Moving house is a stressful thing to do, anyone will tell you that. But as an uber-geek, whose very nature is to acquire, understand and occasionally collect hardware (hey…you never know when that 256MB stick of DDR will come in handy), I have just encountered three of the most stressful days ever. This is my cathartic rant about a geek who had to move house, and found that he had in fact become a hoarder of hardware.
It certainly seems that the longer you stay in one place, the longer the roots grow. I had been living in the same apartment in Taipei for just on eight years. I was happy. I had a girlfriend, two cats and a job writing for one of the coolest websites around. One day we got call from our landlady who told us in no uncertain tones that she wanted the place back…. seemed it was our time to find a new corner of Taipei County. No biggy. Just stick all your worldly possessions in boxes, and move it all to the new place. How hard could it be?
The Boxes.. Save me from the Boxes
We started putting things in boxes as soon as I returned from my trip to Berlin for the IFA event. It is at this point that I realize just how much stuff I possess. Fifteen years in Taiwan and eight years in the same apartment had resulted in several rooms of what I can only call stuff. Physical objects that had somehow conspired to live within the quarters that I rented, most of which I could not recall purchasing, acquiring or receiving from anybody. We started with twenty large boxes, but subsequently needed several more… despite my best efforts to throw away much of this ‘life debris’, as I now prefer to refer to it.
Throw Away Hardware? Are You Kidding?
I used to build and repair computers with a vengeance. Ten years ago I operated a PC repair store in downtown Taipei. A buddy and I opened the place and managed to keep it alive for around eighteen months before moving on to more rewarding pursuits (…if can you can call a corporate marketing gig ‘rewarding’). During that spell I helped hundreds of people with their broken, slow, virus ridden, Windows XP-running laptops and PCs. I would like to think that the vast majority left the store with a much more functional machine, or at the very least some potent advice on how to improve things (the answer was never, ever to buy a Mac btw…:). All of these efforts left me with a lot of old hardware and a passion for hoarding it all.
Old PC hardware is an odd commodity, and its all to do with the speed at which computers have been evolving. New hardware is pristine and expensive, but the sheen soon fades. A new hard drive, motherboard or stick of RAM can very quickly be worthless once a) it can no longer interface with other, newer standards (think DDR to DDR2 – IDE, SATA..etc) and b) capacities also change over time, so that whopping big 256MB stick of DDR is now incapable of running Firefox for two minutes – forget Windows.
Once hardware reaches a certain age it can also become far more valuable. I know a second-hand PC component store on Taipei city that could also charge money on the door as a museum. The oddest thing is that the hardware being sold in there is not cheap. You will pay more for a K7 AMD CPU than you will for a new AMD A-Series APU. The reasoning is that there will never be any new K7s. There is a finite number of working pieces still in existence, and if you really need one, it will cost you.
A few days ago I began the process of summarily throwing away my hardware. It was one of the toughest things I have ever had to do. The Geek in me does not see an old 40GB Seagate IDE drive (remember those annoying ribboned cables with Slave and Master relationships?), it simply sees a working component that deserves its right to exist. I still fix computers for friends, and largely enjoy it still, so there is the possibility that some of the old gear in my apartment in Taipei could one day help revive and resuscitate a dying machine…. I have recycled more parts in the last ten years than you would believe, and it always feels good when old discarded parts bring extended life to a machine on life support.
Bags of RAM, Trays of Old CPUs
I sat down and began a process of elimination that involved a great deal of old components being thrown out and dumped in the recycling bin. I would like to say that it was mostly broken stuff that no longer functioned, but in truth much of it was simply old and deemed unlikely to make a come back. Several motherboards that used the 775 socket (debut 2006) where still fully functional but I had to draw the line somewhere. An Intel Celeron or indeed Pentium from that era is unlikely to show too much promise on Windows 8.1.
So much gear lashed in a box and pushed out the door – offered up to the meat grinder of PCB and silicon. And it pained me. It actually felt deeply saddening. Hardware that I grew up with, components that I revered, respected and sold to others, would now in my mind, be condemned to the garbage bin of history. The experience created a huge pang of nostalgia, laced with an inescapable sense of loss.
It took a lot longer than I thought it would to plough through it all, but I now have separate bags of RAM; DDR3, SO-DDR3L, DDR2, DDR and even several sticks of SD RAM. RAM is just small, reasonably light PCB sticks with memory soldered on the side. It would not be a burden. I could afford to indulge. Likewise, several old CPUs also survived the cull. They will probably never be used again, but I know they still function.
Who knows, after the on-coming apocalypse, we might yet have need for a AMD K7 Barton core CPU. It still has a chance to save the world someday… and unapologetically, I refuse to throw it away.