Elitist?

When I moved to Japan back in 2007, I brought with me a lovely HP Pavilion zt3000 notebook that did just about everything that was ever asked of it. A lot of programming was done with the machine. A lot of gaming was done with the machine. A lot of torrenting was done with the machine. This notebook, more than any other before it, enabled me to accomplish more than I ever thought I possible on a portable computer. Unfortunately, the display cable started to wonk out and it was darn near impossible for me to order a replacement for under $200. The machine became a server and I moved on to an Acer AspireOne netbook for 4 years.

The netbook was not an easy machine to work with when I wanted to do anything that wasn't blogging. While it could theoretically run Windows7 with a barebones VisualStudio installation, it wasn't recommended. With an Atom processors and a paltry 1GB of RAM, the machine struggled to boot some days. Nevertheless, money wasn't available for a new machine, so I did the best I could with the machine until 2012, when it was replaced with a MacBook Air.

The MacBook was a breath of fresh air. With a Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, it was possible to do things that I had only read about before, such as run virtual machines from a USB key1. The MacBook was flexible enough that I was able to develop some software and websites for local companies, earning a decent side income and warranting an upgrade. The second notebook was also an Air, but this one had 8GB of RAM and a more modern processor. By 2016, when I moved out of the classroom and into development full time, I needed just a bit more power, so picked up a MacBook Pro with a better i5 processor2 and 16GB of RAM. This pro device has been running Ubuntu MATE for some time now, and it's an incredibly potent device.

Last year I learned that the day job was going to push to ensure that BYOD3 was no longer practiced by mid-2019. At the end of January, I was given a pretty decent Lenovo Thinkpad to use. The X1 Carbon models are light, potent, and can easily go 7 hours on a single charge — which is pretty decent when running Ubuntu Linux. There is just one little problem with the machine: it has 8GB of RAM, and no chance of ever receiving more.

Over the last couple of years I've become quite accustomed to using a daily machine with 16GB RAM and having a server upstairs with 32GB installed. With this much memory available, it's possible to load applications without ever wondering if the machine will slow down. Rarely are there more than six or seven tabs open in the browsers, so the extra memory is dedicated to native applications that can usually make good use of the resource. Using a machine with just 8GB after several years with at least double the amount is just painful. Swap files need to swell in size to make up for the difference and resource scarcity means one must think about how they'll use their computing power rather than simply using it. As one would expect, this change is most unwelcome.

Does this make me elitist?

For years I've generally railed against software that consumes resources with wanton abandon. Many browsers are great examples of this, consuming 600MB or more of memory before a page is even loaded. Electron applications — which are essentially web apps in a standalone Chrome package — can use several gigabytes just for something as basic as a text editor. Yet here I am, back on the MacBook Pro with its 16GB of memory simply because being constrained to 8 is having a serious impact on productivity. It's unfortunate, really. I wanted to keep my personal device free of work files. I wanted to have the slick Lenovo be the tool that helped accomplish all of the tasks required by the day job. Until my workload lessens, though, this isn't very likely.

Management has said that there isn't money in this year's budget for a different notebook and, when there are new machines acquired, they'll all be coming from Dell. Both of these statements are disappointing, but not the end of the world. Can I use a machine with 8GB to get things done at the day job? Yes and no. Will I use a machine with 8GB to get things done at the day job? This remains to be seen … possibly because I've forgotten how to get by with computers that are far less potent than the ones I've come to rely on these last few years.


  1. I did this for the day job. The company primarily used Windows XP in 2012, so I had a WinXP VirtualBox image on a 32GB USB2.0 stick to do student reports and whatnot from. What blew me away at the time was how much more stable Windows was when it operated inside a virtual environment. Since then, I have never run Microsoft's consumer OS on bare metal.

  2. I prefer the i5 CPUs to the i7. They generally use less power and don't heat up as often as the more potent i7 chips.

  3. Bring Your Own Device