One of the banes of most IT Professionals is when family members ask for help with purchasing a computer, or worse yet, they just purchased something from a big-box retailer and need help.
This is a multi-part story inspired by my dad who called me recently for a computer question he had. It made me realize that 13 years ago I helped him purchase the computer he currently has. I couldn’t believe it’s been that long! I’m thankful that after he received the catalog for home computers from Dell that he immediately came to me to ask for advice…
Now I’ll get back around to what computer I help him select because I want this to sink in for just a moment…
My dad has a desktop computer,
that was purchased 13 years ago,
that he is still using…
And as for performance, it is working just as good today as it did when it was first purchased… Almost unbelievable! Oh, and he has no plans on replacing it either!
Okay, now as the commercials for miracle weight loss say, “results are not typical”… but they are not wholly unexpected. Let’s talk about this a bit.
My first advice to anyone purchasing a computer for home use, is to skip the big box stores, and even anything seemingly consumer grade. Everything in this real seems to be designed with a short lifespan in mind. Cheaper parts, poorer construction, etc. Not to mention all of the consumer bloatware that seems to come on them. So the first thing I tell everyone and everyone is to immediately go to a major computer sellers “enterprise” tab on their page, be it Dell or HP or whomever. Normally anybody can still just order these, and the benefits are more solid construction, longer MTBF and usually far less bloatware preinstalled. In this case, 13 years ago I had my dad purchased a Dell Optiplex Workstation.
Now if you simply did that, it shouldn’t be surprising to get 6+ years out of the hardware, to get over 10 years is to really be getting your money’s worth. Now truth be told, he did have to replace the power supply once but that was likely caused due to a recent series of lightning storms in his area that the little power-strip surge protector couldn’t really protect against.
But okay, let’s talk about performance… There are really two prongs to why this thing performs so well…
First, he uses his computer for just word processing — and printing — nothing else. Nothing online and he wanted his computer to be as secure as possible from such threats… So, that makes things really easy… Realize that if the computer is an island, there is no external connectivity – no internet, no USB drives, etc. Then it really is an island. What are the threat vectors in this case? None really. So, do you need patch management? Not of the system is working? Most ‘bugs’ patched these days are more about vulnerabilities, not functionally. And honestly, after 13 years, if there are any functionality quirks, he doesn’t seem them as such, but just work through or around them. It really is surprising to see how stopping patching significantly improves system performance and reliability!
For the record, I’m a huge proponent of patch management – but that is because in virtually all cases you have threat vectors you need to account for. But let’s pause for just a moment, and think about that — are there places or situations where you can vastly improve security and performance by outright removing a threat vector such as the internet? It’s also worth mentioning that because of this lack of patching, the 2007 Daylight Saving Adjustment was never patched on his computer. But there are ways to manually patch this yourself on such systems.
But beyond that, let’s talk about the statement that it runs that the same performance level. That is a true statement, although perhaps a bit misleading. Do you remember having to wait for Windows XP to boot up? I sure do. Although if you think back, XP made a lot of waves because it did boot much faster than prior operating systems of the day. But that aside, Windows 10 boots almost instantly. But that is what end users expect these days, my iPhone is instant on… The concept of having to wait befuddles us nowadays. So by today’s comparison, the computer is slloooooowwwww. But that is just my modern comparisons. But it works just as fast as it always has… After all, the processor is still ticking away at the same speed, and the software hasn’t changed at all.
The biggest reason it isn’t a problem for him is that he has no point of comparison. He is retired, the computer works the way it always has. He hasn’t worked on more modern, faster computers.
It’s also probably a mindset — my parents have hundreds of VHS movies. Sure, they have DVD and the latest blue ray discs. Mostly, however, because it’s virtually impossible to not buy a blue ray player. So sure, they’ve got the latest and greatest, and the quality is better than VHS. Although who knows how well they actually see with their aging eyes. But why throw out thousands of dollars worth of working (inferior) VHS movies and buy again higher quality movies, which, at the end of the day, is the exact same movie, story, actors, lines, etc., And most of those movies really were filmed using inferior camera equipment of the day… So is there really a big difference between Gone with the Wind on blue ray since it was captures with 70 year old, non-digital camera technology?
In the end its a bit of a philosophical discussion. Perhaps.
But what’s the takeaway from this article, if any? I would propose a few points:
- Purchasing: realize that the enterprise gear is often worth it even for personal use because while it can be marginally more expensive, it can last far longer. I think his tower cost sub $500.
- Security: Consider how in every environment security and performance can be improved by mitigating threat vectors. Remember that patch management is one tool we have to address threats and isn’t a panacea into itself.
- Performance: Performance is very relative, and subjective. Each use application is different – purchasing or upgrading in blanket terms is wasteful. Each user, department, or situation can often be different and unique. Address them as such.