I pulled out and fired up an ancient netbook I last updated two years ago to see if it’s still functional. Yes and no.
When the Acer Aspire One was released in 2008, the eight year-old Windows XP was the dominant OS, and was finally feeling solid with service pack 3. Vista had been out a couple of years but remained unpopular, and Windows 7 was still a year or so away. XP was designed for much less capable hardware than 2008 was capable of, but the netbook category was a step back: lower resolution, slower chips, less memory, and dirt cheap.
Fast forward to today. My phone can run circles around the Acer in every respect, but the latter remains pretty capable. It runs Linux well, and I’ve installed early versions of Windows 10. It’s currently running Windows 8.1.
With an early Atom processor, 1200×600 pixel screen, one gigabyte of RAM, and its original 5400rpm spinning hard drive, there are some things it’s just not going to do well. Like Windows Update – it took over two days just to gather the list of security updates it needed. 1Gb RAM on XP wasn’t ample, but it was decent. The early Atom chips are 32-bit only, so even though you can theoretically install 4Gb of RAM, you’ll be lucky to get 3Gb of it working, and 2Gb is the most they recommend.
You can’t even install the latest Windows 10 on this thing without upgrading the memory. 1Gb isn’t enough for a modern Windows OS. Windows 8.1 will run, but will run better on 2-3 Gb, and is only fun to use on 6-8Gb on a 64-bit CPU.
So, why bother? It’s not a terrible machine, all told. Built in webcam, built in LAN port, decent keyboard. It’s still a testable box, especially with Linux. As an older machine, it doesn’t have a locked BIOS like newer tablets and laptops, so there’s more flexibility in changing (earlier) OSes. We always have a need for testing on older hardware.
So, cutting a long story a bit short, I looked into upgrades. 2Gb of memory costs about $15. An SSD will vastly improve disk operations, which is crucial with that little memory, and I have an old one I can swap in, costing nothing.
Why the long post about a computer? Perhaps it’s a birthday thing, but I’m getting older, and parts are creakier, but I’m not ready for the scrap pile yet. I’m working to renovate myself inside and out, making the most of what I still have. I’ve always appreciated computers that can be upgraded, however minimally. My wife made a desktop computer last for close to ten years through periodic updates to memory, hard drives, graphic cards, flash card readers, and so on. For a long time, I couldn’t wait to replace my equipment; three years felt like forever. But as the PC industry has matured, the machines gained longer and longer useful lifespans. As long as you aren’t into gaming, in which case you’re replacing video cards every few months, even a ten year-old computer can still hold its own in some tasks. Whether you WANT to continue using it is an ongoing question. For my wife, the old gray mare of a PC wasn’t keeping up with the newest Windows, the newest Photoshop, and the newest high-resolution images from a digital camera they couldn’t fathom in 2008. But someone else could receive that computer and make use of it happily, if all they need to do is browse the web and use Microsoft Office.