prose&const logo Code and musings by Darshak Parikh

Life with Low-end Hardware

I am 28, and I have only owned two personal computers in my lifetime.

Excluding workstations, I have had one desktop and one laptop.

Desktop (2007–2015)

This one had a CRT monitor, a single-core AMD Sempron processor, an 80 GB hard drive and 256 MB of RAM, later upgraded to 1.25 GB. It was my high school machine and my father’s occasional taxation machine.

It came with Windows XP, which I later replaced with various Linux distributions.

Now decommissioned and sold, I thank it for sparking in me the curiosity about computer science, programming and open source.

Dell Vostro 2520 (2013–present)

The laptop has a 15.6″ 1366×768 display, a dual-core 3rd generation i5, no dedicated graphics and 4 GB of RAM. I upgraded the 500 GB spinning hard drive to a 480 GB SSD last year.

It is a clunky box with ancient tech: a DVD drive, an RJ45 port, a VGA port and (by today’s standards) an HDMI port. Forget Type-C, it does not even have USB 3.0. There are three USB 2.0 ports, supported well even today.

I bought it with Ubuntu, then distrohopped for a bit before settling down with elementary OS.

This has been my primary machine for seven years and counting.

In 2020, this might sound like weak, barely running hardware, and you won’t be entirely wrong. Yet, I haven’t felt the need to replace it, even though I can afford it.

Let me tell you why this machine is brilliant.

It is economic.

I got it for ₹33,000 (about $450). Then I made two screen replacements, two battery replacements and one SSD upgrade. The total cost including purchase has been less than ₹65,000 (about $885).

The keyboard is excellent.

The keys are neither as flimsy as MacBook’s butterfly keyboard nor as hard as a mechanical keyboard. They are “Goldilocks” easy to press.

It works.

It serves all my needs without breaking a sweat.

Without the fans going off, it can:

  • emulate Nintendo 3DS games at 100% speed
  • run Firefox, VSCodium and a Node.js server with no lag
  • compile Vala apps in seconds
  • build my website in milliseconds

I realize that a lot of this is thanks to the SSD and would not have been so impressive before the upgrade. But as mentioned before, it is economic.

But it’s growing old.

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. The device’s age shows in a few areas:

  • The 1366×768 resolution is fine, but I am spoilt by my HiDPI workstation.
  • The touchpad is tiny. (Again, spoilt by workstation, but I have a mouse).
  • The camera applies funky filters to your image unless you pinch the bezel.

There’s this balance of good and bad things about it, and it is inevitably approaching a tipping point where the bad outweighs the good. That being said, my old buddy can pull off a few months to a year before I need an upgrade.

Final thoughts

The bottom line is that it is okay to be conservative about hardware purchases. Quality hardware will last several years without needing a replacement.