I think many people far under estimate the capabilities of old laptops. Based on experiences I've had with friends and relatives, and also based on what I've heard others say, I believe many consumers are still under the impression that they have to have a fairly new laptop with a core i3 to core i7 processor to do the things they want to do every day with their computers. When I go on line to see what others are doing with their old computers, I see some mentions of running Linux, but most articles discuss "recycling". In other words, they don't seem to think they can use old computers for what they're doing every day with their Windows 10 computers. Perhaps part of this is due to Microsoft's CPU-hogging software, especially Windows 10 and Office 365. Perhaps many have mental blocks against leaving Widows behind and switching to Linux.
If they're willing to ditch Windows 10 and Microsoft's other bloated software, most people can use an old laptop to do everything or nearly everything they need to do every day. It's not even that hard. They just have to stop using Windows 10 and Windows software. So, if you can't afford to spend $500 to $1000, or more, on a new laptop, don't despair. I've never spent that kind of money on a laptop, and I get by just fine. In fact, the laptop I use to surf the internet every day is a 10-year-old, Dell Latitude E6500 that I bought on Ebay about 3 years ago for $55, including shipping.
In preparing for this article, I spent a few days experimenting with my 13-year-old Dell Inspiron E1505 laptop running Zorin 12.4 Lite Linux. This laptop has a 32-bit, 1.60 GHz, Core Duo T2050 CPU (Passmark Score: 693) and 2GB of RAM. This is the same laptop that I measured the internet surfing performance of a few weeks ago. The only change I made was to add another GB of RAM, since the E1505 is capable of handling 2 GB. As I mentioned in the previous article, you can pick up one of these laptops in working condition on Ebay for about $25 to $50 dollars, though some sell for more. According to the current Windows 10 system requirements, this laptop is capable of running Windows 10. Despite that, I wouldn't advise it, except as an experiment.
I didn't pay anything for my E1505. About three years ago, my brother gave me two, non-working laptops, because he didn't know what to do with them. I fixed both, returned the better one to him, and kept the E1505. This just goes to show that a little computer knowledge can pay off in free, still-useful computer equipment.
This week, I will be looking at other tasks the E1505 laptop can do for the average consumer who doesn't have money to spend on a new laptop. This will not be a review of the E1505 in particular. The point is to show readers that laptops of this era can still be used for things they thought could only be done on newer, more expensive computers. Consumers have the option of installing alternative software that will enable their old laptops to continue being useful for several more years. I hope readers will come to realize that if a 13-year-old laptop can still fulfill their every-day computing needs, they have no reason to "recycle" six-or-seven-year-old laptops and plunk down large amounts of money for new ones.
What follows is what I learned about the capabilities of my old Dell Inspiron E1505.
The E1505 should have been able to play DVD movies easily; however, Zorin just would not cooperate. When I first ran Zorin 9 Lite a few years ago, I was surprised to find that it came with a nice video player and all the codexes it needed to play movies "right out of the box". All that has been removed from Zorin 12.4 Lite.
I spent quite some time trying to get Zorin to play videos. When I tried downloading a Debian Linux package of the VLC player, I found that it would not install, thanks to unmet dependencies. That's not unusual for light Linux distributions. I next tried to play a DVD movie on the Parole Media Player that comes with Zorin 12.4 Lite and found that I needed to download the DVD AC3 (ATSC A/52) decoder to do so. Again, not that uncommon with Linux distributions. When Parole's built-in process for doing that failed, I went to the https://pkgs.org/download/a52dec web page, downloaded the liba52-0.7.4-dev_0.7.4-18_i386.deb file that contains the decoder, and tried to install it. However, either it didn't actually install, or the Parole media player didn't recognize it.
Right about now I was seriously considering removing Zorin and installing Linux Mint. Instead, I tried installing mplayer, one of the better Linux video players, and that didn't work either. I then found Zorin's software installer, noticed it had the VLC player in it, and tried to install it that way. No luck. This was the fourth or fifth piece of software that should have installed easily but didn't. So, I decided that something was broken in Zorin. I tried a "sudo apt-get update" followed by a "sudo apt-get upgrade". The upgrade process took about 30 minutes, indicating that the Zorin 12.4 Lite that I had installed had been significantly out of date. After the upgrade, the DVD AC3 (ATSC A/52) decoder still refused to install automatically from within the Parole media player, and Zorin's software installer still would not install the VLC player. This is why most Linux distributions are still not ready to replace Microsoft Windows on average consumer's computers.
Unlike most Linux distributions, Linux Mint is very user-friendly. I booted the E1505 with a bootable, 32-bit, Linux Mint 17 USB stick and tried playing a DVD movie. The VLC player in Mint played a standard-definition DVD movie easily on the E1505, using only about 25% of the CPU's capability at the E1505's maximum screen resolution of 1280x800. One of the downsides of Linux in the past has been that playing videos usually required significantly more CPU power than it did in Windows. That was most likely due to Linux video libraries and codexes that were not as efficient as Microsoft's. However, I have not noticed such a discrepancy between Linux and Windows video players in the last few years, so perhaps this problem has been fixed.
I tried playing the Pandora online music service in the Pale Moon 28.7.0 browser on the E1505. I stopped using Pandora a couple of years ago, some time after I bought my Dell Latitude E6500, because Pandora was using 60% of the E6500's CPU capability, and I thought that was far too much for an application that shouldn't have required more CPU power than can be found on any MP3 player. My suspicion, based on my experience with my E6500, is that Pandora may tailor its CPU usage to the computer it's running on. If I'm right, Pandora may require less CPU power to run on older laptops. Regardless, Pandora takes about 40% of the E1505's CPU with brief spikes up to around 80% at the beginning of songs. I also noticed that one of Pandora's advertisements bumped up the CPU usage to near 100%. But, the E1505 didn't freeze or crash. So, my verdict is that the E1505 handles Pandora.
I have to admit that I have found Office 365 far too slow at times, even on my Core-i5 Dell Latitude E6220 laptop. The last straw broke for me when Office 365 insisted that I allow it to access the internet before it would open a document that I had written and stored on my laptop's hard drive. That's the point at which I deleted Office 365 from my computer and switched to using free office suites like LibreOffice and FreeOffice.
I didn't expect to have any problems running LibreOffice on the E1505. But, I needed to be sure. So, I tried writing some of this article in LibreOffice while playing a classic rock station on Pandora in the background. The E1505 had no problems at all. In fact, I didn't even see a noticeable increase in the CPU usage above that required to play Pandora all by itself.
Netflix system requirements are a bit of a mystery, probably because they increase without notice perhaps once or twice a year. For a while, you couldn't play Netflix on any 32-bit Linux computer. That's because Chrome was the only browser that ran on Linux that was compatible with Netflix, and Google withdrew all its 32-bit versions of Chrome. However, the situation has changed. As I'm writing these words, the 32-bit version of Firefox 69.0 running in Zorin 12.4 Lite does play Netflix.
I honestly didn't expect to be able to play Netflix on the E1505, but I was in for a pleasant surprise. At the maximum resolution of the Dell Inspiron E1505, 1280x800, Netflix in full-screen mode was just jerky enough for me to recognize that something is wrong, but I had to watch for 30-60 seconds to be sure that it was the laptop's fault. When I reduced the laptop's screen resolution to 960x540, I could no longer detect any jerkiness, and Netflix looked fine to me. This resolution doesn't look noticeably worse to me on the "up to 0.3 GB/hr", "basic video quality" playback setting of Netflix. This is the setting I always use anyway, because I'm fine with that resolution. So, on the day I'm writing this, Netflix is very watchable on this laptop, as long as you don't demand a higher resolution. This was a shock to me, because I'm presently watching Netflix on a laptop with a Passmark score of about 6 times that of the E1505. Obviously, that's overkill. However, although Netflix runs fine on the E1505 now, a year from now there's no way to know if that will still be true.
This is one area where a Windows computer will beat a Linux computer. The reason is that, although more Linux-compatible games are coming out, the two operating systems are nowhere close to parity in the number of quality games that are available. For this reason, and because of the low specs of the E1505, I didn't look at playing games.
The E1505 transcoded a two-hour-and-four-minute-long, standard-definition DVD movie into MP4 format in three hours and two minutes with the Handbrake program. My Core-i5, Dell Latitude E6220 can do that in about an hour.
The point of this article is that, with the right software, a 13-year-old laptop can accomplish most, if not all, of the tasks that the average consumer is likely to ask of it. It can play DVD's, play online music, and word process with no discernible inconvenience to its user. Internet surfing and video transcoding take noticeably longer than on a newer, more powerful laptop. Still, the old laptop fares not too badly at these tasks, either. Surprisingly, the old laptop can even play Netflix movies at "basic video quality". A common task that I didn't try was gaming. The real question is why the average non-gaming consumer would want to pay $500 to $1000 for a new laptop when a $25 to $50, 13-year-old laptop works almost as well for the things he is likely to use it for every day.
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