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Living in the Past

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When you spend your working day playing with the latest and greatest computing equipment, it’s easy to forget that most of you only have one computer (excluding those relics you keep stashed in the attic) and generally it isn’t as good as the stuff we get to play with either, such as the Alienware Aurora 7500 system we recently looked at. It’s also very easy to become quite blasé about the concept of spending money too. Suggestions such as “we’d sooner pay the extra £100 and get model X instead” seem all too familiar. But when it’s your own money you are parting with, that extra £100 suddenly seems a lot more than it was when first suggesting it.

One of those little facts that get thrown around the web (that might not be true anymore, but illustrates my point nicely) is that NASA uses nothing but Intel 386 processors in its Shuttles. At first, this seems a little crazy as there are significantly faster processors available that NASA could afford quite easily. However, if you think about it the 386 is a tried and tested processor that is reliable and can work passively with a pretty good tolerance for heat. They are also incredibly cheap as no one uses them anymore, so you can just stick four of them on a PCB for redundancy at little to no cost. I also heard that 386’s don’t suffer from travel sickness.

This principle is fairly sound and could transpose into modern day life quite easily. One of the problems with being an early adopter to technology is that you essentially find yourself in the role of beta tester. Enthusiasts are especially unlucky in this area, often frustrated by BIOS bugs in a new motherboard. How do they get repaid? A new revision of the motherboard is released and they are stuck with the older version.

A slightly less frustrating situation is when a new graphics cards is released with basically untested drivers, based on the theory that if there are issues the manufacturer will hear about them pretty quickly. We are often lucky, or more realistically unlucky enough to test products before their launch date. This will often involve discovering faults, waiting for new drivers and repeating an already laborious benchmarking routine several times. Why can’t manufacturers get this stuff working properly in the first place?

The bottom line is, modern technology has an incredibly short shelf-life, it’s not tested properly and costs a bomb. Yet somehow we can’t stop buying it.

I have a friend who up until very recently was still using a 486. Only due to a hard drive failure did he decide it was time for an upgrade. It did everything he needed it to do, and just like NASA’s approach, all the bugs were ironed out.

One of the major reasons he managed to “put up” with a 486 was because he was kept out of the loop, not having particularly computer literate friends (yours truly excepted) or even having the Internet. He didn’t know about anything new and faster – ignorance was bliss. After all, I’m sure many of you can remember trying a 486 for the first time and thinking how fast it was compared to your lowly 286. It’s all relative after all.

If you are in the loop however, then hearing about all these new technologies coming out and not having the money to buy them can be really frustrating. So what we need to do is live in the past. We need a website that pretends that it is exactly three years ago, with news and reviews that were relevant exactly three years ago. Something like the WayBack Machine might do this fine, by letting you view any web page as it was, though admittedly from past experience it’s a little unreliable. That way, you still get the excitement of reading about “new” technology, but you can buy cheap second hand hardware that is no longer usable for modern games, or you can buy modern low end equipment.

So, assuming you can manage to successfully avoid advertisements, conversations with colleagues, friends, IRC chat rooms, phone calls, sky writers, public toilet scrawling and anyone with telepathic abilities, you’ll essentially get the same excitement of being a technology enthusiast – but at a fraction of the price! Be one of the first people to actually make use of a lifetime warranty! Run “new” games straight out of the box at amazing frame rates without any driver issues!

So if your social life is already a bit of a shambles, and selling virtual swords on eBay isn’t quite bringing home enough bacon – then it’s time to seriously consider living in the past. Living in the past has been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of cancer and aid digestion. So while all of you will be saving up for PlayStation 3s and Xbox 360s, I’ll be buying a PlayStation 2 and raiding eBay for second hand games.

Ok, you got me, it’s about as practical as communism, but it’s a nice idea. Now go and drool over a Quad SLI setup.

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