Programming Blog

Jeremy Morgan

Mostly Coherent Ramblings of a Silicon Forest Software Developer

Why I Love Using Old Hardware

By: Jeremy Morgan






A while back I wrote an article about my dirt cheap dev machine that I bought on Craigslist for $200. What happened was my laptop went out and I was in the middle of a project. Because I am really picky and like to research new purchases very thoroughly, I decided I needed an interim machine. I ended up buying a G4 powerbook and slapping Linux on it and got my stuff done.

G4 Powermac"

When I first turned on the computer it had a copy of OSX Panther on it. It took me 10 minutes or so to decide it was time to go, once I got it connected to the internet it was horribly slow, and most of the websites didn’t format properly, and many didn’t work at all. So I did what any self respecting geek would do and grabbed a copy of Linux to breathe life into this old dog. First it was a copy of Debian PPC, then Yellow Dog Linux. I installed what I needed and got the project done.

Then I got a new laptop and the G4 went in the closet for a few months. I recently decided to break it out again, and fix some of the issues it had, and maybe build some new versions of packages. I ended up getting hooked big time, and lately I’ve been spending a lot more time on that old G4. Why?

Advantages of Using Dinosaurs

There are quite a few advantages of using old stuff. This G4 was originally released in 2004, that’s 8 long years. In 2004 we weren’t doing a fraction of the cool stuff we’re doing now with the web and things like Facebook and Twitter didn’t even exist, so the computer wasn’t exactly designed for today’s stuff. Linux of course solves this problem.

But the next problem with this particular machine is, the motorola PowerPC processor. Apple stopped using them in 2006, and even most versions of Linux built for the PPC stopped developing in 2010 or so.

"My G4 Powermac"

But I want the newest stuff, so that means compling from source. When you do that, you start hitting dependencies and going on a wild goose chase for software, backtracking all over the net upgrading everything, tweaking and tuning and pulling your hair out to get one simple package to work.

If that sounds like fun, you’re as much of a geek as me. I’ve upgraded nearly every component of this old mac and it’s taken me HOURS to do it. But I’ve learned a tremendous amount in the process. I’ve learned about the hardware, learned more about Linux and learned more about the packages themselves. I’ve also learned more about optimizing my system.

Did I mention cost? I’ve got a machine that you can browse the internet, watch movies, make websites and even develop software on for $200. Hard to beat.

Drivers for hardware are pretty well established as well, so you don’t have to worry about hardware too new to support, or surprises in the drivers.

Conclusion

When you use old stuff like this, you save a lot of money. You also save the environment by using something that might otherwise be thrown away. Finally, you learn more about your hardware and learn how to squeeze every drop of performance out of it. If you want a decent daily driver you can get your favorite distribution of Linux and put together something pretty neat and stable.

Obviously if you’re a gamer or doing something like video editing or animation there aren’t many advantages of using older stuff. But for the rest of us it can save you some money and of course be really fun. Don’t throw it away, give it a try!

"Mac G4 running Yellow Dog Linux"

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