Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Old Laptop

Right before college started in 2005 I purchased my laptop.  It’s a Dell Inspiron 9300 that cost about $2000, with not all the bells and whistles, but most of them.  It’s got a nice video card for the time, letting me play new computer games as they came out, such as Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead.  But mostly in college, I spent (wasted?) an unholy amount of time playing a Warcraft 3 mod named Defense of the Ancients.  I could be speaking a foreign language with the amount of time I spent playing that game, but I digress.

I used to keep the laptop on all the time in college.  This may seem stupid (because it is stupid) but I was impressed with people who were on AOL Instant Messenger for days at a time.  You could see how long someone had been logged on if you moused over their name.  There was one fellow whose AIM uptime was measured in weeks and I got a kick out of that.  So I dutifully logged into AIM and kept my laptop on to rack up days in my AIM uptime, even though it is most likely that no one noticed and if they did notice they were more likely repulsed than impressed.

Then one day I woke up and I couldn’t get the computer to operate.  It was just a blank black screen with the fans whirring away and was burning hot to the touch.  Unplugged it and took it to the computer repair store on campus and learned I had fried my hard drive.  Turns out laptops aren’t supposed to be on all the time.  I plunked down $60 or so to get a new hard drive and waited a week to get my laptop back.  This was the cost of hubris.  I’m thankful this was a relatively cheap escapade that still provides a valuable lesson to me this day.

A funny thing happened during the week that I waited for laptop.  I thought I was going to be way less productive without my laptop, but it was the other way around.  Without goofing off easily available at my finger tips, I was twice as productive.  I had oodles of time to relax with friends and work out.  Instead of using my laptop in my dorm room, I would go to one of the many computer labs on campus, log in, get my work done, then log out.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I would still goof off, but would do it in much more concentrated spurts.  I would work, then spend 10 minutes on, work, then 10 minutes on, wrap everything up and then log out.  I spent 15-20 minutes of solid blocks of time on distractions instead of logging on probably dozens of time throughout the day (racking up who know knows how much wasted time).  The short breaks are even more pernicious because they disrupt my train of thought, and without them I was an efficient machine.

After I got my laptop back, I tried to avoid the short break distractions with limited success.  I give in to them frequently now, six years later.  I will look into site blocking software if this blog gets more serious or if I found myself short of time.  I remember reading about the software on XKCD somewhere…

Anyway, over the years the only other repair to the laptop was replacing the keyboard because I knocked out some keys.  This was around $40 or so.  The battery died a few years into its life and rather than purchasing a new one, I just use the laptop as a desktop replacement, always plugged in.  I am well aware that it would have been far cheaper just to get a desktop to begin with, but you live and you learn.  And I do use the laptop as a laptop on occasion when I travel.

Still, I am proud to have had this laptop for 5 ½ going on 6 years this summer.  I can’t find great data, but a user on says his company’s laptops last around 2 years, making my feat look relatively impressive.  I imagine in our throwaway culture that the 2 year average lifespan for laptops is relatively accurate.

And I do take pride in owning and maintaining the laptop.  A couple years ago I opened it up and cleaned out all the dust using a guide from Dell (there was a TON of dust).  This lowered the internal temperature and stopped the fans from sounding like an aircraft getting read to take off – I probably should do this again soon, it’s starting to sound like I’m on the tarmac again.  Earlier in the year I wiped the hard drive and reinstalled Windows XP.  This got the machine running as good as new.  I didn’t install any games this time around because I just don’t have the time for them anymore.

In fact, I recently sold my Wii for $100, controllers for $50, and Wii Fit for $50.  I definitely could have bargained for a better price, but I was eager to get them back into circulation with someone who would actually use them.  There was an article about a guy selling his guitars because he didn’t use them any more on or, but I can’t seem to find it now.  I’ll also be getting rid of my TV soon, so I can be one of those guys who mentions he doesn’t have a TV all the time apropos of nothing.

Anyway, almost 6 years now and the laptop is still chugging away.  I have $2000 sitting in an ING savings account to replace it when it breaks, but

1)      the laptop is doing just fine.  I don’t move it so it has minimal wear and tear.  At this rate, hopefully it will last forever.  And
2)      That is too much money to spend on a replacement.  I put the $2000 in the savings account when I expected I would want to get a diesel desktop gaming rig, but my priorities have shifted.

If my laptop broke today I would go out and get an iPad 2 or one of its tablet competitors after some research.  All I do now is web surf, use the occasional text editor, and create the occasional spreadsheet. For these activities, the tablet is fine and $2000 is way too much. I just transferred $1000 out of that that savings account so I don’t feel obligated to spend that much when my laptop does break.  So I did accomplish something semi-concrete from this blog post.  Who says blogging is just navel-gazing?

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