too many words by laura lemay

the ballad of the dirt cheap computer

A bunch of months ago we got wireless broadband Internet, and all was right with the world. Except there seems to be a rule in our world that once something goes right in our tech configuration, something must also then go horribly wrong. So after changing ISPs, getting a new mini-firewall, renumbering our entire internal network, moving our DNS offsite, reprogramming our entire spam management system, and finally getting everything working perfectly, the very next day the power supply in our main server blew up (“what do you mean it won’t turn on?” “you heard me, it won’t turn on and it smells bad.”)

While the easy solution would have been to just go find a power supply, we considered all options. Usually the death of a box is what forces us to upgrade; this box was purchased when our last server blew up a few years ago (hard drive Grind of Death). It was a decent box for its time but nothing top of the line, and it was showing its age. I began shopping for a new computer. Something in the $500 Dell range, I figured.

It was then that Fry’s began to advertise the Dirt Cheap Computer. Fry’s, as anyone from the area knows, is the local evil computer superstore. You can get anything — *anything* computer or technology related at Fry’s, and at really incredible prices. You just have to completely humiliate yourself to do it. No sales people at Fry’s know anything about the technology they sell, but they harrass you madly for the comission; they browbeat you to sell you things you don’t need; they line you up like cattle to pay for stuff and shout at you (“Line 14! Line 14!”) and then they search you at the door on your way out. And that’s just to buy things. Just try to return something (shudder). Fry’s is really evil, everyone hates them, but yet its hard not to keep going back. If you really need a null modem cable at 10PM on a sunday, they will have it. Its right next to the porn and the diet coke.

The Dirt Cheap Computer (DCC) is actually technically called the Great Quality computer. You may snicker derisively; we did. It is not Great Quality. It has off-brand parts in a no-name case. It runs linux (linspire, actually). And it costs $180. No rebate interpretive dance needed; that is the price. (you can get a slightly higher quality version, with Windows, for $250).

At the time we found out about the dirt cheap computer, it was on sale. For $150. We figured: if it blows up in a year we will just buy another one. $150. Its practically free. Yeehaw.

The DCC, it turns out, is terrific. Fedora Core installs on it with zero issues. It comes with a minimal 128M of memory (thus the price) which was fine for basic routing and web and shell access and mail until we installed SpamAssassin and then it swapped itself into a puddle. Another 512M made it much happier. Its just a server machine, but now it gronks away happily in the corner with nary a peep.