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If you plan to run Senior Linux (whatever it turns out to be) eventually you'll probably want to use a desktop computer. So what kind of hardware to look for? There's a lot out there.

Peruse below the orange antimacassar for a look if you'd like.

Linux on the desktop starts with a desk.

If you're just entering the workforce, don't assume that you'll be working sitting down. The future may well be the Canon (at least at one division) model: no chairs to sit in (except for the CEO, of course) and rigidly enforced minimum walking speed (except for the CEO, of course). Or maybe you'll be working at a company on the American plan: three minute bathroom breaks - max. I think these trends are the result of MBA'ism and its one guiding light, "Metrics." In short, counting keystrokes. Or calls taken. Or widgets produced. But whatever the cause or causes, the future of work looks pretty grim from where I'm seated. At a desk. At home. But there is some good news (at least for seniors) wrapped up in that bundle of misery.

The same metrics-obsession that leads management to micromanage walking speed and the time that workers spend on the throne also brings us the CCRC, (Corporate Computer Replacement Cycle). And for seniors on a tight budget looking for a computer, the CCRC sets-up a pretty sweet situation for buying a used workstation.

Why? Because the CCRC, like rental-car resales, floods the market with lots of serviceable gear. On an ongoing basis. It's an imperfect analogy, of course. Hertz or Avis is probably going to offer a much longer warranty than "Jim-Bob's Live Bait and Off-lease Computer eBay Store." Fortunately a computer breakdown is unlikely to leave you stranded in the middle of the desert. So an extended warranty on a used workstation may not be that important for most of us. And used workstation buyers have one huge advantage: fashion.

Or should I say, anti-fashion.

Workstations are not as kool as laptops. Workstations are not as kool as ipads. Workstations are not as kool as Android smart-phones. Or iPhones. Or Mac Minis. Or the forthcoming Mac Pro. And workstations are not as kool as some gamer's overclocked PC with blue neon lights inside shining out through clear plexiglass side panels. Instead, workstations are the Chevy Caprice sedans, the Buick Roadmaster station wagons and the Ford Crown Victoria police pursuit vehicles of computerdom. Only more so. And subject to far less market demand.

How to spot a workstation.

If you've worked in a cubicle with a desk and a chair, you've probably used a workstation. They sort of go together. Workstations and servers are different. Modern servers tend to be short, as in not very tall. (Length is a different story). An industrial or pro-audio-type 19"-wide rack will often host several servers, stacked on top of one another. Servers tend to be very powerful, sometimes noisy, and with somewhat limited options for connecting peripherals. The text you are reading at this very moment and your replies (please) are no doubt routed through servers of this type. Unless you are very comfortable with concepts such as Serial attached SCSI (SAS), you don't want a server. No matter how powerful or robust.

Non-corporate desktop computers are at the other end of the spectrum. That gamer's overclocked PC with blue lights inside shining out through clear plexiglass side panels is a non-corporate desktop computer--almost guaranteed. The PC you use at home is probably a non-corporate desktop computer too. Should you buy one of those? I'd say probably not, unless you know its complete history. A machine built by a gamer has likely been overclocked. A mass-market PC may have been gently used, or perhaps the owner's three year old used the DVD tray as a sippy-cup holder. Home use differs from corporate use in one important way--there's no IT department at home. That's good if you're looking to re-purpose your new (new to you) computer. But I'd suggest that if you're buying a used computer, buying one that's only been used under the sharp eye of a nosy, busybody IT department is a pretty good idea. And that means a workstation.

Next time: what to look for in a used workstation when you aren't able to open it up. In other words how can you tell which are Chevy Caprice sedans, or Buick Roadmaster station wagons; and which are the Ford Crown Victoria police pursuit vehicles.

Originally posted to Senior Linux on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 05:15 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (17+ / 0-)

    Strange that a harp of thousand strings should keep in tune so long

    by jabney on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 05:15:08 PM PDT

  •  When I retired... (5+ / 0-)

    ...I left behind a 6-year-old Dell GX270, with a dual monitor card, 30 GB hard drive, and 4 GB of RAM. Not long after, CDOT replaced the Dells with HP all-in-ones. I sure wish I could have taken the machine with me, as it had a 2-year-old CPU and motherboard in it.

    Ah, well...

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 05:21:31 PM PDT

    •  May Have Been For the Best (6+ / 0-)

      Per Wikipedia:

      Older OptiPlex models (mostly produced in 2003 and 2004), notably the GX270, suffered from frequent failures due to faulty capacitors supplied by Nichicon. These capacitors would bulge and leak, resulting in product failure after only a few years of use. As of June 2010, there is still ongoing litigation regarding this problem, alleging that Dell knew that the computers were likely to fail, and continued to ship them.
      If you've never had a computer literally explode in front of you, (it wasn't a Dell) you don't know what you're missing  /snark

      There are a lot of good used HPs and Dells available for around $100 to $200 (for the box) right now. I think workstations such as those represent a real sweet-spot.

      best

      john

      Strange that a harp of thousand strings should keep in tune so long

      by jabney on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 05:39:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, the original CPU failed... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jabney, enhydra lutris

        ...and then the IT contractor screwed up the motherboard, and had to replace both. But I never had it explode on me. I assume that those were in the power supply, yes? I have a used GX270 that I was going to set up as a workstation, so maybe I should replace something before tackling that?

        Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

        by JeffW on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 05:51:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Naw. It was on a PIII Motherboard. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JeffW

          The manufacturer is no longer in business, but I don't recall the name. I do remember running Windows 98SE on it.

          Nichicon makes lots of capacitors and the vast majority don't blow up. And even the ones that did, usually only bulged and leaked gunk. I would suggest wearing eye protection if you have to look closely while powering up, but hopefully all the bad (counterfeit electrolyte) caps will have already failed.

          best,

          john

          Strange that a harp of thousand strings should keep in tune so long

          by jabney on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:25:47 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Wasn't just Dell (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JeffW, jabney, kyril

        My last job before retiring was in Network Support for a large non-US organisation's Development Network.  Not something I was particularly qualified for, as a mainframe Applications programmer, but that's another story.

        Anyway, the Dev. network had budgetary restraints for hardware, so we always had some gear which was WELL past warranty cutoff.  Sometimes this was ex-Production equipment, sometimes stuff bought new with money that an area had to spend before the end of a financial year.

        Around the end of 2008, we started to notice we were getting a lot of flakiness in some HP desktop PC's which had up to then been extremely reliable.  Sure enough, when we looked inside, almost all of them had bulging or burst capacitors on the motherboard.  These HP's had been bought new in June 2004, so I'm guessing the capacitor problem may have been industry-wide.

        •  It's a Fascinating Story (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JeffW, kyril

          The moral of which is, if you're going to steal industrial secrets (which you shouldn't of course) you'd better make sure all the steps are there.

          best,

          john

          Strange that a harp of thousand strings should keep in tune so long

          by jabney on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:30:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  The bad cap problem was widespread with many (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jabney

        mobo's, and other components, from many makers.
        It affected other industries too, like telecommunications.
        Of course substandard component vendor problems have been around for eons.

        It hit me hard with some Abit VIA PentiumIII mobo dual processor systems.
        The problems would show up in many different, subtle ways, never pointing to hardware faults. Windows would just go all flaky, so Microsoft probably unjustly got lots of bad karma (not that they don't still deserve a bunch).

        I agree on your buy a "Corporate Computer Replacement Cycle" machine strategy, I have done it many times and gotten some fantastic deals.
        You can get a lot of computing power for very little dinero, and it applies to peripheral stuff like printers, scanners, etc. too.
        I'm still using two small, but very nice, Gateway 'CCRC' boxes.

        We’re Ready, Wendy’s Ready! WTF Are We Waiting For? Bring ‘em on! The revolution has begun! Come and take it!

        by Bluefin on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 07:13:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I Got a Refurbished Office Dell Dimension a Few (6+ / 0-)

    yrs ago that had a few yrs on it, with XP, it's still running, I use it part of the time every day and used it exclusively till this past August.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 05:33:11 PM PDT

  •  There used to be a real difference (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jabney, JeffW, enhydra lutris, kyril, Bluefin

    between servers and desktops in terms of CPU power. These days, not so much, although it has been growing again.

    Now, though, the difference is mostly the number of CPU cores available, with desktops having 2-8 (depending on particulars, "workstations" usually being at the higher end), and amount of memory. Servers typically have a minimum of 4 cores, and not rarely 16 or 32.

    Desktops will typically have relatively few disks, often 1 or 2 (not rarely, none, or a single SSD "disk"). Servers are often connected to dozens, and may be directly connected to storage arrays/"RAID" storage with hundreds.

    Since about 1995 (when the Pentium Pro was introduced), home PCs have been powerful enough to run Unix/Linux pretty decently.

    •  Agreed About the Power (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, enhydra lutris, eyesoars, Bluefin

      Though I think a one or two rack-space* server has a certain look that's hard to beat. But SAS? And no legacy PCI slots? Those would be the deal-breakers for me. More on 'deal-breakers' next time.

      *A standard rack space (1U) is 1.75 inches high (1.719 Net), for those that are curious. It started as a Phone Company thing I think.

      best,

      john

      Strange that a harp of thousand strings should keep in tune so long

      by jabney on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:14:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yup. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JeffW, jabney

        In the server space, a fancy console (i.e., high-power graphics) is a usually a "don't care", and likewise legacy device support. On the other hand, with PCI/PCI-E slots, you can always get a controller for anything weird you want to hook up, so for many purposes a desktop is better.

        My last couple of jobs, we've had a few odd desktops in the machine room just for such odds and ends that won't connect conveniently to a rack server.

      •  Yep, although there were a few different (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jabney

        unit vertical spacings besides 1.75" in the Bell System.
        The usual equipment bay was 2' 2" wide (giving an equipment 19" width mounting space) and 11 feet tall (which later became a 7' standard). The bays for miscellaneous equipments were called "relay racks"; other dedicated, fixed function bays, had their own common designations per system. These standard sizes began in the 1900's, European stuff was different of course.

        It started as a Phone Company thing I think.

        We’re Ready, Wendy’s Ready! WTF Are We Waiting For? Bring ‘em on! The revolution has begun! Come and take it!

        by Bluefin on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:06:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  There is a whole generation of Intel chips (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    enhydra lutris, jabney

    that are not recommended.  This from Wikipedia:

    Pentium 4 is a line of single-core desktop and laptop central processing units (CPUs) and it was introduced by Intel on November 20, 2000[1] and shipped through August 8, 2008.[2] They had a 7th-generation x86 microarchitecture, called NetBurst, which was the company's first all-new design since the introduction of the P6 microarchitecture of the Pentium Pro CPUs in 1995. NetBurst differed from P6 (Pentium III, II, etc.) by featuring a very deep instruction pipeline to achieve very high clock speeds. Intel claimed that NetBurst would allow clock speeds of up to 10 GHz, however, severe problems with heat dissipation (especially with the Prescott Pentium 4) limited CPU clock speeds to a much lower 3.8 GHz. [3]
    One of my computers is a Pentium 4 and it runs hot, even at 2.6Ghz.  It will overheat on hot summer days, when the room temperature exceeds 90 Deg. Farenheit, and when the heatsink gets too much dust and lint in it.  I highly recommend the newer generation of Pentium processors, expecially the Pentium i3 and i5.  You get quite a bit of bang-for-the buck with the i5, while the i7 still commands top dollar.

    An illusion can never be destroyed directly... SK.

    by Thomas Twinnings on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:14:46 PM PDT

  •  I think that you're leaving out one class... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jabney, Calamity Jean

    ...of machines, John: laptops.

    My father-in-law started out with a Tandy 286, graduated to a Gateway Pentium machine in a mid-tower, and finally got an older HP laptop. Even with his tunnel vision from cerebral berve palsy, he might be able to use it if he had it in his lap, not set up on a computer desk (although some seniors could probably do both). His other problem is that he's lost all interest in using it, but no operating system will fix a broken heart.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:37:20 PM PDT

    •  Laptops Have Been Out of My Budget For So Long (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, Bluefin

      I can't claim any real expertise with them. That's probably because I still (subconsciously) think of a laptop as costing two to four times as much as a similarly performing desktop box. I am open to learning, though.

      best,

      john

      Strange that a harp of thousand strings should keep in tune so long

      by jabney on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 07:16:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  If you are talking refurbs... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jabney, roberb7, Bluefin, Calamity Jean

        ...the prices can be very reasonable. We have three Dell D620's, all refurbished, that work reasonably well. That old HP that belongs to my father-in-law would be a good testbed for a senior oriented Linux.

        Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

        by JeffW on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 07:20:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Be very careful on ebay and you can get some (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jabney, Calamity Jean

        great laptops for a reasonable price.

        Newegg and Tigerdirect, etc., also have 'refurb' laptop and desktop offerings with extremely good deals (and usually with warranties and returns if you want to). You can even find "Toughbook" type bulletproof/waterproof laptops.

        We’re Ready, Wendy’s Ready! WTF Are We Waiting For? Bring ‘em on! The revolution has begun! Come and take it!

        by Bluefin on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:14:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  there's nothing new under the sun . . . (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jabney, etbnc, JeffW, Bluefin
    The future may well be the Canon (at least at one division) model: no chairs to sit in (except for the CEO, of course) and rigidly enforced minimum walking speed (except for the CEO, of course). Or maybe you'll be working at a company on the American plan: three minute bathroom breaks - max. I think these trends are the result of MBA'ism and its one guiding light, "Metrics." In short, counting keystrokes. Or calls taken. Or widgets produced. But whatever the cause or causes, the future of work looks pretty grim from where I'm seated.
    This is plain ole ordinary "Taylorism", the kind that was de rigeur in factory assembly lines a hundred years ago.

    It simply means that all the white-collar employees who used to think they were "better" than the blue-collar grunts, are now finding out that they're just cogs in the machine too, to be mechanized, automated, outsourced, down-waged, dehumanized and hurried along, just like those poor schmucks on the assembly line.

  •  A gamer's homebuilt computer (8+ / 0-)

    has probably been loved and cared for better than any corporate PC ever was. While a gaming rig is probably overkill (and unnecessarily expensive) for anyone who doesn't want to game or do GPU computing, it's disingenuous to imply that they've been abused. We gamers love our PCs like children. And while some of us overclock (not all! Lots of gaming PCs are built with locked processors!), overclocking these days is very safe.

    Really, though, just about any homebuilt/custom-built PC will have been better-treated (from a hardware perspective) than a corporate workstation. Workstations are usually left running 24/7, which is made worse by the fact that they're very poorly-cooled and rarely dusted. Mass-market consumer PCs suffer from the same problems, but home builders are deeply invested in our PCs. We are our own tech support and our own labor warranty.

    "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

    by kyril on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 07:50:17 PM PDT

    •  "We are our own tech support (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jabney, kyril, JeffW, Unknown Quantity

      and our own labor warranty".

      I like it.

      I had a lightning strike hit my house last spring that took out the ethernet port in my desktop. I was going to order a card as replacement when the insurance adjuster disputed my diagnosis. He suggested I needed to take it to some PC shop to have it checked out.

      I told him that I could do that if he really wanted me to... or he could just pay the $12 for the new card.

      He had me order the card.

    •  All my home PCs run 24/7 (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jabney, terrypinder, Bluefin

      The only time they're ever turned completely off is if I need to do some work on them. Otherwise, I just reboot them when the BSD (m$) appears (about every four or five days), or if it slows way down or just freezes (Linux—about every four or five weeks). Keeping in mind that I have several work sessions open and a dozen or more tabs each on three or four browser sessions.

      When I say PCs plural, I'm talking four desktops and one laptop (although it usually goes into sleep mode after half an hour or so, eveb if it's plugged in).

      LRod—UID 238035
      ZJX, ORD, ZAU retired
      My ATC site
      My Norm's Tools site

      by exatc on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 08:15:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  My desktop never freezes (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JeffW, jabney

        Neither the Linux nor the Windows boot. If it did, I would fix whatever was wrong with it. I don't believe in letting my computers misbehave.

        But I typically shut it down when I'm not using it. It boots in 8 seconds. Might as well save on my electric bill and avoid any unnecessary wear on the hardware.

        I do tend to leave my laptop on because it takes forever to boot.

        "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

        by kyril on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 09:02:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The Ongoing Debate (0+ / 0-)

          I volunteer at a venue, and one of my pet gripes is when a guitar player or a bass player shuts off their amp between sound-check and the show. I want to tell them, "We're on a tight budget, but not that tight." It takes 15 minutes--at least--for tubes to warm up properly. Two hours is even better.

          best,

          john

          Strange that a harp of thousand strings should keep in tune so long

          by jabney on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 09:34:03 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Linux is a "Grocery Getters" World (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril

      Thanks for commenting.

      When I was a kid, the big thing was hot-rodding a car. And getting to ride in one, (or dreaming of driving one) was a lot of fun. But buying one? Even back then? No way unless I had a major budget or major mechanical skills. Now it's computers that get hot-rodded, and I respect those that can do it. But it's a young person's thing. Meant for steady hands and sharp eyes.

      Linux and gaming hardware? I don't know. Even if the CPU has never been overclocked, there's still the problem of using proprietary drivers and ultra-powerful video cards on Linux. There's a reason that Linus gave the finger to Nvidia publicly.

      best

      john

      Strange that a harp of thousand strings should keep in tune so long

      by jabney on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 08:55:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Linux runs great on gaming hardware. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jabney, terrypinder

        I remember my first experiment back in the mid-'00s did not go well, but it's gotten so much better. Mint just works out of the box no matter what I install it on. Yes, you have to install proprietary drivers to use hardware 3-D acceleration, but installation is easy and painless.

        The great behemoth of the PC gaming industry is currently betting on Linux to help it compete with consoles.

        "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

        by kyril on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 09:10:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It's also worth mentioning (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Bluefin, jabney

        that "homebuilt" doesn't necessarily mean "gaming." A lot of people build their own systems just because you can get better hardware for cheaper if you're willing to do the final assembly yourself. For young people, that's a really good deal.

        For older people who just want a functional PC, buying one of these systems used is a great deal, because you can often get newer hardware (builders tend to replace every 2-3 years, vs. 5+ years in the corporate world) that's been better-treated at a lower price. They are a little hard to find, though, because we tend to sell/give away to friends and family.

        "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

        by kyril on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 10:56:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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