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How much computer?

9 Nov 2023

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales almost upon us I dare say some folk will be planning to upgrade their computer hardware.

Unfortunately, the cutting-edge CPU and GPU tech is pretty expensive these days.

The Intel i9 14900K processor sells for over NZ$1,100 and an RTX4090 graphics card will set you back an eye-watering $3,500 to $4,000, depending on the variant you choose.

Even when lightly discounted as one might expect in the upcoming sales, that's a huge amount of cash to throw at having the fastest computer on the block

So perhaps a more important question should be: just how much power do you really need?

Of course I must post the obligatory "I remember the days" comment at this point.

Yes, my first computer had a clock speed of just 1MHz (that's MEGAherts, not Gigahertz) and there was no such thing as a dedicated GPU back in those days. In fact, my first computer used a 110 baud serial interface to a "dumb" terminal that could do nothing more than display ASCII characters on a screen. It didn't even have an addressable cursor.

Back to today...

Most of my daily web-browsing, text-editing and programming work is done on extremely humble hardware.

Right now I'm typing this on a Linux machine with an Intel i5 2500 clocked at 3.3GHz. This is my "main" computer and I use it for almost everthing but some of my Python/C programming and video editing.

WTF? Running a second-gen i5 processor in 2023?

Yep, it works just fine.

The inbuilt iGPU of the 2500 does a perfectly adequate job of displaying YouTube videos at HD resolution up to 60 frames per second. It also represents no problem when I'm browsing the web using Firefox as my browser or Thunderbird as my email client.

GIMP lets me create and edit graphics or images with ease and I can even do some livestreaming if I need to -- although this is just a little over-taxing of this modest system.

The other uber-modest system I use for programming and web-browsing is my Raspberry Pi 4.

Although not as good at handling YouTube video, the RPi4 is perfectly suited to cutting Python code and will even compile a decent chunk of C code... although doing a make on anything other than a trivial project does become a great opportunity to make a coffee or stretch my legs for a few minutes.

I'd have to say that if someone just wants to do basic computer stuff such as browsing, watching videos, playing music, editing some documents and creating some catchy static graphics or images then there's a huge amount of value in just sticking with what you have or perhaps grabbing a slightly better second-hand computer at a huge discount from new.

Unless you're a hardcore gamer type, where every nano-second counts and frame-rates are the holy grail then buying the fastest hardware available is kind of hard to understand. The reality in such a situation is that you won't really notice any difference over a far more modest bit of kit. All that will happen is that your new uber-fast computer will wait more quickly between keystrokes or mouse clicks.

Call me an old scrouge but I get a lot of satisfaction out of eeking every bit I can from what I have.

Sure, I'd love the latest and greatest but unless I had a significant surplus of cash and absolutely nothing else to spend it on, I'm not going to rush out and sit on the bleeding edge of computer tech just for bragging rights.

Even my video-editing rig is perfectly adequate -- despite having only a modest (RTX3060) GPU and being six generations behind in the CPU department (i7 8700). In fact it always amazes me how many people doing professional video editing work are still using processors even older than mine. Yes, despite video editing sometimes placing heavy demands on hardware, even these computers still tend to spend most of their time just waiting on keystrokes and mouse clicks.

So if, like me, you're rocking an antiquated computer that would make a gamer point and laugh, rejoice in the fact that you're smart enough to know when good enough is good enough.

Carpe Diem folks!

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