the death of old technology, that in reality never dies


The first gadget I ever bought turned 10 years old last year.

The first laptop I ever bought would have turned 10 years old this year.

I just got rid of them both this past week (!). Incidental to this decision was the fact that they still turn on. Whether they could be classed as working is a separate question. Most of their components appeared to be in working order. They function as well as 10-year-old gadgets are wont to. They are slow. Were they ready for “death”?

The laptop, an Alienware m5500, saw the worst of it, but was also pretty damn resilient. It could only be afforded through a whole Christmas season of part-time work. And dat config. An Intel® Pentium® M 740 1.73GHz. Dual graphics cards you could switch between: an integrated Intel card and a 128MB NVidia® GeForce™ Go MXM 6600. A beautiful 1680 x 1050 display. A kingly 512MB Dual Channel DDR2 RAM (eventually upgraded to 1.25 GB) and a 60GB HDD. Good times.

I used it for 3-ish years, until I broke the screen in an accident that still gives me nightmares 1. Once repaired, my sister used it for another 3 years, maybe. Since the HP I bought as a replacement turned out to be the kind of monstrosity that only HP can make, I went back to the Alienware (very happily, I must add). A temporary desktop until I eventually built my powerhouse machine (for the time). 2

All that remained of the Alienware

All that remained of the Alienware

Oh, and the Alienware worked great for most of its life 3. Over time, I removed the screen (it died again, through no fault of mine). Replaced the hard drive. Made the DVD drive into an external device. Come to think of it, I recall using that DVD writer heavily in the UK.. burning collection after collection on disc. Backups were also disc based. 4 I tried resuscitating it a couple of times in the past few years as a media server, but its aging processor and fan couldn’t really handle it 5. ‘Twas with a heavy heart that I let it go now, after all this time.

The gadget was an iriver H140. iriver was one of those niche technology companies that has disappeared today – but way back when, they had some of the most full-featured products out there. Point of pride: First gadget I literally bought with my own hard-earned money. December 2004, on Tottenham Court Road, 5 days after I got my first paycheck. For a long long time it functioned as my only music player 6. It was the also only way I could transport data around – I loved the fact that it just showed up as an external drive in Windows 7. Almost 5 years after I got it, I moved to music playback on the phone. The H140 then became the driving music collection, where it basically “lived” in my car. A gigantic shuffle of Western, classical, desi, rock, pop, what have you played from it when I drove.

Clockwise: leather cover, remote, charger, an awesome player

Clockwise: leather cover, remote, charger, an awesome player

I switched out the firmware (“OS”) on the player about 2 years in to the Rockbox project, which added a lot of functionality to it. Probably my first real device hack/root 8.

The arrival of a smartphone (and some ominous clicks from the H140 hard drive) took the player out of the car and into a drawer. Where it has resided for most of the past few years. I never tried to figure out a use for it, especially with the rise of streaming services.. but again, hard to let go given its provenance.

How many devices I have bought in the last 5 years have actually survived the way these 2 devices seemingly did? My 4-year-old Nexus S can no longer have a regular Android ROM installed on it – its internal memory is too small for such limitations 9. Seeing as apps apparently get built against next years hardware, 2015 apps are barely functional on it. A now 3-year old X230T has never had great build quality, even though it was a good buy at the time. Probably have to switch it out this year, though in theory it’s hardware is humming along fine. The Nexus 4 (which replaced the S) is limping along into its 3rd year 10.

The Alienware and the iriver had to go: old electronics do not age well. That said, I’d like to believe they hung on as long as they did because of what they signified. Because every time I picked them up I could feel the blood, sweat, and tears that went into obtaining them.

The first possessions of a younger me, possessions I could call truly my own.

The screen simply says 'Thank you for using'

  1. It was also the subject of one of the first times irony bit me with regards to laptops. Funnily enough a very similar situation occurred with its successor HP. 
  2. Said powerhouse machine is still humming along fine as a cloud backup machine. Careful component selection, I tell you.. 
  3. Incidentally, I don’t think the Alienware ever saw anything but Windows XP. I tried Ubuntu, but was able to hack it into outputting 1080i in Windows and not any flavor of Linux. 
  4. Said collection was recently dumped too. And I still rue the day I quit on disc-based backups.. all that data I lost was partially recovered from those very discs. Funny how backups work. 
  5. In fact, I distinctly remember that I bought and took possession of this machine Dec 2005/Jan 2006. A few months into 2006, Intel announced the move to 64-bit and multi-core processors.. leaving me with completely obsoleted technology :/ 
  6. I very briefly considered an iPod. Price and iTunes conspired against it. But I have to wonder if my entire computing timeline would have taken a very different route based on that decision. 
  7. Remember, 2004/5? No Dropbox. Gmail offered a then-gigantic 1 GB of email storage. 
  8. Which translated to a crazy amount of ROMing/rooting and mucking about on the Nexus S and to some extent on the Nexus 4. 
  9. ([] zindabad. 
  10. I wrote this paragraph and thought at the end of it – man, I’m using a lot of old tech. 

3 thoughts on “the death of old technology, that in reality never dies

  1. alice

    Your post certainly resonates with me.
    My 1st laptop, bought in 2006, which I am still using, though with a few hdd replacements, missing keys and the like Is due to be phased out soon. I have booked a replacement Toshiba. I am sure I will feel sad when I shut this one down, its now too decrepit to be handed to anyone else. But I still feel a streak of misplaced pride when I tell folks I use my 9 year old laptop and see their jaws drop open.
    and the other one, also an iRiver music player… Bought in 2007 I guess. I dont even know where it is today. It got relegated to the background when I moved back to India and had an fm player available on my phone.

    Your post has made me sooo nostalgic now. Look at the size of this comment. 🙂

    Btw, how are those 2 beautiful kids doing?

    • And I thought I was using old tech! 🙂

      MP3 players were all the rage pre-smartphones, says a lot about how encompassing technology becomes.

      I type this comment with one screaming in my ear (for I don’t know what reason), and the other gurgling quietly on the playmat. Which means my reply is gonna get cut sho..

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