Technologists Anonymous

I have come out and just say it.

I’m addicted to technology.

Alright, that might be an overly broad statement, so I’ll specify it a little bit (but I’m not going to change my title).

I’m addicted to changing laptops.

It started way back into 2001 when I built my first computer from nothing but parts. I still remember the exact model numbers of what I used. ASUS A7V266-E/AA motherboard with an AMD Athlon XP 1800+ processor coupled with two sticks of 128MB of DDR RAM. A Sony CD-RW drive and a 60GB Seagate hard drive. Finally, an 8MB ATI Rage XL graphics card topped it off. All of it sat in a beige Antec case with a 300watt power supply. Oh, there was a floppy involved as well.

A week of my summer was spent putting it together and troubleshooting all of the problems I had. When you offset the power cable of the floppy drive by one pin, it will short out the system so that it will not boot. Learned that one the hard way.

Through the process I learned about formatting a hard drive, installing an operating system and just how computers are put together. It was wonderful. It was enlightening. I still marvel at the fact that my parents put up the money for me to build a computer for them, knowing full well that I had never done it before.

That computer lasted them eight years. EIGHT YEARS! Eight years with the most impressive updates being an ATI Radeon 8500 graphics card and 256MB of extra RAM. It still boggles my mind that the machine lasted that long.

I tell you that story so that what I have to tell has more effect. In 2005, I bought my first computer with my own money. It was a 15” Apple PowerBook G4. It was beautiful. It was powerful. It was fast.

It also was only the start of my laptop purchases over the next six years. Here is a list:

  • IBM Thinkpad R50
  • Apple Black MacBook
  • IBM Thinkpad X40
  • Apple 13”  MacBook Pro
  • Lenovo Thinkpad T61

I’ve been pretty consistent with one laptop purchase a year (including the PowerBook). Granted, each of new purchases has normally been bracketed by used laptops, but that is still a lot of change going on over time. That’s also just six years.

My parents used the same machine for eight years and I change my laptop every year. During the same time, I’ve had three different desktop machines (that includes the Mac Mini that we currently have right now). A better track record, but still worse than a single machine in eight years.

So, I have a problem, a huge one, when it comes to the tools that I use. A laptop is a tool. I have purchased more tools than I have actually created piece of software. I have more hammers than houses built. More spatulas than omelets . You get the picture.

Now, if each one of those had broken, for whatever reason, then I wouldn’t feel so bad. However, that is not the case. All of those, except for the R50, are still in working condition and I personally know exactly where three of them are (family and friends).

I have a problem. Now what is the solution?

I’m going to set a goal for myself, and then I’m going to probably break it so that I can keep it. The goal is to keep a laptop for three years, and that goes for each machine in my house.

Three years is the limit of AppleCare, and what I consider to be the reasonable lifespan of a computer. At that point, you tend to start to wonder if it is worth it to fix a machine because of its age, availability of parts, and speed increases available with newer hardware. At three years, even purchasing nice, new hardware from Apple, I would end up spending less money (far less) than I would if I keep up with my current Apple => used Thinkpad => Apple => used Thinkpad routine.

With my tool, I will then work on actually building usable software and providing some value besides new bells and whistles. If I would have followed this, here is what it would look like:

  • Apple PowerBook G4 (2005)
  • Apple Aluminum MacBook (2008)

That’s it! I would still have a perfectly usable Aluminum MacBook at my disposal with the AppleCare running out shortly and new MacBook Pros (or Airs) to choose from. That sure looks and sounds a lot nicer, doesn’t it.

It isn’t eight years, but it is a lot better than what I have been doing, and I know I can do better. Now I just need to.