Incorporating the Simple Living Review, the Preparedness & Self-Reliance Review, as well as the Outdoor & Survival Review
What computer for the homestead?
What make, what processor power, what size hard drive???
The answer to those questions, obviously, depends on what you intend to use the computer for in the first place now and in the future.
Again and again I hear from people, “I need to get a new computer” and when I ask, “Why?” they, nigh on invariably, tell me not that it is broken and they need a new one for that reason but that it is “obsolete”. When I then enquire as to why they think it is obsolete and whether it can no longer do the tasks they use the PC for the answer, also nigh on without fail, is that it can do all they things very well still but that there are faster machines out now and therefore one must upgrade. Why, precisely, must one upgrade when the PC still does what one wants it to do and that without problem? Only twice have I bought new and I do not think that I shall go down the “buying new” route ever again because as soon as you have bought the PC, even a custom-made one, from the store it is basically straight away already “obsolete” and being superseded by newer faster machines. If the PC can do what I want it to do, and most of the “older” models can do it all still quite adequately, then why buy a new one costing a small fortune. Yes, I do know that today some machines are available for a few hundred bucks only but often they are not the best machines and definitely not always by the best makers. Also, if one would want to buy “cheap” but new one might not get the quality as, say, for instance, buying a Compaq PC that is a couple of years old and that was used in a government establishment or such. Why should I pay $500 for a cheap machine new from a not well known manufacturer when I can get, say, a Compaq Evo of 2-4 years of age for half the price? (No, I do not work for Compaq).
Let's look at the simplest uses such as writing letters, journals, keeping records, doing the books, and such, plus, obviously, using email and Internet. For that you do not need the latest PC (or laptop) with the fastest processor and the biggest hard drive (though the bigger the hard drive the better as that allows you to store all your data) with all the bells and whistles that is available. In many cases a 2 or 3 year old reconditioned PC – ex business or government establishment will do nicely even if it is only a Pentium 4 1.6Ghz instead of the new models that run nearly at twice the speed. Even for Internet this is fact enough because your Internet only works as fast as your connection allows. Much more important to processor speed is RAM space, that is to say the megabytes in your PCs memory. The more you can get there the better and the faster the PC is going to work. In the UK where I live we can get PCs of the kind I mentioned for about two hundred bucks and most machines that I use are such PCs.
The processor speed is not as important as it the RAM, the memory, of the PC. The more memory it has, or that you can upgrade it to in the end, the better. In most cases the speed of the processor is not what is what counts but how much space you have in your PC's memory; the more available memory the faster the PC performs the actions.
The size of the hard drive depends on what is in the PC you can get at the moment, especially if it is a secondhand machine, but how much size in GB you need depends, again, on what you want the PC for. If you want to store 1,000s of tracks of music or videos on your PC then you better have the biggest hard drive you can get, but that does not, necessarily, have to be the PC's built-in hard drive. You can use external ones for storing such things as music and films, etc., should you be so inclined. For general, everyday use, emailing, letter writing, even accounts, database, etc., for a small farm or a small business (as in homestead operated) I doubt you need more than 15-20 GB hard drive.
The next step is the software and for the above mentioned applications you would, for starters, need so-called “office” software and if you would want to look to Microsoft to supply that need then you better look at a minimum of US$400 for such an office suite. However, there is no need to pay anything for software, as all of it is available, from different sources as open source software. OpenOffice.org is a great replacement for Windows Office and for every other task you may want to perform there is a free alternative available out there too.
In many cases it can even be possible to obtain good used PCs that work well and are only a few years old from local councils and such for little or no money at all. The problem, in those instances, often, however, is that they machines have either “cancelled” Windows operating systems on board or none at all. In those cases you then either end up trying to work with an OS that Microsoft targets as “illegal” or you have to get a new license from Microsoft, if you want to run Windows.
Yes, I do know that Windows is the most used and common computer operating system but there are alternatives out there and the laugh is that they are FREE. I hope the crash I just heard was not you, the reader, falling off the chair when I said that, instead of paying Microsoft hundreds of bucks for their Windows OS, you can get your PC up and running for free.
Let's face it; say you get a PC that has Windows installed but it is a secondhand machine and the license to the OS may be no longer valid. What do you do then? OK, in most cases the software will work (up to Windows XP Pro even) but you will not be able, in most instances, to get any updates, even important and critical security updates for the software downloaded because you do not have genuine Windows software. If you know how and where then you may be able to obtain a “cracker code” that tricks Microsoft's website into believing that you do run “genuine Windows” and you will be able to get most such updates but that may not always work. So, what then? The answer is then you either need to get a new Windows license at the tune of several hundred bucks or alternative operating system software. Even if your Windows runs smoothly chances are that your PC – even many a new one – does not come with office/productivity software, that is to say, no word processor (and you sure will want one of those), no spreadsheet (you may or may not need one of them), no database (OK, maybe you don't need one of them really either), and Microsoft Office, which includes all of those things, is notoriously expensive, as I mentioned above. So the answer is so-called “open source” software and most, if not indeed all, of that if free.
Should you consider getting a new FREE operating system then Linux is the answer and then you do not have to worry as to whether you need office software and such because it all comes bundled in with it.
This is where I shall leave you for the moment. Any questions can be directed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I shall try to answer your queries to the best of my abilities.
© M Veshengro Smith, March 2007