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Hardware (or) The Lack Thereof

(Tue Jul 10 01:10:42 2012)

Here's a lovely rant for ya...


Hardware. I used to like hardware; back when all I had to do was put some random junk in a box and flip a switch, life was good. I loved putting together computers when I had so much useless stuff that it didn't matter if a hard drive actually exploded (this happened to me), or if a video card started smoking (this happened too), or if a motherboard made sparks and suddenly died (this happened as well). It was fun; what works together? What can I plug in to make the "ultimate junk computer"? I mean, did you know that you can actually install up to 8 PATA hard drives in a computer with only one PCI slot? Oh yeah! It's possible! I've done it! And did you know that you can make a RAID array out of four floppy drives? I've done that too! It's actually not all that slow - instead of transferring files at around 50K/s, it was closer to almost 200K/s! And was completely useless if you ejected one of the disks.

That was long, long ago, back when all the computer stuff I had was over 10 years old - and I loved it. I could actually catch a computer on fire, and not worry about anything except scarring the kitchen table. These days, if one of my computers caught fire, I would probably injure myself trying to simultaneously put out the fire, and yank the hard drives. Ah, the good old days... but it wasn't even that long ago. I mean, even just a few years ago, I had a lot of fun putting together computers. I'd plan out what hardware I'd need - an AMD processor, because they were cheap; an nVidia graphics card, because they were awesome (and supported in Linux); a Logitech mouse, because they last so well.

Those days are fading away, now... it used to be that I could build a great computer for just over $300 - case, hard drive, decent video card, the whole nine yards. It might not have played Crysis, but it was still a great little thing. These days? $300 gets you a pre-built, single-core micro-tower. It's pitiful. And you know the worst part? The cheapest, simplest parts of my computer builds are beginning to show their age. Thus far, nVidia is still the best bet for video, but AMD? Sigh... AMD are now building their graphics cards into their CPUs. That means that instead of getting an off-brand motherboard with no onboard video - or at worst, a cheap on-board nVidia chip - I can only find AMD+Radeon chips and boards. And what does that mean? It means that my builds went from $130 for an AMD motherboard and an AMD CPU to $230 for an Intel motherboard and CPU. That's a huge difference - and every cent is the processor. Intel just doesn't make cheap multi-core chips; a quad-core starts at $180 (as opposed to AMD's $80), while a hex-core is a whopping $570 (compared to AMD's $140)! Even AMD's 8-core chip is only $170 - twice the cores of Intel's quad-core, and still $10 cheaper! And yet... AMD has begun building Radeon into their processors. Now, I may be able to stick an nVidia into an AMD computer... maybe. But from what I've read thus far, it's dicey. And I don't like dicey, especially for computers I'm building for someone else.

It used to be I could grab just about any parts, throw them in a box, and I'd have a working computer. 10 years later, I could use my informed calculations to create an even better computer... but now? Now I'm lost. I don't know if a 2011 is better than a 1366 (it's not, as far as I can tell), or if I want a Sandy Bridge over a Smithfield (I don't, as far as prices are concerned...). And what about motherboards? I mean, choosing an "AM3+" and just going with it is easy as pie; what do I get now? And never mind the horrible heatsinks! AMD may be going down the wrong path with the APU (All-in-one processing unit, or CPU+GPU), but they have the right idea with heatsinks. And power - 65W is a lot better than 95W, for the same output, processing-power-wise. There's a lot going for AMD - except the part where my OS may not even boot up under one of their devices. Yes, it's that bad.

I used to like hardware. But now, everything seems to be getting so small and prepackaged that I can't actually build things myself; if it wasn't for the Raspberry Pi, I'd have no new hardware to tinker with at all. What's next? Will Steve Jobs be right after all, and the desktop market fade away entirely? Will I be forced to buy a $1200 laptop, just to meet the specs of my $300 computer? I don't know if I could live with that! I'd be computerless; one lightning strike, and my computer would be reduced to a cheap tablet with HDMI-out.

Sigh...



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This blag is tagged: Amd, Computers, Hardware, Intel, Linux, Upgrades, All