dctrud's Random Road

Occasional unimportant nonsense.

2020-07-12 - How Many Computers?!

Lots of people have a ton of computers these days, but the number in this house (and elsewhere that I use) is still probably a bit excessive. I saw something recently on Mastodon where someone was counting their computers, so lets have a go too and then cringe at how much I have! Thinking about it again is good reinforcement to my hope that I can buy less in future, and have less impact on the environment with what I do buy.

Family Computers & Devices

This is the relatively reasonable stuff. Definitely a bunch of machines, but not too excessive for a family of 4 these days... I hope?! I've personally used Linux for most of my own computing for a long time, but we have Mac and Windows stuff here.

Family iMac

A few years old now. Has all the household documents, photos, and things like that on it. Also used for kids school work, taxes, other stuff that doesn't work on Linux. I barely touch it now. It's in the living room and mostly seems to be used by my son playing Minecraft Java Edition or doing remote learning for school on. Hoping this thing will last for many years... especially since the best bit is the fantastic 5k screen and you can't use that if the rest of the innards die!

Family 12" MacBook

Mainly just used to browse the web, answer email, and ssh into other things from the sofa. This really wasn't a great purchase looking back. At the time I hadn't gotten back into to the FOSS stuff as hard, and I liked the idea of having a very small laptop that was trivial to carry anywhere, but it's really too small to be that comfortable. A couple of years old now. Will hopefully last several years longer but won't be replaced with a new Mac when it dies. The $90 Thinkpad running Linux was just as, or more, useful... and I'd hope we can get down to just one Mac or Windows machine eventually.

Family Thinkpad

A used T430 that was purchased for $90, and had a cheap SSD and some spare extra RAM put into it. It's a lovely computer, and I was using it for a time as my main laptop, running Linux. It has Windows 10 on it now, mostly so there's something for my son to play the bedrock edition of Minecraft on, for some awful ebook related software, and to access some old things I had in old Windows only programs.

2 Phones and a Tablet

I guess these count as computers really? We certainly don't keep up with the latest and greatest versions of phones, and tablets, but we have some in the house! They are all Apple devices, of a few generations previous.

Work Related

I work at home and am involved in writing and supporting software that is often used in High Performance Computing environments (i.e. supercomputer clusters). It's convenient to have local computers suitable to replicate these environments somewhat authentically. I used to have some older desktop machines cobbled together to do this, but have streamlined things recently so I only have two computers used for work.

Work MacBook Pro

I work for a tech startup company, so of course I have a standard issue MacBook Pro from them.

Lenovo Thinkstation P500

This is a pretty powerful workstation, purchased used from a local IT surplus company. Instead of having a second-hand 1U server for a home lab, which would be very noisy, I have this which is quiet and neat in the home office. It does still put out a lot of heat if you run a bunch of stuff on it though! It's a 24-core dual Xeon E5-2680v3 with 80GB RAM and 1.5TB of NVMe storage. It also has 2 ConnectX3 56Gbps Infiniband / 40GbE cards in it setup for SR-IOV and is used to run a lot of VMs. This machine is very handy for work to try things on all the enterprise distros common in High Performance Computing, and to run virtual HPC clusters with real IB networking, and Kubernetes if needed.

Personal Stuff

Now we get to the things I don't really need... but are here for fun. I like to mess with stuff on Linux and NetBSD. Computing is a hobby as well as a job for me, so I'll always want to have computers with which I can try whatever seems interesting. I'm hoping, though, that I can slim this down a bit in time. When the Macs eventually go, hopefully replaced with used hardware running Linux, then then why not have just one laptop of my own, or share the family desktop for my hobby things? We'll see.

Ryzen 1600 Desktop

This is a self-built Ryzen 1600 desktop with 40GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and a 3TB HDD RAID mirror. It runs Fedora and I use it for most of my own hobby computing, when I don't fancy sitting on the sofa with a laptop instead. Although, sometimes I'm using it remotely from the sofa then.

Dell Optiplex 3020 Desktop

A cheap used Dell mini-tower with a 4th generation i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, and 120GB SSD that I use to play around with NetBSD on. NetBSD supports its vintage of Intel graphics well enough to work nicely at 2560x1400 on the decent monitor in the home office. It also has an Atheros WiFi card in it which is supported.

Raspberry Pi 3B

I bought a Pi 3B when they came out first and it's till going. I have a kit of electronic components in the cupboard which I intended to play around with on the Pi, but never really did. My son is interested in it though, so when he's a bit older it'll probably get some use with those. For now the Pi3 runs NetBSD on arm, and I play around with NetBSD things on it. I used to have a couple of Pi ZeroWs for potential projects too. Those bit the dust though. One was fried by stupidly connecting a GPIO header cable the wrong way around. One became very very corroded, and I'm not entirely sure why.

Raspberry Pi 4B

I a have a 2GB Pi 4 as a low power 'always on' computer. It has most of the OS (non-boot stuff) on a USB3 SSD, and a 5TB USB hard drive attached to it as a backup destination for other machines. It's also a place to leave anything running under tmux sessions that I don't want to turn off.

LibreComputer Potato Le Potato

I bought this 2GB armv8 board in order to be able to try 64-bit arm Linux things, on something a bit faster than the Pi 3. It still works fairly well, running armbian. Right now it is setup us a shairplay that can be plugged into the TV, but spends most of its time unloved and unplugged.

Not at Home

If I want to count things out on the internet as well, then I currently have:

2 x 1GB NetBSD VPSs

These run DNS, mail, gemini, web, git hosting for my domain. They are both VPSs from Vultr, one physically in Dallas and one in Atlanta. It's neet that you can boot from an install iso / image with Vultr so things like install NetBSD are possible. I can definitely drop one of them now that I added a Kimsufi dedicated machine again.

16GB Kimsufi Dedicated Server

Kimusfi is a verrrrry cheap way to get a dedicated server, albeit an old one with mediocre specs and a 100Mbps internet connection. I have had one in the past, and decided to sign up for one again to self-host a Mastodon instance and Nextcloud. It works perfectly for this, with plenty of space on the 2TB hard disk. It's not over-taxed by what I'm running, and I take care to back it up regularly as these servers are not known for their reliablity. If it does go down for a few days it doesn't really matter a lot.

Adding it Up

So that's a total of:

Yikes... that's 16 computers!

What's the Impact?

Well, 16 computers really does seem more than a bit excessive. I enjoy messing with these things but I don't really need all of them. I'm trying to be a bit more careful now and slim down the number of things I use, or otherwise reduce the impact of having so much technology. Some steps I'm trying to take:

1) Other than phones, where there are issues with non-replacable batteries etc, I don't feelt like I want to buy any new computers ever again. The ThinkStation and ThinkPad purchases have shown that high quality used stuff is definitely fine for me. We are now in a time where a 3-5 year old laptop or desktop that's been disposed of by a company is absolutely fine for general use. If I buy used going forward then I'm not contributing directly to the creation of additional e-waste.

2) I'm minimizing the time that my computers stay powered up. It's tempting to keep up some home-lab machines up all the time, like they are vital servers, but it's not really necessary. I'm using crontabs, BIOS auto-wake settings, and wake on LAN scripts so that the desktop computers spend most of their time suspended or powered off. I shut down the work stuff completely at weekend. The only things left always-on are the Pi4, and the VPSs / server out on the internet.

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