How do you keep your computers alive?


A: By keeping them in use.

If we care about the longterm health of our computers to reduce consumption and wasting of minerals and other elements, we can try to keep using our devices and our computers as long as possible. I've written about some areas relating to permacomputing in the past. Here I'll detail some of the steps I've taken to keep my main laptop "alive" as long as possible.

For those interested in the details (not usually me!), my laptop is a Dell XPS 13 7390 (aka Linux Developer's Edition) from 2019 running Intel i7 at 4.7GHZ. Neofetch tells me it is running Intel Comet Lake UHD Graphics, which came with the laptop and is likely middle of the road, but I don't know. I don't think it's high end but it's not low end either. But what it is, is currently 5 1/2 years old.

I use it to make my art, teach, write, program, play video games, do 3d modeling, graphic design, work on games, edit audio, etc.

Prevent "enshittification"

Despite my laptop being almost 6 years old, it is extremely snappy. I started with Ubuntu but for 2 years have been using Void Linux exclusively, a "stable rolling release" operating system, which takes configuration and troubleshooting to get working initially if you're not familiar, but rewards in having a fairly minimal system in terms of aesthetics, speed savings, simplicity of the system (to a degree). It also means the computer receives support in the longterm as Void is one of the distros to attempt to keep up to date the system for as long as possible, and for as many architectures and hardware as possible. There are a large number of folks that write in that they use Void on their 10 and 15 year old computers, so that's reassuring. Even with lots of updates, adding software when I feel like it, new kernels, etc, my laptop has not gotten slower with age.

Hardware problem and fix: audio

Recently my headphone jack was janky. I was only able to play audio through the laptop speakers, but that's not always ideal when I'm working in a small apartment and want to give my partner some peace and quiet. The audio jack loss might date to the time I visited my friendly neighborhood computer repair center to replace my laptop battery, but I'm not 100% sure and I could very well have damaged the case myself. It's gotten worse lately, where the bottom case separated from the circuit boards and computer guts a bit and come away around the headphone jack, causing a separation or crack and the headphone output doesn't work at all and isn't even seen by the system. So I went back to the laptop repair place, as I thought they could take a look and potentially reconnect/re-solder the headphone out jack or replace it. The owner didn't want to do that work as he thought it could damage or make things much worse, or maybe didn't have enough knowhow or just had a hunch he'd mess it up. Fair enough.

But he offered a very simple solution and gave me a USB-C to 3.5mm stereo audio adapter, the kind you might use with a iOS device that doesn't have a stereo audio out. The adapter is a tiny DAC (Digital Audio Converter), and with no time at all I was back to listening to music via my headphones. I just needed to select the DAC in pulseaudio config. My laptop has 3 USB-C outputs, and I've never used more than 1 or at most 2 with an external monitor, so this will be my audio output solution when I want to plug in headphones. Works for me. I'll still need a way to fix the little crack in the case. I may use electric tape or Sugru. I'm still deciding. It's not too too bad.

Occasional software issues or lack of software

When I read about software or find software I want to try, I try this:

Is there a package in the Void Linux repo? If not, is it available in flatpak? Is there a binary? If not, can I built it from source?

If I get a strange install error I first do a web search, then failing that I hop into the Void Linux subbredit or onto IRC and get some help. Thankfully, this usually produces some kind soul who offers a solution or things to test and then I am able to resolve any issue.

In addition, I keep two duplicate external hard drives as backup drives, which I backup to about every week or two just using a rsync command.

Plans for the future: hard drives filling, monitors breaking?

I have a 250GB internal hard drive in addition to the two 4TB backp drives. It's taken me almost 6 years to get up to about 200GB full. Pretty soon I'll want to probably get a 3rd external hard drive duplicate and that way I can move most copies of my images, videos, music and more off my laptop onto all three separate drives for safekeeping. I keep one of my drives at my office, in case I have a home fire, theft, flood, etc, and vice versa.

In a separate tangent, I recently watched a somewhat fun video on running headless Mac computers. If my laptop screen gets damaged and it's not affordably replaceable I know I have a potential option of using the computer as a server or try running it with this approach to "headless."

Exploring the Weird World of Headless Macbooks (Youtube)

Honestly, that's it

Beyond what I've detailed above, my computer pretty much works the same as when I first installed the OS on it. I hope I have it a long time. Aside from coveting a Pocket Reform computer, which I may eventually acquire as my computer for teaching at school (2 hour commute!), I hope I'll stick with this one for a long time.

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