Friday, September 5, 2014


Why the Computer Experience is Often Poor


The most common reason computers become damaged is due to heat. A lot of
computers are not designed well enough to deal with 100% CPU use over long
periods of time. This has been a problem that computers had since their
beginnings using vacuum tubes. The problem remains to this day as a lot
of modern laptops still overheat and there are many examples of video cards
in desktop machines becoming damaged due to excessive heat.

Intel has tried deal with this problem with their speedstep technology.
If the sensors say the computer is getting too hot then the CPU scales the clock frequency to a lower value. Other solutions for overly hot laptops include cleaning out the fan vents and buying a cooling pad, of which there are active and passive types.

Generally a desktop with good air flow should not overheat.

Note: I've never had a Panasonic Toughbook CF-48 overheat.


Unfortunately just about all computer components fail at some point. It's
a good idea to watch for signs of impending failure. One can make
component failure less likely to happen by using high quality parts such
as power supplies, motherboards and hard drives. Some external hard drives
are rugged and have anti shock capability.

The DC adapters used with a lot of routers and cable modems are cheaply made
and are a common point of failure. It's possible for a cable modem to fail
and not fail completely, instead there is increased packet loss. The
easiest solution for this problem is to completely swap out the cable modem
for another one. In the case of routers merely swapping out the DC adapter
(or wall wart) will usually fix the problem. Be sure to match the physical
connector, polarity, voltage and amperage to the original unit.


It's one of the oldest tricks in the book for hardware manufacturers of
printers and scanners: Make the protocol the device communicates in a
secret, thus making life difficult for software programmers (especially FOSS
ones). Often there is little or no technical documentation to support development of free and open-source device drivers for their products.


As computer motherboards become more and more integrated they become less and
less repairable. In the days of the IBM PC the motherboard had no disk controllers
or IO ports, just the memory chips, the CPU, and external ports for the keyboard and cassette deck. Thus it was a relatively simple matter to replace defective components. Not so with a modern motherboard that has sound capability, networking, hard drive controllers, USB, and who knows what else.

One wonders what repair level is possible with tablets and other tiny devices which
use surface mount technology. On the other side of the coin often it is quite easy to repair a modern LCD HDTV. The large case size ensures that there is a reasonable distance between components. One can at least do part replacement at the component level.

The road to unrepairable computers started with Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) technology in the 1970s. Before the microcomputer appeared the CPU was a collection
of separate cards. In the case of the DEC PDP-11/20 it had integrated circuit flip-chip modules. Individual flip-chips could be repaired.


The final issue is software creep. By this I mean the continual replacement of older
software with newer software. It seems unavoidable but it's usually unnecessary.
How often does one need to update their word processor? I'm using abiword on
Linux and it seems adequate for my purposes. KDE versions after 3.5.10 do not intererest
me. In fact I've switched to the lighter IceWM and I'm quite happy with it.


In conclusion we can clearly see why the computer experience is often poor, and this
is mostly due to poor design and lack of knowledge of computer maintainance. It's not
the user's fault as the manufacturers want unknowledgeable users and unrepairable devices so they can keep selling you a new computer or television or $ELECTRONIC_DEVICE every 4 years or so. It's bad for your pocket book and it's bad for the environment. All that ewaste has to go somewhere and somewhere is usually a landfill site.

The solutions to these problems are somewhat unclear but I favour using older more
repairable computers as part of the answer. I've seen Panasonic Toughbooks last over ten
years and there's no reason why one couldn't keep it working for at least another decade.

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