Tuesday, February 10, 2009

OK Computer

A reader writes:

The problem I am facing now is the technology is advancing faster that I can raise funds. When I finally achieve a class set of laptops they are out-dated.

Obsolescence has of course long been an issue with technology. The trick is to know what to purchase to best safeguard against it.

Fortunately, we're living in a time where an 'OK Computer' gets you a lot further than it did in the 90's.

And why is that?

Well, consider the fact that Quad Core is now the standard in consumer desktops. That's actually sort of insane. There's hardly anything you'd be doing in a school situation where you'd need more than a Dual Core. Blogging, surfing the Net, using Office programs... these are all pretty low-rent strains on your processor. Now consider the move towards the lightning-quick new DDR3 SDRAM. Faster memory? You bet. Necessary? Not unless you are gaming or doing massive video applications.

The benefit of all of this is that Dual Core DDR2 computers have now dropped drastically in price. It's sort of like on a new car lot when they make deals at the end of the year to get rid of the left-overs before bringing out the new models. A 2009 Civic is not going to make a 2008 Civic obsolete. It's just gonna make it seem somehow older and less desirable.

And that's when you step in and get a deal.

I suggest purchasing a Dual Core with the fastest processing speed you can afford. Don't worry about how big the hard disk is: all computers these days have massive hard drives, and you should buy an external drive anyway for storage. Don't worry about disc speed or what type of DVD player is onboard or what type of monitor comes with it. In terms of laptops, as I'm writing this, I'm working on an iBook G4 that you could probably find on eBay for $125. I've done some hot-rodding to it and it works like a charm. I've even recorded two albums on it.

Explore the used and refurbished market. The threat of obsolescence is as much a marketing ploy as anything else.


  1. Agreed! If you incorporate Web 2.0 tools, the actual computer hardware is not that important. The speed of your wireless network/cards is more important. I'm using eight Compaq laptops that are 7 years old. They are horrible for anything located on the computer (ie. MS Office). However, I have very few issues with Firefox for blogging and whatnot.

    Get your hands on some old laptops. Work on getting them connected to the internet. There are a wealth of Web 2.0 technologies that can be beneficial for your students.

  2. Perhaps... Perhaps not. It depends on what you're teaching. When your topics are technological (e.g. programming) then hardware does matter, and software matters even more. For example, your programming exercises may rely on a particular version of some compiler (so that installation instructions, error messages, etc., match the ones in your courseware). In other words, configuration management in the classroom can be a big pain in the neck.

    Over the years, we have devised clever solutions such as scripts that wipe each desktop clean and run a fresh install of all the needed utilities, and deliver them along with the courseware itself. Nonetheless, we don't expect the neck pain ever to go away entirely... It's part of why they pay us the big bucks. Heh.

    -- Dan Keller

  3. Point taken.

    I'm a Language Arts teacher. We use Web 2.0 apps to complete classwork, writing assignments and homework. I'm not teaching anything like programming.

    Your solutions seem to fit with your needs. For my teaching, as long as students log out of web apps, they can share computers hour to hour.


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