Linux breathes new life into Old Beasts

So my son’s ageing Alienware 17″ gave up the ghost a couple weeks ago. We bought it in 2014. It managed 4 years before Windows finally said “uh, no, I’m not booting any more.” Tried restoring many times — keeping content, then giving up and wiping the drives. No luck.

So it sat on my desk making a nuisance of itself. This thing is BIG and HEAVY — “laptop” is a bit of a misnomer. It deserves a new computer category: tabletop. As in, “let me get my tabletop and we’ll crunch those numbers.”

In its day it did lots of crunching. A 256GB solid-state drive for booting, and a larger 1TB 5,400rpm drive for content. It also boasts an integrated Intel graphics card for low-power work, and a beefy (for its time) radeon discrete graphics card for when the going got tough. And the screen! Wow, so easy on the eyes.

My son took it over to friends’ when they had networked gaming nights. It was not so easy to lug around, but he was the envy of everyone when he found somewhere big enough to set it down.

Now, to be honest, I have to say this laptop was already semi-retired. My kid is into gaming. Two years ago I set up a new gaming desktop rig with a GTX 970 video card (recently upgraded to GTX 1060). After this, the laptop did a lot of sitting around. It really only got used when he went over to friends’ houses. Maybe it was sad.

This Christmas the house completely upgrade with an HTC Vive VR set, and a new Alienware laptop to power it (which goes out with him now when he goes visiting). This thing is a real beast. The boot time… oh, wait, this is about the other one.

I was getting ready to donate/throw away the 17″ when I spotted a USB stick on my desk with a live boot of Ubuntu 16.04. “Meh,” I said to myself, “why not?” I was certain the machine had a hardware issue and nothing would work, but to my surprise I booted 16.04, wiped the drives, partitioned root/ on the 256 and home/ on the 5,400, restarted, yanked out the USB, and after about 15 minutes of updating and an hour or so configuring, I had a new work machine.

Anyone who’s used linux knows how light-weight it is, how it can breathe new life into old hardware. And isn’t that the truth! This 17″ is as snappy as our new laptop. I develop web and mobile applications, and I can do everything I need on this laptop (okay, except for iOS builds, but we all know that grief). It’s not as portable as, say, my Macbook Air, but it’s full sized keyboard and large screen means it’s more like using a desktop than a laptop.

And, should I ever need to move it (or do weight training), it’s a lot easier to move than a desktop 😉

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