technology so cheap, it’s disposable

the other day i tweeted about a recent acquisition.  i found a computer lying in the street in the universal, “take this, it’s free” position.  i had little doubt that was actually the intent because the moisture underneath the pc case told me it had probably been out overnight.  i took it home figuring it looked decent enough that i could probably scavenge it for parts.

after getting it home, taking it inside, and finally turning it on, i realized something — this thing works!  it loaded windows xp just fine and brought up a logon screen for the previous owner.  note to anyone who may want to leave their computer on the street for someone to pick up: do a format first.  or at least secure your logon with a password. this pc had no password, so i was able to load up the desktop fine.  were i a less noble man than i am, i would have scoured the pc for personal information that i could potentially use for fun and/or profit.  i’m not that person, so i didn’t. but they loaded it with a lot of educational software, so i created a backup of everything in the off-chance i ever want to go through it all for the kids.

the pc is an emachines t2245.  it has an intel 845 chipset which i’m familiar with, having bought an asus motherboard a few years ago with the same chipset.  it’s got a 2.2gb celeron cpu, and a humble 256mb of ram, which i upgraded to 2gb with some ram i had lying around the house.  (literally, it was in the junk — or rather, use for art — pile along with said asus mobo with the same chipset.)  the pc is fully functional with one catch: the onboard network card is fried.

i can imagine the scenario: they’ve had this computer for a while.  one day, they can’t get their email.  they can’t browse the web.  it was never a top-of-the-line machine to begin with — in fact, being an emachines pc, it was probably pretty cheap — so, rather than taking it to some computer guy to pay to get it fixed, the previous owner figured it was just time to upgrade.

it makes perfect sense.  except to me, who is that computer guy, and realizes that buying a new network adapter would cost about 8 bucks.  with the ram upgrade, a bigger hard drive, and a new video card, it would be a new computer. (and again, these are things i have lying around the house.)  the rate at which processors have increased in capacity hasn’t increased nearly in line with the rate at which hard drives have gotten bigger and cheaper, so there’s not really much loss in getting a computer with a processor that’s a couple years old.

this makes me think about the rate at which technology is accelerating (and has been for years and years; long enough for this to not be news).  technology, particularly pc technology, has gotten is so cheap that it seems cheaper — and certainly easier — to throw away a perfectly good pc (with one minor deficiency), than to keep it and fix it.

on some level, it baffles me that people would just throw something that is still useful away, especially considering that the specs on this machine are no worse than a midgrade netbook.  throwing away a computer because of what could possibly be the cheapest piece of hardware on the pc fails would have been completely ludicrous 20 years ago, and still unheard-of even 10 years ago.  however, i realize they have a point — gadgets are becoming cheap enough that they are expendable.  and that’s okay.  by the time one piece of hardware fails, the technology has progressed enough that, yeah, it probably is time to upgrade to a new machine (if you’re inclined to do so), and not just fix the part.

at the end of the day, the real point is, your loss is my gain, so if there’s anyone else who has any technology they’re just offloading, let me know — i’d be more than happy to find some use for it.