I can really appreciate this but I have a hard time imagining using hardware that old on the modern web with all the stuff that exists now. I used a W520 for 2012-2014 at IBM and it was beast in all metrics. I run an AMD 5950X these days in a custom build and switching back to my 2019 build with an AMD 2600 feels like warping back into the days of sepia comparatively.
My personal machine is still a 2013 MacBook Pro, with less RAM than this beast. 10-15 years ago, a computer that was 3-4 years old felt slow. 20-25 years ago, a computer that was 1-2 years old felt slow. Now, even with big web apps, I don’t notice much difference. My 9.7” 2016 iPad Pro is starting to feel a bit limited by the 2 GiB of RAM (in particular, the Apple News app seems to spawn a huge number of background download threads, run out of RAM, and then crash) but the web browser still feels fast and it’s a slower machine than the laptop.
Moving from any of the portables to my 10-core Xeon work desktop is very noticeable, but only really for bloated Electron apps and big compile jobs.
One time in 2015-2016, I made a joke that I needed a separate computer just for the chat apps I needed. I had a spare computer available to me at work and so I tried it for a week before I declared the back and forth not worth it. I did enjoy the spare resources on my main machine for that week, though!
I have also used W530 (the W520 successor) from 2012 to 2016 with the new ‘island’ keyboard - both at work and home - and after all that time I still definitely prefer the W520 keyboard - its just so natural.
As for speed - I also use ThinkPad T14 GEN1 daily (my work laptop) and I do not see any speed difference between that one and W520. Both are 4 core CPUs.
… but if you compare 11 years old mobile 4 core CPU to modern desktop/server 16 core CPU … and especially taking into account that AMD did really great job with its ZEN* architectures … then yes, that W520 will be slower :)
Using a weak-ass laptop does make you filter out your usual workflow to the things that are actually worth waiting for, that is true.
Indeed. I’ve recently becomes obsessed with the first and second generation EeePCs from ASUS (650MHz on the low end). Throwing Alpine on there and using only lynx (and if I really want a GUI, it runs Netsurf fine) has been helpful in keeping at bay some modern day distractions. Thankfully, it’s easy enough to put in a new Wifi/bluetooth mini PCIe and it has an ethernet port which is nice. Also, I really miss palmtops.
Haiku OS also runs well on early Asus netbooks, too - even the wifi works! The native WebPositive browser isn’t bad, either.
Will check it out! The original wifi card worked well but I did want a bit of speed increase. I just love how easy it was to swap out relatively basic parts.
EeePCs were amazing! They are probably not very practical these days, I guess, but the barrier for practical use is surprisingly low.
About two and a half years ago I did a lot of development work using an old laptop of mine, a lazy Thinkpad E120 – an i3 machine that was slow even by 2012-ish standards, so it was hardly Speedy Gonzalez in 2019. I could do productive systems and embedded development work on it, and even some basic FPGA development. That involved some contact with the modern web, too, as browsing documents and forums is sort of a given, and I could do it comfortably with Firefox.
But seven years is a long time, and the rate at which hardware decays has certainly slowed down. Even a high-end computer from 1996 would’ve been pretty much useless in 2003, outside some super special-purpose niches (running a particular old version of a program running, or hooking up a particular CNC machine to it or whatever). Whereas an entry-level office laptop from 2012 was still an entry-level office laptop in 2019.
(I actually still have the little gizmo and it’s still usable today, when it’s like ten years old, but I haven’t really done any serious work on it so I can’t say how usable it still is in a professional setting).
T61 checking in…
I could probably use a Raspberry Pi as my daily driver if I didn’t participate in or run many of the communities or activities I enjoy.
This is one reason why the trend in soldered on, non-user-replaceable RAM for laptops and desktops is so infuriating. Machines from the past ten years or so are much more limited by their memory capacity than any other metric. Socketing the RAM leads to a tradeoff of performance for longevity and less waste. It’s disappointing but not surprising for manufacturers to pick the option that drives their bottom line at the expense of the environment.
On the other hand, maybe making it easy to upgrade computers would relax the existing constraints on software bloat, leading to even more energy waste…
That’s a good point, but it’s only relevant when the use phase of the device is sufficiently long. The machines embodied emissions are generally the largest component of the total emissions for laptops and mobile devices  in the replacement culture that exists today. This blog post  references a 3-5 year upgrade period for laptops, which agrees with my experience with corporate technology refresh cycles. Expectations would need to be adjusted by 5-10x the current lifespan of laptops before it starts to become a major issue.
Yes the use phase of the device is the dominant factor, but that is also affected by software bloat.
That makes sense. But I really wish people who were aware of this would run their communities in a way that accommodates people who don’t have new computers. Maybe for some it is a feature to filter out less affluent would-be participants…
It’s challenging to balance the interests of the administrators of a community with the interests of participants with no active duty of administration. In my experience these last ~27 years of online participation — netizenry? — I’ve observed that online communities are not that much different from neighborhoods in real life. That is, how can we as a collective improve the neighborhood while establishing consensus on a shifting window of norms? Early adopters can exceed some standards of their own volition and late adopters might need some help from others to progress.
All of the communities I have in mind started on IRC. Some in the early 2000s, some in the mid-2010s. We decided as a community to move to other platforms (Discord, Slack, etc.) knowing that the vast majority of participants could use those platforms. One community in particular actually experienced an increase in growth because of the switch to Slack: it’s a professional community and it turns out that a lot of employers blocked outbound connections to IRC out of security concerns or prohibited employees from installing an IRC client altogether. During the Slack popularity explosion, it grew because of the network effect: so many employers were switching to Slack that it was trivial for folks who wanted to participate in this community to configure their client to talk to both work Slack and our community’s Slack. Nearly every open community Slack benefitted similarly, to the point that I’ve got seven Slack workspaces configured on my work machine for various work-related and professional communities I interact with on a daily basis. I’ve got a few others on my personal workstation! The same logic applies to Discord. These proprietary, heavy systems won out because the feature set was so much better for the community — both the administrators, who need to establish, enforce, and revise norms; and the participants, who want to understand and abide by the norms and see them followed — that IRC fell out of favor for communities with these particular concerns. If Matrix or Mattermost had existed at the time with feature parity, including free hosting, maybe we’d have chosen those. Switching is complex; attrition for large communities is a great threat.
This probably does leave some people behind. That’s crushing and there are ways to alleviate that, largely around passing second-hand equipment to a new owner and using the professional network to give people an opportunity and community to teach and support to lift up everyone.
There still remains the question of environmental impact and that’s a rabbit hole of thought I’ve run out of time to explore in the scope of this discussion.
I personally have a revulsion to anything that is purposefully inefficient in order to benefit a company. Like paper towel dispensers designed to work only with rolls made by the same company. I get the same feeling with chat applications when they close their XMPP/IRC gateways, so I don’t miss having the ability to participate on those platforms. To me, lifting up everyone would mean pressuring the chat applications to start supporting standard protocols again, not teaching people to switch to applications which they have no control over. Maybe that helps to imagine why people use old hardware, as you probably don’t hear this perspective very often for obvious reasons.
I’m still using my desktop from 2012. The only thing I changed since then was the additional DRAM, which now amounts to 24 GB.
There is only one web stuff that makes me feels like working on a dial up, and that is Micro$oft Team$.
I probably could have tolerated my 2015 13” MBP longer if I had more RAM. It was 8 GB and that was limiting. On my work machine, a 2021 16” MBP w/M1 Pro, I’m idling with my normal suite of tools running at 22 GB of 32 GB available. I think my gaming rig idles around 12 GB. I don’t think I’ve used all 32 GB on either yet. Room to grow and add more Electron apps, I guess!