just isn’t enough, but there are plenty of places where you can pick up a 1080p panel. Compare this with its modern equivalent. Today, businesses are equipping their employees with a dual-core Kaby Lake CPU running at the same clock as what was available nearly a decade ago. You might get 32 GB of RAM, and this time the storage is an SSD. Display resolution hasn’t improved much, although there are rare and expensive variants equipped with OLED displays.
The age of the minimally viable laptop is here, and it feeds right into our right to repair. If your machine lasts longer, you’ll eventually need to repair it. If you’re still running a mid-2015 MacBook, you’ll be looking up some iFixit guides eventually. What, then, is the best laptop if you don’t care about having the best and most expensive. That’s a question we’re opening up to you: are you still using the computer you used to first sign up on Facebook? What is the minimally viable laptop, and what computer can you buy today that will still be useful in ten years?
“It’s never been harder to repair your electronics.” Yes, but on the other hand it’s never been easier and cheaper to get spare parts – directly from china.
…And tutorials on youtube on how to do it. An article full of rhetorical questions provokes everyone to share un-ripe opinions and some people to argue with them. Hackaday didn’t use to be like that. The article misses some very important premises and seems not to take into consideration the very own laws of physics. Even if you would be able (or allowed) to repair an electronic device un-endlessly, there are still some entropy limitations. Have you guys heard of the diffusion effect in semiconductors? Have you ever heard the biggest electrolytic capacitor manufacturers only give them 10years of age in ideal 25⁰C operating conditions? I would give the right to repair MACbooks to everybody if I were the Apple’s CEO by making them easy to open, but what is this ever going to change? Can anyone repair a cracked vias inside of a mother board under a BGA chip that’s been overheating like crazy due to miniaturization for the past 3yrs? One who would be able to fix a broken vias or reball a BGA pad array wouldn’t find any limitation or hinder in going for the pentalobe screwdriver and the suction cup. Anyone who ever worked as a hardware designer for some major company understands the hardware’s limitation very well and repairing is not for everyone. And granting access inside of a case with just a ph1 screwdriver does not limit the scraped electronics and keep them out of the garbage. It would create more broken things as unprofessionals try to repair them. I would say the average life of an electronic device is about 4-5yrs. And I think many laptop/phone repairmen will agree with me on this. I saw functional 7yr old laptops but the owners mainly kept them for book keeping in dry environments and they rarely watch a movie to heat up that video card. That story with the 10yr old EeePC is the story of a dead ghost which appears from time to time, but everyone knows 95% of these laptops never lasted after 5 years of age and 30% of them died after 2yrs.
You can also check this video with more info on what I’m trying to say. And check the project page about more on the longevity of the hardware designs.
The further you go back in time the easier the item was to repair The better it was built to start with and the more likely you would find it lasting decades not a few years Don’t you think we’re going in the wrong direction now?
Maybe since we’ve realised we are literally killing the planet and creating mountains of hard to recycle items, which require energy and chemicals to recycle the valuable bits leaving a soup of waste behind, it’s time to roll it back a little?
Make things that are easier to repair and last longer. Make things more expensive to cut down on the comsumerism and waste. Make people value things they buy and look after them not discard of them so easily without thought to concequence
This all starts with the capitalist need for ever growing profit and consumption This path doesn’t end well unless two things happen:
Since those two things are currently fantasy, pretending that they are coming and continuing to produce, consume and waste at the rate we do is frankly insane.
Actually, it’s because the material costs of a product nowadays are very small compared to the business and personnel costs.Things could be made repairable, but to have someone actually repair it would cost twice as much, and coincidentally consume twice as much resources elsewhere when the money is spent. This is because most people nowadays don’t have to work to produce anything of real value. “Work” has taken on an entirely different meaning – it now means whatever effort that makes you money (confusion of price with value).
The problem is, the feedback loop from a pointless activity to losing wealth over it has become long to the point that individuals don’t recognize they’re doing something incredibly dumb and wasteful – instead they pin the blame on something else, like “capitalism”. We no longer distinguish between value-adding and value-detracting work. You might as well say, “I want to be paid to play video games” – oh, that’s right, we do that, since most of us get our money in similar ways and think this is just fine.
This of course results in prices going up, since people are making money but not the goods to buy with the money, which is the same as wages going down, which should signal that you should be doing something else. Instead people are demanding minimum wages and welfare that means they don’t have to actually find more gainful occupations for themselves, or move to areas with better job options and actual demand for labor – they just sit in their impoverished neighborhoods and vote for whomever promises them more free money. They’ve broken the market mechanism, and started to argue for things like universal basic income, or, “If you pack groceries, you should afford groceries”.
You shouldn’t be paid much anything to pack groceries – you shouldn’t be packing groceries, because that’s a pointless activity. These and many others are superfluous and value-consuming (through the wage-earner’s consuming) activities that would pay very little if the labor market was actually functioning according to the profit principle. The trick is, nobody knows what “profit” is anymore – it’s just as well to make a chair, and to vote for a political representative that promises to give you that chair.
So, since you’re paying for other people to do fake work, fixing things costs more than the thing is worth. Even if you make the thing repairable, most of the products are simply thrown away, because it is not economical to keep them going. You can imagine it as going to a repair shop where ten guys sit around the desk while one guy does the work, and when the job’s done they all put their hands out expecting to be paid. If you refuse, they start crying that you’re a capitalist pig.
But in my opinion, a lot of this is also driven by integration and miniaturization. For computing devices, if it’s not an SOC yet, it will be soon. That’s just the nature of meeting consumer demand for portable electronics, and long battery life for those electronics. Other issues like hard to dissemble products are a result of this push too.
Consumers are going to demand electronics they can repair. They may demand electronics that can be repaired, but they will leave how to make that possible up to others.
what a negative bs: I am still running on my 2012 Macbook Air and its phantastic! I replaced the battery once and it is still my daily driver, when I am on the go. It is so damn robust I dont think anything besides bloated webpages with auto-playback ads will kill it…
Yep same here with a mid 2010. Replaced ssd with the biggest available (500gB) and replaced battery after 1100cycles. Watch movies everyday on it. It fell on the floor once. Floor got impacted.
Fully agree. I purposefully do a lot of work on older machines. It guarentees that my stuff will run on basically everything. Up until a year ago my main machine was a C2D MacBook Pro from 2008. I still use that machine for daily stuff, but there is no sign that it is at any rate not relevant anymore.
My current mac is of 2015 vintage and although I tend to take care of my hardware and it typically is granted a long live, I know that my 2008 MBP could outlive this one simply because of the level of repairability of that machine.
I used my 2007 Macbook until 2015. One of the main reasons for my upgrade was the processor fan started making a horrible grinding noise, and I couldn’t find a replacement for it. So I got myself the (then current) 2015 MBP, and I can barely replace anything on it… not even the RAM or SSD?!!!
Do you mean you could not find this fan: https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=m570.l1313&_nkw=macbook+2007+fan&_sacat=0 ?
I love macOS for laptops but I hate the new MacBook keyboards and trackpads. I bought a 2013 Retina MacBook Pro with a Haswell dual-core a few months ago and it’s been perfect for me. No plans to get something else any time soon.
I just upgraded the ssd (125GB to 1 TB) in my 2014 MacBook Air and I am thinking about upgrading the battery I don’t see replacing it any time soon. It does everything I need and the battery still lasts 3-4 hours, it has a nicer keyboard than current apple machines and enough ports for my needs. I actually bought the same 2014 model (used) for my dad for Xmas last year.
Batteries are the big problem for older laptops. Finding batteries that work like new OEM batteries is almost impossible. The batteries have a shelf life and even when not used they degrade over time. I tried to buy batteries for an older HP laptop and got something that had been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years, they didn’t last more then a few months before the runtime was down to a quarter of what it should have been.
But for desktops the older machines can have very long and trouble free lives. Until a few weeks ago I used a discarded HP Z400 workstation upgraded with cheap SanDisk SSDs for storage (and it’s still in use in my household as someone a daily driver by someone else). I picked up that HP close to 4 years ago. I also have an old i5 HP SFF machine as my workshop computer, and my “new” daily driver is an old workstation based on an Intel SC2600CO motherboard with dual Xeons and 32GB of RAM. You can pick up old hardware like this for much less than you would pay for something shiny and new.
A lot of laptop batteries are a bunch of 16850 cells and some logic. It’s a pain, but they can be rebuilt (Wear goggles).
A surprising number of these batteries have fuses that detect if the cells were disconnected and reconnected. Resetting these fuses is very tedious so as not to be worth it. A significant amount of batteries are also impossible to open: you need to crack their plastic shell which makes the battery useless.
Yeah probably not that hard to even convert NiMH packs to Lion by faking the signals the old pack sent to the charge circuit, and providing built in charge circuit in the pack to handle the Lion.
I built my own desktop PC ten years ago and I’ve kept it running ever since. I swap out the hard drives every 18 months and I think I upgraded the CPU once and replaced the CPU and cabinet fans a time or two. You can maintain what you yourself build pretty easily.
That would have to be a hell of an old machine to still have a NiMH battery. My first laptop was an IBM 600e (1998) sporting a 233mhz CPU, and it had a lithium battery.
I used one of those HP SFF machines until the PS died, the only problem is that it’s not a standard PS. OR atleast the connectors are not standard. Still have the machine, it is just real low on the repair list…
You seem to be living in a different reality than me. Yes. Everything runs in a browser. And even modern websites and media formats put a workload on a (non-workstation, portable) laptop that makes hardware older than ~4 years run totally sluggish. Linux does not change that (and yes, I do run Linux). Plus the “minimally viable laptop” will depend on the needs to the individual person, so there is no answer to the question. The general rules of “choose a long warranty”, “make sure it’s upgradable” apply to any purchase. Always have.
Shipping a laptop with 32 bit OS and buss simply protected the higher end 64 bit machines from poor sales. Early Sony laptops shipped with 512k ram, max usable 1.5 meg. WTF? Bill may have been wrong about 640K being maximum ever.
My wife uses a ~2009 Sony Vaio and it’s had a ram up grade (4GB) and a bigger hdd but she won’t be parted from it
My vaio from 2010 still runs like grease lightning on an ancient debian build with xfce4. I clean it every year, but the fan is loud, so it mostly sits on the shelf and hunts neutron stars.
One of my friends does music for events and until last year he was using an old Pentium 2 or 3 Sony VAIO laptop with Windows XP for it. One thing that was extra annoying about it was Sony had made the software for the click roller *for that specific model* un-available. It was available to download when I first set up the laptop, I burned all the drivers, music software etc to a CD-R. A couple years later he’d managed to bugger up the windows install *and lost that CD-R* which I had told him to put somewhere safe.
I figured no biggie, I’ll just download it all again. Uh, no. I could download the drivers from Sony for everything *except* the click roller, and it was only that specific model the click roller software was no longer available. I tried all the other versions I could find and they’d either refuse to install or would install but wouldn’t work with the device.
What was so important about the click roller? Super quick access to all the programs he used for the music. I’d set it up so with a click of a thumb a menu popped up and he only had to spin the roller and click.
I tried there too. IIRC either that specific file had been removed from the archive, or none of them were archived because of some stupid web design where the links couldn’t be followed by the archiver.
Doesn’t matter now because the old VAIO finally died, and got replaced with an old (but not that old) Dell XPS 140 with one vertical one pixel wide line in the display stuck on bright green. Not worth replacing the display, the line didn’t bother anything, and it’s made for XP so his music software works fine on it.
Perhaps the Snappy Driver Installer driver pack would have it? it’s a community-driven pack with a front-end UI that searches hardware IDs against a database and installs them for you from local 7z’s containing quite a number of drivers, and works all the way back to XP. I know it helped me out tons on a couple older HP machines that HP “conveniently” decided to stop hosting the software for, and unless you know the number of the softpaq you need for that specific weird driver, you’re kinda boned.
it may work out in your favor here. just be warned, the thing needs about 18 gigs worth of space for all the drivers it has, and you’re better off running it off a large flash drive (at least 64GB) when it has updates. it has an inbuilt torrent thing to grab those and then seed them back to the network after it’s been downloaded until you close the program next. past that it doesn’t seed them on next bootup, I’ve checked.
I got the full Snappy download for working on a Compaq NC8430. Win 10 1809 rejected every version of the Mobility Radeon X1600 driver it has (quite a long tale on that laptop) and the Broadcom Ethernet driver Snappy insists is best for it, Win 10 1809 allows to be installed, then instantly disables for reasons it won’t divulge.
But for everything else it worked well. I’ll be using it again. I picked up a 32 gig USB 3.0 SanDisk flash drive, which has the full Snappy on it.
Another one I use, because it has found some very obscure drivers, is DriverMax. Could not have gotten everything working on Win 10 on my old MPC T2500 without it. A pain in the arse program that constantly pesters the user to buy it, used to allow four installs a day with no monthly limit. Now it’s down to 2 a day with a 25 driver a month limit on the free version. But if you’ve a device that *nothing else* can find a driver for, it’s worth installing DriverMax to see if they have it. Then uninstall the POS. Something else DriverMax is good for is doing a full backup of all the drivers. It makes an archive that can be unpacked and used to install drivers without having DriverMax installed.
There is a workaround for DriverMax’s limits. Their own website. Using info provided by DriverMax you can search their site to get mini downloader/installers for most of their archive. Look for a version and date exact match. The executables are all the same size, contain no drivers but must have some internal URL or script that downloads a driver.
The premise: “The age of the minimally viable laptop is here” has been a thing for 10 years. Dell, HP, and Lenovo spit out business class laptops that are serviceable, high rez, and fast. I’m on a Dell E7440 laptop now, Intel Quad core i5, 8 gig ram, 256 SSD, rez is 1366×768, and super thin, Picked up for $150 USD. A similar tower goes for $125. Used, of course. I suspect Intel is the culprit here. Ever since the quad core CPUs were released, the laptops have become reusable. It’s not the latest/greatest urge users respond to, it’s serviceability. If you follow the money, the latest scam is to force windows 7 users into Windows 10 with an encryption scheme. I am slowly removing Microsoft products from my little corner of the planet. Your mileage may vary.
I picked up a set of used laptops for my family 6 years ago. Those laptops are all aging poorly because of physical stresses, so when the chipsets start dying it makes replacing motherboards a tough decision. I have resuscitated them so many times they are scarred and a little funny looking. When I began my refresh I was pleasantly surprised by the finesse of the new machines. The specs are not that different, but the performance is good. Power requirements, battery technologies, PCIE Busses, and southbridge comms and refined UI are compelling improvements. My minimally viable laptop needs to install hefty apps for years, but I still need the right to repair because these babies need to give me nearly a decade.
Yeah, it’s unfortunate that the size constraints have led to no form factors. It would be great if you could replace a dead main board with a same-form-factor replacement that had newest chip set. The aluminum cases on many of today’s laptops would keep on ticking for a long time if parts could be upgraded around them.
Wouldn’t it be grand if we could get manufacturers to give us long term support chassis agreements and sell a range of high quality options that can be dropped in to that same space? I have seen several projects propose it and IBM/Lenovo have a recognizable standard shape on the outside that makes you think you could refit them easily, but that has not been my experience.
My Dell E5440 worked brilliant until the last win10 upgrade which broke ACPI for those using UFEI Now it wont turn off Because of a “fix” MS made and dell wont issue a new ACPI driver to fix the flaw because tehe laptop is obsolete
Even my 2005 vintage desktop PC running Linux Mint MATE is faster than my 2016 laptop running Windows 10. Derive your own conclusions from there.
re: linux Yeah sure, I could run linux on this but I dont want to. That’s not a solution really is it ! I do run linux, but not on everything. why? Becasue it’s only good at EVERYTHING if you’re a zealot with a closed mind. And 100% the same goes for windows. That said, windows 10 is slowly but certainly making me fully convert. But will still need a VM of windows xp for legacy apps.
Hate to tell you this, but pretty sure the guy with the closed mind is the one running an XP VM in 2019 to keep using 20 year old “legacy apps”.
Build quality is a huge factor for me. I hate typing on a shitty keyboard that squidges under my fingers. I’m really interested in the upcoming Pinebook Pro. The first edition Pinebook had terrible build quality; with 4GB RAM, GPIO, an ARM64 CPU, 1080p display and a look like a Thinkpad T-series, as long as it’s reasonably sturdy, it could be pretty close to perfect.
I imagine it is a POP 4GB … so no upgrading count me out. DDR4 prices are half what they were when this was posted.. I guess it remains to be seen if the POP ram is cheaper also.
The GPU also has limited open source support, and it remains to be seen how far they will get with the panfrost driver.
It looks more like a Dell XPS… than a Lenovo which would have a proper trackpoint and physical clickers instead of the useless one made as part of the touchpad.
I still love having a battlestation for my day to day work and only use the laptop on the road (and I suppose on the sofa fairly regularly). Running Linux, it tends to be the wear and tear that calls for upgrade and not the reduction in performance. So the place that I’m at right now is battery life. I would expect my battlestation to be useable for at least 10 years — if the laptop can exceed half of that I think that’s reasonable.
The laptop battery is not necessarily meant to be user replaceable. But it’s not glued in place or anything like that. Brand name is about $130, and I should be good to go with my first swap on this 2016 Dell XPS13. If it keeps the machine going for at least another 3 years, that really starts to make the initial cost of the machine worth it.
Enter the HP Battlestation Wars.. My video edit tower, HP Z800, 24 gig ram, dual Xeon quad core @ 3.20 gHz, 2 TB hard drive, dual DVD burners, $175.00 USD. Yes, still on Windows 7 Pro. Yes, hot swap capable, hardware R.A.I.D. what’s not to like?
I just picked up an HP Z400 with 24GB RAM, Quadro 600, and a quad-core Xeon W3550 for $40 from a local computer recycler. The COA was for Windows 7 Pro, but Windows 10 installed and upgraded to Pro without issue. It became a FreeNAS box once I transplanted in innards into a full tower case that held more 3.5″ drives. I also purchased 3 Dell T3500 workstations (also $40/ea) with similar specs to the Z400. Sure, they’re all approaching double-digit age, but they’re still fast and, in my opinion, totally usable by today’s standards. I was reliving Portal 2 on one of the T3500s just last night.
All true.. The HP Z series, (400, 600, 800 ) are top of the line. My source sells fully configured for $125 up Very solid machines.. +1
Quite good surprisingly they will stay running near silent most of the time your gpu if you add one is louder. They do have a ton of power if you need it though, aka you have added far too manny harddisk and need to up the fan speed on your nas/server.
DL380 – 2 Xeons w/6 cores, 18 RAM slots, 6 SAS drives with raid – hot swappable. Built in remote management. GBP 80 upwards. Granted, it’s rack mount and the video out is VGA.
M1000E – 16 blades, 2 Xeons/blade w/6 cores & 32GB. 40GB backplane. ISCSI offloading on the blades. GBP 200 for the chassis, management cards, network cards and some blades, further GBP 200 to get full complement of blades. Power bill is a bit unfunny :-/
Few days ago, I tried a Celeron 900 2.2Ghz + 4 GB RAM + SSD + intel GMA 4500 on windows 10, That runs surprisingly like a charm ! (only WDM driver for the intel does not support opengl 2.1 :/ ) I have a Compaq mini 311 (Intel Atom 250 + Nvidia ION + SSD) and this one is quite slow. I think that old Intel Atom CPU aren’t good for fine use.
I use a Toughbook CF-H1 with the first? certainly very old generation of atom with linux and its flawless unless you really want a high CPU load. Assuming you don’t want to drive huge pixel count external monitors and do video stuff – the poulsbo chipset is really shitty for alot of things and does let the side down. But computationally once you get away from the bloat of windon’t its fine – I use it with gimp as a drawing note scribble tablet and web browser and it is perfectly adequate. Its my daily driver for mobile computing.
As near as I can tell, it’s plenty powerful enough to be useful for outside stuff – reading stuff, (hopefully decoding radio signals), taking notes, recharging phones, etc. And they’re still making parts for these little buggers!
But complex Internet pages are a lost cause. You know web design has gone up its own asshole when you have to VNC into a more-powerful machine to…. scroll Reddit. That was a formative experience for me: “Man, reddit’s laggy as balls on this thing. What if I…. remote into my “server” (a 7+-year-old desktop)… over a sketchy 11Mbps negotiated wireless link provided by a USB dongle on the server side…. and try to stream the entire experience?” [90s later] “Of course it’s faster. That’s rational. That’s sensible.”
Ex-Toughbook user checking in! Every Toughbook I’ve ever owned became obsolete for RAM constraints long before anything else felt even a little limiting. Maybe screen resolution was feeling a little tight on some..
I’d still be using a CF-m34 as my daily driver if anything would work in 384MB of RAM. Everything else about that machine was flawless.
CF-30 user here!!! I still use her in the field every day. From power plants to oil refineries she does what I need her to do. Upgraded to a SSD and maxed out the ram, it works fine for what I need it to do. I would have went through 100’s of other “cheap” laptops given the abuse this machine sees.
Running a W520 with SSD, spinny disk in the expansion bay and 32GB of RAM. It eats virtual machines for breakfast, and the power brick doubles as an offensive weapon. Made the move to ubuntu full time after my 2017 MBP met with an unfortunate accident. Just couldn’t justify replacing a machine that infuriated me on a day-to-day basis. W520 is faster and more capable than the MBP on a subjective basis, but I really miss the higher res screen. The W520 cost me GBP 350 fully configured, which is astounding. Additional power bricks are GBP 20 (not GBP 100, thanks Apple). Docking stations are GBP 50 and come with a fab array of ports and extended video capabilities. I’ve also got an X220, but the vertical resolution is pants so it doesn’t get much use. Battery life is pretty good though. I do also miss the touchpad on the MBP a bit – my thumb suffers from mouse clicking on the Lenovos.
I do like the W5420, (the “W” is for upgraded video as in Workstation) but for browser wars, my little Dell E7440 works fine.
Same here, W530 for 8 years now, sure upgraded RAM and SSD, docking station, changed battery twice, but running Linux 16.04, it’s a beefy workstation, especially since flash plugin is long gone. The display bezel just starts to show cracks, it’s a pity since everything else is still good, and case edges looks polished like an old tool, I’m wondering if I will be able to find such long lasting laptop nowadays, surviving an everyday commute, used for field debugging and sailboat plotter.
Also rocking the W520, the one thing that’ll probably kill it for me is that nVidia dropped support for the GPU and nouveau isn’t quite there yet on power management.
I don’t know what you all are complaining about, I have 2 TRS-80’s, a comodore 64, and 2 desktops installed with DOS 6.22 Windows 3.11…I CAN’T DO MUCH WITH THEM! but they do work. Every P4 and above I have been able to successfully upgrade to windows 10. I;m not a proponent of windows 10, I have a few linux systems as well, but when I go to fix a pc, it’s usually a problem with windows 10, so I stay familiar with it so I know what I’m supporting, I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who thinks this.
I had a Pentium4 M (Dothan). I installed 2 GB of RAM, which cost a lot at the time but lasted well. I only upgraded because the display backlight driver conked out.
Moore’s law didn’t die, it just doesn’t function in the way you want it to. I know that Moore’s law is related to transistors / memory doubling on the same footprint every 2 years. But I mean that other things, regarding computing technology, still “feel”like they obey to the same rules.
Example: on the same computer, the websites I like to visit seem to increase or double in size every two years. And they will be loading slower and slower, even though my internet speeds get’s faster and faster as well. A big part of that is caused by some lottery popup widescreen add that must be shown in the fullest colors and biggest framerates. But also my browser itself and the amount of memory it requires seem to double every two years. So while my computer still runs the same software from decades ago without problems, the internet related applications just slow everything down. I do run add block plus, which makes it better, I just wonder for how long.
So while Moore first stated that everything will get better every 2 years, it simply now means that everything will get worse every 2 years. Yet, we all are in denial as we would all still like to call this process “progress”.
Software and websites getting slower is Wirth’s law in action. Web sites in particular seemed to started getting over complex around 2013 to 2014 and have only gotten worse since then.
Moore’s law is an observation of a phenomenon caused by economic feedback: a technology which gives economic advantage becomes a target of investments and further development because it is making a bunch of people a bunch of money, and they want to make more money. This causes an exponential growth that is bounded by the growth rate of the market for that technology, until one of two things happen: the technology reaches some fundamental limit, or, the market becomes unable to extract any more value out of that technology.
Somewhere around mid 00’s single processor performance hit a ceiling because people could not find any use for faster CPUs – they already did everything they were supposed to, and adding more transistors only added power consumption with little benefit to anyone. The problem types shifted to big data, and the performance game shifted to GPUs, while the CPUs started to optimize for lower power consumption and higher cycle efficiency.
Unfortunately “basic web browsing and playing videos on YouTube” is a moving target! Back then when *buntu 12 was shiny, I gave an upcycled Dell Laptop (Inspiron 8-something) to my significant other exactly for these tasks and it did fit. Then.
Somewhen along the upgrades to *buntu 14, then 16 (I deploy Lubuntu LTS almost exclusively) or maybe some of the Firefox upgrades inbetween it gradually went cheesy :-/ also adding in more RAM did not help. Finally I had to phase out the machine and switch to a newer one. I find that YT in particular and most online shops with thousands of products (possibly the webbrowsers themself too) put a STEADILY INCREASING burden to the clients computers, finally without increasing benefits and without changing the taskset. I long for past, easy and simple -thus lighter- Websites. Without a multicore i- sided by at least 4 GB RAM you barely can’t even shop on the web… (Unless you visit outdated backyard online shops with only a handful of product offerings, that is)
The next machines I have to replace are the kids Dell Latitude 510 and the HP 6730 by the sofa. They both now run Lubuntu 18 LTS; a performance hit was clearly perceivable when I did upgrade them from 16 LTS to 18 LTS and I fear these won’t be acceptable anymore after the next upgrade round in 12..15 months.
I think there is a nomenclature problem. You can not have a right to something that must be provided by another person. For example, a repairable device.
I think the nomenclature was intentional. He is invoking part of an ongoing conversation about whether manufacturers can make stuff intentionally impossible or illegal to service: https://www.wired.com/story/john-deere-farmers-right-to-repair/
You are not wrong, but the conversation is more nuanced than the conventions would initially convey. The larger question is do you own things you buy? If you own the things you buy, should you be able to repair them? In this article, Brian is making a case for manufacturers who have not made generational advances in design in many years to standardize more so that those who are able to repair need not discard the 95% (or 63% in my case) that works because of a failed component.
My SO’s HP 8560W croked on her. A few years back someone gave me a newish Dell notebook with a much larger display. The unit would not turn on. I had just wanted it for it’s COA so I could do the win 10 upgrade on a machine and see what it looked like. When her machine died I took the Dell apart, found the ribbon from the power switch had fallen out of it’s connector, put it back in and poof, she came up. The old owners kept the disk so I got a nice SSD for it, and she is actually much happier with it. She loves the big screen and the I5 v I7 and 8 gb v 4 gb of memory makes no difference to her normal use. What she really does love is the SSD and the wicked fast boot times. I felt bad giving her what I considered about half the machine but she is actually much happier with it. And now I have spare parts for my 8560W (smile) which I do push.
Just retired my XP machine which was custom built in 2007; motherboard wont hook up with any network card…. Now I’m running Win10 on an Optiplex 980, circa 2010
I have a personal bang around Dell Inspiron 6000 running XP for some project stuff in the basement. Only had to replace the screen and hard drive on that unit in the 13 years I’ve owned it, didn’t lose any data. Runs Draftsight and my CAM program, though it’s becoming next to useless for browsing.
I have a recently retired from the family HP unit that’s 5 years old, new hard drive installed a year or two ago…again no data loss — just can’t get it to update anymore, so into my project pile it goes. Great machine for running Draftsight and my CAM program. I use it throughout the house and for travel.
I don’t purchase laptops that I can’t do repairs to in an easy fashion. If I can’t fix it myself, I don’t buy it. While smaller and lighter is the mantra for some companies to sell new laptops, I would like to see the next gimmick be “User serviceable parts inside — buy this and you won’t be throwing it out in 3 years”.
The final laptop in my bag of tricks is one I’ve saved from the recycling bin over and over again. It’s a knock around XP laptop that has all the secret sauce programs we use at work on it. It’s the only one where we can have full access for quick fixes. Not the fastest thing in the world, but our IT department won’t give us new laptops with enough permissions to be useful as anything other than web browsing doorstops. No thanks. That knock around XP laptop is going on 20 years old, and I’ll keep it alive as long as I can. HP Compaq 6710b.
Slightly off-topic: what CAM program do you use on the XP ‘book? I’m looking into building a more fully integrated station for my CNC router and am always interested in options that can include older/ cheaper hardware
My daily carry and minimal laptop is a Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 (M3) with the Linux subsystem enabled, replacing a previous generation MacBook Air. Under 3 lbs, 360 degree hinge, beautiful 12″ high resolution touch display with stylus, fast enough for browsing and moderate development work (Python-based web and database services using VS Code and standard Unix tools), and 8 hours or so of battery life. Cost on sale was $400, it will go to the recycler when it breaks.
My casual browsing and YouTubing laptop is an ASUS EEE 1025C with 4GB of ram and a modified BIOS that enables the 64 bit features of the N2600 processor. It runs the originally installed Windows 7 and Manjaro Linux.
It has 5+ hours of battery life and is fast enough that the screen resolution is the only real hinderance to using it as my main computer. At this point, I don’t believe that we would replace any computers in our house unless they mechanically failed or some new application came along that just needed much more power.
Several years ago, when all the e-waste was piling up everywhere, the wonderful gov’ment was gonna impose some sort of fee(tax) on the mfr’s to handle the recycling of their junk. Anyone know if that law ever went thru?
The lawmakers found it much more efficient to have the manufacturers to pay just a portion of the recycling fee directly into their reelection coffers.
Been using a 2006 made laptop with AMD Turion 64 dual core until like half a year ago when it started to show its age, as in literally falling apart. The original battery still runs for about half an hour on a good day, runs a relatively recent Ubuntu (16.04 LTS) ah yeah it’s a bit on the sluggish side with its just 2G RAM and its 80GB spinny disk, but still very usable – if you got enough ducktape and a soldering gun around (the power jack is broken and I couldn’t get the mainboard out so now it’s dangling from two wires). Btw. I almost got the machine from the cover image – mine’s the 1550sx with that weird mouse thingy. Still works. Just noticed my comment has nothing to do with the article… but all the others are about people still using old gear for everyday use… thought I’d join in…
how does one use the mousething? it looks like it tilts but i cant find videos about the version with it.
I learned recently that Windows 10 32bit doesn’t actually run on any 32bit systems. I cannot find a single supported chipset that isn’t 64bit. I tried to install it on an i915 based system, turns out that intel stopped updating the drivers and XP is the last officially supported release. You can run Vista on the i915 chipset with XPDM drivers, but Win 7 and later require WDDM drivers. The ASUS EEEPC 900HD is a 900Mhz celeron with i915, this overlaps with the Pentium M series of chips too. The Asus EEEPC with the Atom N450 will run Win 10, but that’s the oldest EEEPC I know of that can, again it’s a 64bit processor too. The oldest almost-properly supported chipset is the i945, but the display driver is buggy in media player.
This is like California. Our right to 2A depends on having at least 1 pistol to purchase, as ruled by CA means there is enough choice. As far as laptops at least we have choice, but does a MFG need to supply repair schematics or at least offer the ability to purchase parts to be considered repairable?
Nowadays, doing component level work on them needs all kinds of special tools, board level is feasible by a skilled tech. Look at the problem an auto mfr has…they build X many chassis’s, they all get engines and running gear. All the salvage yards around here crushed up the cars when steel was high. Storing old anything takes space. Back in the old days, schematics, or block diagrams were glued to the inside. Sometimes scats were printed on the back page of the owner manual. All these co’s are out of business because they were fixable by the local TV shop. My point is that new repair parts, at board level aren’t gonna exist. Used ones exist, but how many hours has it been run for?
They need to pass a law banning making devices unrepairable on purpose ie gluing in batteries in phones or soldering in SSDs in laptops etc as making electronics throw away is very bad for the environment maybe even worse than fossil fuels.
There is a law that does that in the USA. It was passed in 1996 but the congresscritters who wrote it got *too specific* by mentioning Nickel-Cadmium and lead batteries rather than using terminology that would cover all types of rechargeable batteries no matter their chemistry.
So Apple and friends can point to The 1996 Battery Law and say “See? It doesn’t say we can’t make a Lithium-Ion or Nickle Metal Hydride battery glued inside our device. It only applies to these other two types that nobody uses much anymore.”
Write your Senators and Congressbeings that you’d like to see 42 U.S.C. ch. 137 §§ 14301-14307 amended or repealed and replaced with a law that says exactly the same thing but updated to include ALL rechargeable batteries, and in such a way that manufacturers won’t be able to skirt around it with bettery chemistries not specifically mentioned.
Lawmakers are hilariously bad at specificity. Maybe just hilariously bad. As a non-tech example: metal knuckles have been illegal in NYS for decades. When plastic knuckles came around they amended the law. They had all the opportunity to change it to “knuckle duster” but instead specified “metal or plastic knuckles” …. that still leaves wood, natural resin, stone, ceramics, whatever, and in the future we’ll have even more materials that are none of the above.
That sounds good in theory but awful in practice. It would limit how things could be assembled, and how compact a lot of things can or could be. Passing a law that makes them disclose that the device is not built to be serviced is a perfectly fine idea. Perhaps even going as far to to having them make you sign off on it when you purchase the device, just to make sure that you are making an informed decision.
How about a DIY netbook, with all spare parts available for individual purchase?https://www.olimex.com/Products/DIY-Laptop/
That is the first thing I thought when I saw the article title. I have one of these, and the battery life is awesome and the keyboard surprisingly good though the performance is lacklustre. Great for longhaul flights though
This and PiTop are really cool initiatives. You can upgrade PiTop for 35$ with new RPi released without disposing screen and keyboard and reuse odl RPi for something. And what if you could put any other SBC inside?
1366×768 display. No thanks. That ‘mail slot’ resolution needs to die. It’s even worse when companies like Dell offer it as an option on their top of the line flagship business laptops.
“We’ve determined that our employees need fast laptops, but they’ll have to view their work through this low resolution 17 inch window with pixels so large they can be seen from across the room.” Seen that on an i7 equipped Dell E6530. Even the old Compaq NC8430 I’m fixing up has 1280×800 and it had the option of 1680×1050. Too bad whomever tossed it hadn’t opted for the nicer display.
i think id rather just have a robust mini itx build that can fit into a backpack. i like those new side by side configurations where you can fit a full length graphics card in a separate compartment along side the mobo/psu compartment. now make one with a big handle in the top and a fold out screen and we got our ideal luggable.
Right to repair is a valid concern. Security is another valid concern. Their requirements are often in opposition to each other.
To a first approximation, anything that serves the principle “makes it easier for me to repair the device on my own” also serves the principle “makes it easier for a malicious third party to get anything you have on the device.” It also serves the principle “makes it easier for a malicious third party to install a hardware trojan.”
The tech community seems to have decided that ‘security’ applies to IoT light bulbs and microprocessors, and we can count on Brian to write snarky comments any time an Apple security flaw is discovered, but somehow none of that should be relevant to “I want to install any Wan Huang Lo hardware I bought on eBay into my MacBook and have it Just Work.”
From now on, I refuse to consider any discussion of Right To Repair that doesn’t include the opinions of Bruce Schneier or some other reputable security expert.
I DO “want to install any Wan Huang Lo hardware I bought on eBay into my MacBook and have it Just Work.” It’s my call. The manufacturers aren’t building them this way for security. It’s a laptop. You have the option of keeping it with you at all times. Also, be sure to open and inspect any USB hard drive you plug in. You DO know what to look for, right?
But the battery will probably, as people said, the most annoying component to find. With all the fuzz about battery pack, there are very few documentation, clear and concise, about battery re-celling.
OK, battery can pose a safety problem but educating people about this is not impossible, so, if we have some EE here, please, start :)
Security and repairability only conflict in situations where the so called security is security by obscurity. If you are relying on obscurity for security what you have is not really security, it’s a ticking clock for the moment when the universal not-so-secret of the hardware/software/algorithm architecturegets out and every attacker exploits it. For something to be truly secure it must prove itself able to stay so when everything except the secrets in your head is known to the attacker. I would also note that repairability eases the checking for and detection of hardware trojans by device owners, if you’re in a situation where severe paranoia is a survivial requirement then better you can open a device up to check it after each time it leaves your sight* than that you assume that a well resourced attacker can’t overcome some shoddy design by a manufacturer who chose glue instead of screws.
*afterall in those sort of situations you might hide some custom seals on the inside by yourself which an attacker won’t be able to get at critical components without cutting. And as such seals are speically marked tape or numbered plastic seals ADDED BY YOU AND NOT IN THE MANUFACTURER’S SPECS then even a well resourced attacker might not have prepared in such a way as to bring with him a fake copy of your style of seal to attach back in place post-tamper.
I actually build my own laptops now. I start with a decent but inexpensive keyboard – my current box has a Genius LuxeMate i200 in it – nothing to brag about for sure, but one of their better models, I’m told – and then I mount laptop hinges and a scrap of this or that on it to hold a 7″ WaveShare-clone display and the rest of the guts.
Right now, the scrap is acrylic, with a disemboweled MeeGoPad T02 “compute stick” knockoff providing the brains. That’s an Atom Z3735F CPU, 2gb RAM, and a 32gb eMMC “SSD”.
Power is provided by a combination of a dual rail supply from a 5.25″ enclosure (good for 2a on each rail, 5v and 12v) and a DC-DC converter with a 5v 3a output running on the 12v rail along with an iBook cooler over the CPU. (The fans onboard- one in the PSU and the one on the CPU cooler) are the only 12v parts.) The 5v rail of the main supply runs the screen, and the DC-DC converter runs the mainboard.
A bus-powered AmazonBasics USB hub (USB2.0 x 4) handles peripherals. I use a USB touchpad mouse, out of preference, and I usually have a flash drive in one of the other ports, with my more critical files onboard.
The whole thing goes together with a combination of old laptop screws, super glue, and 3M double-stick foam tape. It doesn’t necessarily look “good”, but it does occasionally get some notice and recognition.
Admittedly there is no battery, but in actual use, this quite rarely presents a handicap. I don’t need to compute on the bus, after all – and if I do, I have my phone. I know the few places in town that aren’t going to let me plug in, and I actively avoid them.
So tell me… who needs a ThinkPad, or even an ASUS netbook, when you can fairly easily build your own…? ;)
Taken quickly with my phone. I don’t have good pics of this one… a few previous ones have worklogs, but by the time I built Scrappy, interest had trailed off and I didn’t bother.
I do have something in the works tho. I’ll make a proper [dot]io-side project page for that… probably.
Thank YOU — I needed that smile tonight. Feel free to copycat off me, BTW, and make your own :) and that goes for everyone — I do not own this, and I do not want to own this. Let’s ALL do it! If you can solder two like-colored wires together, you can make one of these — the only custom part is the power harness…
My Lenovo R61 turns 12 this year(I’ve had it for 9), and fits the bill. Hardware: 2ghz core2duo 32gb SSD 4gb ram 802.11n Original battery (still gets about 2 hours of travel time)
If it’s basically used for word processing and browsing, or anything I don’t want to do on a mobile device.
i use an asus chromebook c201 for everything (and a samsung chromebook xe303c before that). the c201 is rockchip (low-end ARM), 2GB RAM, 16GB MMC + microSD. 1366×768. it’s extremely viable IMO. 13+ hour real battery performance every day. i finally liberated myself from the last forced-obsolescence factor: i run my browser remotely on a desktop using Xvfb+x11vnc+vncviewer.
the best part is, it is absolutely extremely repairable. i even repaired where the hinges tore out of the plastic. there are very few components and plenty of space inside the case. everything’s integrated in the mobile-oriented chipset so there’s not wires going to a million daughter boards. no complicated overlapping geometry to puzzle out. no bizarre leftover parts from the mid-frame when you put it back together. the components aren’t bleeding edge so replacing the logic board with something inappropriate (like pi) is actually surprisingly plausible, but why would i ever do it when the official asus parts are sold by the thousand count to school districts for repairs.
A decade ago a low end machine could do almost anything an average user needed, except gaming. Today the browsers are pushing the treshold of viability, and geez, they push it fast and furiously! O still have my eee1005H and use it to do my stuff while traveling. I wish I could find a machine with the same size but new specs! Tablets killed the netbooks but created a void that remains so far.
A decade ago a low end machine could do almost anything an average user needed, except gaming. Today the browsers are pushing the treshold of viability, and geez, they push it fast and furiously! O still have my eee1005H and use it to do my stuff while traveling. I wish I could find a machine with the same size but new specs! Tablets killed the netbooks but created a void that remains so far.
I have an HP Compaq NC8430. Not a bad little unit, despite not being an early adopter of ExpressCard. (It has Ye Olde CardBus slot.) It came with a 32bit Pentium Dual Core. I dropped in a Core2 Duo one step back from the fastest it could take, because people go nutzo on price over that extra 100~200Mhz when maxing out old laptops.
I found a BIOS modded to remove the WiFi adapter whitelist, so it has the last BIOS released. Popped in 4 gig of faster RAM to go with the higher bus speed of the new CPU, and a 300 gig hard drive. All looks good for Win 10 Pro x64.
I get the latest build, 1809, of Win 10 installed, along with drivers. Now comes the snag. The laptop has an ATi Radeon Mobility X1600. There is a driver for it for Windows 7, from HP – though NOT available through the NC8430 support page. The newest driver there stops at Vista. The installer for 7 specifically says it’s for this model on its splash screen.
It goes through the motions without error *but doesn’t actually install*. So I try it manually through device manager. It finds that the driver is a correct one, starts to install and BSOD!
I’ve tried every 64 bit Radeon Mobility X1600 driver I can find and the only one Win 10 build 1809 will allow to be installed is the WDDM one for Vista from the Microsoft Update Catalog. All others it blocks by letting the installer pretend to work, device manager doing a BSOD or flat out lying that it cannot find the files I just aimed it at and it said were good.
That driver would be fine except it has an issue with power management. If the display turns off or the laptop sleeps ot hibernates, it won’t properly restore the display upon waking up. It shows an all black screen with the mouse cursor. To get the display back the power button has to be held until it shuts down, but just before turning off it removes the ‘black veil’ to show the display.
Turns out that starting with Build 1607 of Windows 10, Microsoft further tightened the restrictions imposed on device drivers. They’re required to be signed by at least the latest method for WDDM. No previous methods allowed. Apparently only the Vista WDDM driver for this GPU meets the criteria. ATi or HP Compaq of course has no desire to submit the Windows 7 driver to Microsoft’s latest digital signing scheme so 10 build 1809 will accept it.
However, there is one *possible* way a different driver *may* be usable. 1607 will work with divers signed using prior methods if they were in-place on a previous release or version of Windows and then Windows was *upgraded* to 1607 and later.
So the last hope of anyone getting a HP Compaq NC8430 (or any other laptop with an ATi Radeon Mobility X1600 GPU) working with current build of Windows 10 MAY be to first install a pre-1607 build *then upgrade* to 1809. Then if a ‘nuke and pave’ is required at some future point, the whole rigamrole would have to be done over again, just to force Windows to accept a properly functioning video driver. It *may* require first installing Windows 7, getting it fully functional, then upgrading to Windows 10.
But am I sufficiently PO’ed enough to try it, just because I can’t stand that Microsoft has decided “This laptop shall no longer work properly with Windows 10!”?
This whole thing with the drivers stinks to high heaven of collusion between Microsoft and hardware companies to force abandonment of older hardware that except for their software trickery would have zero problems running the newest release of Windows.
I was fixing it up to sell for a little profit. Nobody around here will buy anything with Linux. Most are Windows users and I know of a few owned by Macintoshes. They have problems just like Windows, and I fix them too.
Yesterday I went through installing Win 10 1511 and the latest video driver 1809 would BSOD reject, along with all the other drivers it needed. Then I upgraded to 1809, and it kept the video driver it refused to allow to be installed under itself.
Still has the same black screen issues waking up from any level of sleep state. The latest cumulative update does address a few such black screen problems that are apparently new bugs introduced in 1809, but none of them are *this one* that bugs the NC8430.
Has an EEE 701 and 1100. In fact two, both are being repaired and upgraded at present. Interesting experiment: replace the onboard sucky 4*1GB flash with nice fresh 4GB chips for 16GB total, using the secondary 16GB channel for striping and a 32GB high speed dual channel drive for mirroring aka RAID-5 minimalist configuration.
Also relevant: some of the early 32 bit units will actually take 3GB but you have to mod the BIOS and lose 1GB of your 4GB stick due to chipset issues but it might run with a good make such as 10600s Crucial stick. Its similar to the chipset used in some old HP netbooks so useful for some tasks but that extra 1GB makes all the difference though slow if you run it at stock speed.
Wonder if I can get away with this as a generic “Doomsday Laptop” that runs off 12V DC with some level of EMI mitigation in case of a “No-Deal Brexit” or similar apocalyptic power issue? Handy to store .MAFF archives on as well, if you use the last stable release (LSR) and a clockmod so the date never advances.
My “new” goto tool is a Dell 2120 running Win7pro that I picked up used on Amazon for under $100. It is small, powerful and versitile as well as being relatively power efficient. Still has an RJ45 network connector and will boot up Linux Mint from a USB stick. I don’t need a big screen. I’m far happier with the portability. If I wanted a bigger screen I’d just plug in a monitor.
I still almost exclusively use a MacBook late 2009 with an SSD. It was recently replaced as the family computer by a T440s. I expect the T440s to last for a very long time.
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My daily driver is a 2011 Mac book pro – it’s easy to upgrade RAM and I replaced the HDD with an SSD last year along with an aftermarket battery.
The SSD really made a huge difference. The aftermarket battery was great for the first 12 months but 2 years on its lost about 1/2 it’s capacity. Pending OS updates and associated bloat I hope to get a good few more years out of it . I even fed it a bottle of beer a couple of weeks ago with no noticble slurring …
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