The Rundkvist family’s aging computer collection is in a sad state.
Our newest machine is also the only one that’s still working flawlessly. A little 2008 LG netbook, it runs Win XP and Ubuntu linux and is mainly used by Junior as a gaming machine. When travelling, my wife and I like to bring it along for its handy dimensions and slight weight, but the dinky screen doesn’t lend itself to everyday computing.
My dear 2005 Dell laptop, on which I type these lines, is barely holding together. Its recently renewed Win XP installation is flaky, booting up with an arcane error message and unable to complete the installation of service packs. It just bluescreened on me for the first time. The machine’s also starting to become amnesiac about its hardware, having forgotten that it has built-in wifi and sound circuitry. And its battery life is all too brief these days. But there’s something about a computer you’ve used so much that the case’s white plastic is showing through the silver-metallic coating in a pattern that mimics your hands…
The family workhorse, a 2004 Dell desktop machine, is currently in a coma after I tried to upgrade to a larger main hard drive and install the most recent Ubuntu version. All our data are apparently still intact on the machine’s original smaller hard drive, but neither of the two is bootable at present and there’s something weird going on that causes Ubuntu to freeze half-way when I try to boot from a CD. To migrate that data I’ll probably have to install the smaller drive into my dad’s old computer and then jury rig some ethernet cable connection to the computer’s successor. Or install Win XP on the large new drive, which would be a short-term solution since that operating system has an alarming tendency for each installation to degrade steadily in performance until the machine becomes unusable. And the overhead of the fucking virus protection software is a nuisance. Luckily I have all my important stuff on a dav server elsewhere.
The computer that nobody ever uses is my extra mom’s 2001 Dell laptop. It’s actually not that bad though. Its battery is completely dead so every time you start it you have to tell it what year it is, and it couldn’t use its wifi card after I installed Win XP, so I put the card in the 2005 laptop to replace the circuitry that machine’s forgotten that it has. But as our computers go, and considering its age, the 2001 laptop is pretty good. It’s actually our second-quietest machine, and the operating system shows no apparent glitches.
I find it a bit infuriating the way old computers become unpredictable. I could sort of understand them breaking down catastrophically due to corrosion of the power supply’s wiring or failing of the ball bearings in the hard drive. But shouldn’t the microcircuitry be kind of WORK or NOT WORK, instead of starting to act capriciously? Maybe it’s a question of operating systems co-evolving with the hardware, so that when you run the on-line upgrades to your old machine it gets saddled with an OS that is actually intended to run on a slightly different (and much faster) machine. But just as the mechanical parts tend to work or not work at all, I expect the electronics to do likewise.