When do you retire a machine?

I’m thinking about replacing my existing Fedora Linux desktop. I’m really on the fence about it.

On the one hand, it’s never, ever caused me any major problems. I don’t turn it on very often, except when I’m working with something I can’t easily do on the Windows box (I keep forgetting MozillaBuild doesn’t provide everything). Plus, I finally decided to try ccache, and it makes for an amazing build time: about 10 minutes on this three year old box.

On the other hand, it is three years old, and a build of Mozilla Firefox 4 trunk takes a couple hours when ccache’s cache isn’t up to date. (For comparison, the Windows box running Windows 7 now takes about the same time, and its specs are significantly better!) Fedora did a pretty bad job partitioning the 80GB drive, so at one point my home directory partition had only a couple GB of free space on it (while Fedora reserved about half the drive for itself and used very little). I bought an external hard drive to compensate – which turns out to be a pretty good idea anyway from just the backup standpoint. Most ironic of all is that the CD burner in the drive doesn’t reliably burn Fedora CD’s, so every time I want to upgrade Fedora, I have to let my Windows machine do the work…

Now, I hear stories of i7 machines that can do clobber builds of Mozilla in fifteen minutes, and I start to think about greener pastures. As much as I think, Oh, I don’t really need it, I keep thinking about it.

So what do you think? If you have a perfectly good machine that’s just old, running Linux, do you replace it, and why?

12 thoughts on “When do you retire a machine?”

  1. throw a few disks in there, install zfs-fuse and turn your old machine into a file server. then buy a new one to be your desktop machine 🙂

  2. If you were to upgrade to i7/i5 machine I’d wait for when second generation of these CPUs is released roughly 2011 Q1. Codenamed Sandybridge. Early benchmarks promise 25% increase in performance for the same price with lower TDP (greener 🙂

  3. 3 years! I usually expect a machine to last 5 years, albeit with a memory and possibly hard drive upgrade at some point.
    I’ve recently replaced my previous machine, as it was getting painful to use some of the more complex filter effects in Inkscape when working on my webcomic (shameless plug: http://www.peppertop.com). The machine was over 6 years old.
    The replacement machine was mid-spec; I went for a dual core AMD that has a good reputation for being unlockable to 4 cores (which did work for me), which helped keep the costs down.
    I could probably have got far better performance if I’d sprung for an i7, but in practice it’s still a significant improvement over its predecessor. I figure that whatever I buy will seem slow in a year’s time, so I’d rather keep some money for upgrades, or a complete replacement if it comes to it.
    Oh, and these days I go down the default Ubuntu route of / and /home on the same partition, so that either can use up the free space, as necessary. Ubuntu’s installer handles in-place reinstalls without removing /home, so the traditional reason for keeping them separate is less relevant now.

  4. 2 hours sounds excessive for that desktop. I get build times of less than 30 minutes with an i7 notebook. Are you using pymake?
    (From Alex: No, I’m not using pymake. Last I heard, it was still beta…)

  5. I recently decided I was sick of waiting for compiles and went all-in for a new build machine. I put my build directories *and* all of /usr on an SSD, got a multi-core system, and filled it out with enough RAM to hold most stuff in the buffer cache. It was a *great* decision – incremental builds are on the order of 1-2 seconds now, where they used to be 30s-1m.

  6. Rather than doing a full system upgrade, you might consider replacing that system’s hard drive with an SSD. You said “80GB”, which means you can fit on an X25-M. That will massively improve the speed of your system, particularly booting, software builds (cold or ccached), searching…
    Bonus: you can take the opportunity to repartition and reduce the number of partitions to something sensible (for instance, 1).

  7. It’s still not “official”, but it works well. It’s like the Firefox beta! Try it out. The way I run it is:
    cd srcdir
    autoconf-2.13 && cd js/src && autoconf-2.13
    cd objdir
    MOZCONFIG=path/to/mozconfig srcdir/configure
    srcdir/build/pymake/make.py -jn
    where n is the number of processing units (8 for me).

  8. Why help fill the planet with yet more unnecessary electronic junk?
    (From Alex: Hey, nobody said I wasn’t going to donate the computer to someone or get it recycled. Like I said, it’s a perfectly good computer.)
    I’m a developer (django web development as my day job) and my PC (and by that I mean my main workstation – 90% of my work gets done on it) is from 1999. I’m not kidding. It’s a Dell dual PII 400. 512M memory. It runs debian lenny with KDE 3.5.
    Thing is, it just works. Sure, you need to give it an extra second or so to do something occasionally, but the pain isn’t enough to outweigh the bother I’d have to go through moving all my stuff to a new machine.
    I don’t even really run a hugely cut down system. I still use firefox (iceweasel) (I usually have several copies open all day). I do some pretty demanding graphics work in Inkscape too. It’s just a matter of developing patience.
    3 years? Ha!

  9. Well, I never succeeded to burn a bootable openSUSE DVD on this machine, but finally I found out that it is possible to upgrade a SuSE system with no material DVD at all, by means of an ISO image on a relatively small partition which won’t be touched by the upgrade (mount the ISO image on the loop device, extract the kernel and initrd from it, instruct GRUB [or LILO] to boot that, and tell the upgrade system that I’m upgrading from an image on my HD). Don’t know if RedHat/Fedora can do the same though, but if I were someone at RedHat, I’d look into it: it’s pretty useful. Maybe you could burn a “non-bootable” Fedora CD or DVD and extract its kernel and initrd to your HD for booting: if Fedora can’t upgrade directly from an ISO image, this would be the next best thing.

  10. I wasn’t suggesting you would just dump the old machine – every time you buy a new machine you populate the planet with another machine which takes resources to make and will itself eventually have to be disposed of.
    (Incidentally I’ve never had a great experience with computer recycling. Most peoples attitudes these days seem to be “more trouble than it’s worth”. Shipping and support costs seem to dwarf actual low-end hardware costs.)

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