Working with Older Hardware

 

Anyone who has any interest in computing is likely to have a bit of old hardware lying around. Old drawers, top of cupboards, even in the attic. I’ve kept quite a few pieces from days gone past thinking that they might become useful. But what uses do they have?

Test Devices

My primary use for older hardware is as test devices – older devices are ideal for testing any projects your working on for compatibility. As web developers, we need to test our websites work on a very wide range of devices. We test on a wide range since our websites are expected to work on devices of all shapes and sizes, mobiles, tablets and computers. I’ve written before about my setup, and I use Safari’s Responsive Design Mode (Chrome and Firefox both offer similar features), but there’s only so much you can test while emulating screen sizes. Physical devices allow you to really experience the end user experience. They help you realise when things like hover-effects aren’t effective, and that mobile Safari doesn’t listen out for onClick() for every element. Nothing beats holding the final product in your hand, so to speak.

Development Servers / Home Server

If you’ve ever asked yourself what could you do with an always on computer, old hardware is the ideal place to give it a go. I run a Mac-Mini at home with a whole suite of services running on it, including sharing a backup-drive over the network so laptops can backup without plugging in, sharing my media on the network to SmartTVs and equivalent dongles, and I even pass of video encoding tasks to the computer to run when not in a hurry. It’s not a fast machine but more than capable of the basics and because it’s always on, I know that the tasks start will get done eventually. Others use old devices to test deploy scripts and to run long compile and build processes. This helps to keep their main machine clear to focus on the work that’s right at hand. It’s best to test deploy scripts on hardware that’s similar to final build, but there’s nothing wrong with too much testing.

Experimenting

Lastly, and probably my favourite, you can use old devices to experiment and learn without fear that you’re going to do something that’s going to ruin your day. If I manage to break something while trying something new, I won’t lose sleep that I’m missing important calls or can’t work until it’s fixed. Old devices allow you to try new software, new features and pretty much give anything a go. Any bit of old hardware can be given a new life with a pared-back version of linux and a bit of know-how, so there’s a whole world out there to explore.

Anything else!

In short, old devices have more life than maybe you realise – with leaner and leaner operating systems, more and more ingenious ways to put hardware to use, and a greater number of devices being network connected there’s still some use to the old boxes gathering dust – they’re better working than filling landfill.

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