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The Demise of Hackable Computers

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the hoard-those-athlons-now dept.

Hardware 147

chipwich writes: "Extremetech has an article describing the impending demise of hackable computer systems. What if disposable computers brought a brand-new system within your budget for yearly purchase... Would you be willing to pay a premium just so you could install Linux on last years' model?"

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Re:I wouldn't worry about it too much (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#89948)

Cars HARDER to modify? I think the opposite is true. Currently Car mods are easier than ever. All you need to do is buy a new eprom and you can mod. It used to be you had to replace your crank shaft, bore out your engine. Now you can modify software and get performance increases.

Re:Can some of you explain your moderation here? (3)

Chris Johnson (580) | more than 13 years ago | (#89949)

Yeah, you gotta watch those Libertarians or they'll turn around and impose government regulations forbidding you to build computers at home out of parts ;)


Re:Versatility (2)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 13 years ago | (#89951)

I agree and I don't.

The arguement about the motherboards is valid, I wish that Apple made thier boards conform to the ATX size. However, I don't wish for a PeeCee case when Apple's Outrigger. K2 and El-Capitan cases are SO much easier to work with than the vast majority of cases for PCs.

However all the Mac towers have Firewire and USB, and yes most ATX boards now have USB, most do not have Firewire, nor do they have gigabit Ethernet.

As for the AGP, I again agree and don't. Apple gives you the choice of GeForce2, GeForce3, ATi Radeon, or Rage 128 Pro. That's a broad choice now that the video card market is contracting.

Re:Disposal? (5)

Tim Macinta (1052) | more than 13 years ago | (#89952)

What the hell are we going to do if we throw away a computer every year instead of every three years?

Donate them to schools. The Linux Terminal Server Project for schools [] , as mentioned in a previous article's comments [] , seems like it could benefit immensely from this.

What to do when the schools have all the computers they need (unlikely, but let's be optimistic for a second)? Donate them to schools/people in developing countries where people can't afford even the $400 PCs floating around today (this would be most people in the world). I can't think of a better way to sow the seeds for the development of a massive army of Linux hackers destined to propel Linux to total world domination than to grab this massive market that Microsoft doesn't care about and where the people have a much stronger work ethic (and would therefore be willing to hack) than most in the US.

Re:Keep on hackin' (5)

Jason Earl (1894) | more than 13 years ago | (#89955)

The PC industry is all about commodity hardware. There have been very few cases where a closed hardware specification has done well economically. In fact, IBM's effort to open their hardware was what guaranteed that the Macintosh didn't become the dominant PC computer architecture. Early Macs were a lot nicer machines than their IBM compatible counterparts, but the IBM compatible machines were cheaper (due to commodity hardware) and so they won out in the end.

Since then IBM tried unsuccessfully to corner the PC market with their MCA bus, and Rambus is currently learning that consumers (and more importantly memory manufacturers) aren't interested in their proprietary memory.

Hardware manufacturers that make it hard for their customers to actually use their hardware are only shooting themselves in the foot. They gain absolutely nothing by creating hardware that can't be hacked, and they lose potential sales from people that want to tweak their hardware.

The only folks that are concerned about the open nature of hardware are the folks who make their money from so-called "intellectual property." The RIAA and the MPAA don't want you to mess with your hardware because it might make it easier for you to copy their songs and movies. Microsoft doesn't want you to open up your computer because it makes it harder for them to keep you from copying their OS. Also open hardware specifications make it possible for alternative OSes to write drivers for the hardware. Microsoft would rather have Windows only hardware.

The hardware folks, however, don't really care if you are stealing songs, movies, or software. In fact, they would love for you to steal your software (that would give you more money to spend on hardware). They have something tangible to sell, and they know that their margins are tight enough that they had better not tick of their customers. They know that if they are quick to jump on the "closed hardware" bandwagon they will find that their customers are simply buying from their competitors, and that they have limited their own marketability simply to help someone else's business.

Re:Beware of programmers with screw drivers. (2)

Tet (2721) | more than 13 years ago | (#89956)

do the latest (matrox.power) gfx card have linux drivers.

Mostly, yes. Official Matrox drivers at that, and with complete source:

Somewhat of a change from the olden days when they refused to give out programming information at all. Like Diamond before them, they eventually relented. I wonder how much longer NVIDIA can hold out?

Re:disposable? (2)

RenQuanta (3274) | more than 13 years ago | (#89957)

Actually, 486's are still very useful in the home. I presently use a 486 as a firewall for my cable modem/home network, and I built another one for my parents' cable setup.

I could also imagine using a 486 as a terminal server, a print server, and possibly NIDS in a low-throughput network.

486's would also be useful as play systems. I'd love to have half a dozen to test different network setups. I could install Solaris x86 on all of them and learn about NIS. Alternatively, I could set up a bunch of Linux machines and cluster them into a Beowulf cluster. Just for kicks!

Re:don't count out this profession yet (1)

jim (3666) | more than 13 years ago | (#89958)

> 'necessity is the mother of invention'

Nah, that was Frank Zappa.

Re:Can some of you explain your moderation here? (1)

unitron (5733) | more than 13 years ago | (#89961)

That which is supposed to be a "feature" of moderation -- can't post and moderate in the same story -- is also a "bug" -- can't moderate and explain why. If you post to a story all your moderations of posts in that story are undone. Also, I think that when the moderations are undone it doesn't restore the previous karma score of the person receiving the moderation, but I might be confusing that with some other quirk of the process.

Re:As long as there are *sealed* systems, (2)

unitron (5733) | more than 13 years ago | (#89962)

Before you let that sealed system deter you, check out this Register story [] about a Swedish site and click on the angle grinder link. The pictures more than make up for anything lost by not being able to read Swedish.

Re:Bah. (2)

unitron (5733) | more than 13 years ago | (#89963)

Yeah, but have you ever hacked your Dremel? (I have)

Can't resist one more mention of a Register story [] about a Swedish site that takes the term "hacking" quite literally. Check the "angle grinder" link to see how to overcome those sealed systems.

With a big enough hammer you can break anything (2)

gelfling (6534) | more than 13 years ago | (#89965)

-Archimedes I think said that. Point is, nothing is un-hackable. But do you want to? Well some of you do but most of us do it out of cheapness or some drive to build it just the way we want it and/or hate to see older perfectly good hardware go to waste.

Now today it isn't cheaper to build it yourself so that's a non-starter. There is still a reason to custom build, mostly upgrade kind high end stuff - ya know the kind of HW you simply can't get at Circuit City.

But I for one am perfectly willing to throw old HW out (recycle of course) instead of keeping it around hoping to save $19 some day by reusing it.

What I REALLY want is a half speed $99 disposable PC.

There's Another Reason For Non-Hackable Computers (5)

szyzyg (7313) | more than 13 years ago | (#89966)

The Media industry wants it, they want the OS only to talk to authorised decoder hardware and output devices. They want Soundcards to integrate DRM functionality, they want video cards to send the output to monitors via an encrypted protocol. They Want hard disks with copy control information.

And the last thing they want is for you to be able to look at the OS and reverse engineer their protection. And *insert favourite Free OS* will not run on these systems - it'll be windows only, well unless you want to forego graphics, sound and hard disk access.

Yeh, and I used to rewire instructions (2)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 13 years ago | (#89967)

In the early 1970s, at the Cal Computer Club, we had a 10 year old Univac SS-90, which had lots of little circuit cards, each having one or a very few AND or OR gates, etc. (Been a long time, these details escape me!) We wired in new instructions, modded existing instructions, disabled old instructions.

Not too may computers since then you could do that to.

Shall I complain about the demise of computers you could REALLY hack?

Should farts older than me complain that the SS-90 was a piss-poor imitation of a computer where you could hack individual AND and OR gates?

Keerist, things change. Get on with what you CAN do. Hack what levels are important, which is not the guts of a box any more, it's how the boxes are connected, and the software that drives them. And 20 years from now it will be a higher aspect. That's the way things work.


Re:disposable? (2)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 13 years ago | (#89968)

>I didn't even think it was worth the five
>minutes it would have taken to filch out the
>floppy drives

Floppy drives haven't improved at all in five years' time, and it's annoying to have to buy

>The chassis are obsolete

I've looked high and low for decent AT cases
and power supplies.

>the memory's probably 30 pin (remember that!)

old 4meg 30 pin ram chips are pretty expensive
nowadays, when you can find them. More than
just pc's used these chips.

Re:Non-hackable?! Phshaw! (3)

psaltes (9811) | more than 13 years ago | (#89969)

Ironically, he mentions the Toyota Prius and says that people are modifying it, and even gives a link to some yahoo group on it or something. You would do well to _finish_ the article before flaming it...

The Cube was an unhackable computer. (2)

daviddennis (10926) | more than 13 years ago | (#89971)

You could not add a HD or boards; all the design brilliance was devoted to making it small and cool without a fan.

Intriguingly enough, considering the Mac market as a whole, the unhackability is most likely what made it fail. I didn't buy one for two reasons: It had only one processor, and - more importantly - there was no in-system hard drive expandability.

(I did get a G4 dual processor 450 tower, which I'm very happy with).



Re:Slashdot is bit misleading.. (2)

IntlHarvester (11985) | more than 13 years ago | (#89972)

OK, so I walk around my place of work and on everyone's desk is this GIGANTIC Dell or HP minitower system with 3-4 slots, 250W Power Supply, on-board video/sound/ethernet, the works.

For 99% of these machines, nobody is ever going to open them up and stick a card in there. Most of them won't even have their memory or disk upgraded. It's not even economic to pay the techs to do hardware work -- cheaper to toss it and buy a new one if something breaks. They are just big, gigantic, over-engineered wastes of space and power.

Gone are the days when a compact case meant cheap substandard components. Maybe businesses will figure out that huge-assed computer != good computer. Buying this stuff is irrational, and won't last for ever in the corporate purchasing mindset. The future is iPaq-like desktops that maybe have 1 mini-PCI slot at most. We just have to get over the idea that a PC looks like a PC first.


Re:Keep on hackin' (2)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 13 years ago | (#89973)


I dont care what they try to do (Epoxy the Bios chip, Clip the pins off of the IDE header... ) we will be able to hack it. and happily hack it.

You cant stop the hackers, anyone in the business knows this. Ask Netpliance, they killed themselves by trying to stop hacking instead of embracing it...

I dont care who you are, you cant stop me from hacking the device. (VideoCipherII+ boxes of the 80's are a prime example.. Encased in Expoy and we still got in to mod them.)

Re:Ergonomics and monitor emission standards (1)

ethereal (13958) | more than 13 years ago | (#89975)

It's all up to what regulation the government has planned for us next.

More realistically, something along the lines of enshrining the Secure Audio Path technology into law, and making it illegal to alter your PC such that it can store off content that's supposed to be one-time-use. Such a regulation would be just a small step from the DMCA. Sure, you could still mod your PC, but imagine getting taken to court and having to prove that your changes weren't the illegal kind of modifications. Technically you're innocent until proven guilty, but in reality most of us couldn't wage this court battle and would have to cave. The end result, just like the DMCA, would be that most people wouldn't dare make any changes to their PCs for fear of an expensive legal suit.

For the truly paranoid, I might point out that with Windows XP, Microsoft will know when you've changed your hardware, and thus might be one of those evil hardware hackers. This hasn't come to pass yet, and doesn't seem too likely yet, but who really knew about the effects of the DMCA before it happened?

Re:disposable? (3)

foxtrot (14140) | more than 13 years ago | (#89976)

I suspect you're joking, but seriously, I recently moved and threw away a dumpsterload of hardware because it wasn't worth moving and gave everything else to a friend of mine who builds systems for non-computer-people for fun.

And the other day, I ran across four 486-class machines stacked in front of the dumpster at the apartment I'm staying at temporarily.

486es don't have enough processor power to justify the electrical cost of powering them on anymore. I didn't even think it was worth the five minutes it would have taken to filch out the floppy drives just in case they worked. And a mere gig of disk also isn't worth the power it takes to spin it up-- and a gig was huge in these machines.

The chassis are obsolete, the memory's probably 30 pin (remember that!)

...and at present, I own no walls to hang 'em on. Sadly, these beasts were in the right place; at the dumpster.

On the other hand, had they been P2 class or Athlon machines of any flavor, I'd've snatched 'em up, four years old or no. Some machines, on the other hand, are just disposable...


analogy all flawed, just like his argument (5)

kaisyain (15013) | more than 13 years ago | (#89977)

Apparently he hasn't tried to mod a car recently. It's really not that hard. They are far from being black boxes. How do new technologies affect my ability to drop in some new KYB/AGX struts and springs? They don't. Or to flare the fenders and put bigger wheels on? Or to drop on some Alcon big brakes? Or to replace the sway bars, the bushing, the shifter, the mounts, the drop links. To say nothing of body kits.

And we haven't even gotten under the hood yet. Lightened fly wheels, underdrive pulleys, new cams, new heads, new pistons, close the deck, add forced induction, drop in a programmable ECU to get whatever fuel map you want, add new fuel rails, a high flow fuel pump, a stroker kit, high flow cats.

Sure it may take a "fair amount" of knowledge to mod your car. But it also requires a "fair amount" of knowledge to mod your computer. After all, it's not like you can just buy SDRAM SIMMs and try to fit them in your EDO DIMM slots.

The people who built hotroads in the 60s have been replaced by people who don't whine when technology changes.

But he somehow pretends that you could mod computers a lot more in the past. What exactly can I do with my old P120 motherboard? Can I put in that new spiffy memory? No. Can I use the new Ultra ATA hard drives at the true limits? No. Can I put in an AGP 4x video card? No. Can I drop in a Thunderbird? No.

If you want bleeding edge performance (which is his main complaint) then you have to basically buy a new computer from the ground up anyway. I don't see how this is any different from the future world he posits.

Re:disposable? (3)

sharkey (16670) | more than 13 years ago | (#89980)

What do you have against diapers? You can encase your baby's first solid BM in Lucite, and put it on your desk at work. What a conversation piece!

Nail one to the wall so you can look at it and remember what your baby was like before he/she became a hell-bound, rebellious teenage terror.


Non-hackable?! Phshaw! (4)

Masker (25119) | more than 13 years ago | (#89983)

I don't agree with his comment about not being able, as an automotive enthusiast, to modify your car. Besides all the rice-boy type modifications, people have been hacking their newer cars in ingenious ways. There was an article [] (which may require free registration) in the Chicago Tribune [] about people modifying their Toyota Prius for more efficiency, customizing it's dashboard and integral LCD (to be able to display any ol' video signal), etc. Look, people find a way to hack everything.

It's even less of an issue with PCs. There are enough electrical/computer engineers in the world to tell us how to hack just about anything. People said that the Intel Celeron (R) wasn't SMP capable [] , but look at all the people that were out there drilling pins out and rewiring their CPUs to take advantage of the PII core! Don't tell me that you won't be able to hack hardware; it just becomes more challenging and FUN!

Re:Article is about DIY (1)

kennylives (27274) | more than 13 years ago | (#89985)

So, here's my prediction: The Greens/Democrats ... will introduce legislation preventing techies from building their own machines at feasible prices within the next 5 years.

Such a bill, if written with that express purpose, would be stillborn. And even if it's couched in some other 'lets be friendly to the environment' thing, it's so plainly anticompetitive as to have the same result.

Also, I don't ever see the likes of Apple, Dell, HP, Compaq, et al, ever lobbying for such a bill. Mostly because of the anticompetitive desires that would be revealed, resulting in PR 'issues' (it's one thing to want to rule the world, it's another altogether to actually come out and say so), but also because such activity would threaten the bottom lines of their own suppliers (how much, I don't know. What is the percentage of harddrives sold individually compared to sales to OEMS, for example?). Such a thing would probably cause the costs of the components in these pre-built systems to go up beyond an amount that could be disguised in volume.

Re:Think outside the box (1)

sysadmn (29788) | more than 13 years ago | (#89986)

naw, a real old fart would complain that hardware hacking died when attendance at the Model Railroad Club meetings fell of...

Re:Article is about DIY (2)

generic-man (33649) | more than 13 years ago | (#89987)

I still can't find an AMD Athlon T-bird 750mhz with a gig of RAM and all the fixings without building it myself for under 500. Pricewatch will be around for a long time hopefully, and as long as it is, I'll be ordering my stuff on there. Sepearately.

I've yet to see company offer a great price for prebuilding a system to my specifications.

That's all well and good, but there's a reason why Dell/Compaq/IBM/Gateway charge more money than Schmoikel's Back-of-the-Truck Extravaganza (MUST MENTION PRICEWATCH) Inc. They actually have to support the machines that they sell. They have to hire people to take calls from users to help with the system, and that includes issues ranging from "Where's the any key?" to hard drive crashes. Contracting 24-hour call centers is expensive stuff. Additionally, they have to hire people to design the web site, sell the products, advertise, etc.

I like building systems: I've built a few myself, and I've had my share of pitfalls. However, there have been times when I figured that it might have been better to buy a stock machine from a national beige-box maker, beef up the RAM, and have a support network ready to take it back when I break it.

And on the subject of your paranoid rant about "The Man won't let us build PC's anymore", lighten up. That's like saying that it's impossible to buy a PC without Genuine Microsoft Windows (see today. Stop creating FUD. The government doesn't give two shits about small-time computer vendors. When Schmoikel's Back-of-the-Truck Extravaganza (MUST MENTION PRICEWATCH) Inc. starts to take market share away from Dell, then you can come back and rant some more.

Re:Slashdot is bit misleading.. (1)

Cris E (34068) | more than 13 years ago | (#89988)


The only mod we ever do to any workstations around here is to add RAM, and that isn't common. They all come with enough drive space (2GB+), good enough video and standard NICs, and since they're on a 3-4 year cycle (OK, maybe more four nowadays) they'll get tossed well before they lose all utility. And that's the other thing : we pass on a lot of "obsolete" machines to non-profits, schools and other organizations. They have even less reason or resources for opening the case than we do.

American-centric (2)

chill (34294) | more than 13 years ago | (#89989)

Many of those anti-smog and fuel-efficiency laws are/were American only -- with maybe a couple of the other techno-advanced nations on the wagon.

There is a HUGE market for cheap, modifiable autos in CALA (Central America/Latin America) Asia and EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Afica) -- less so in Western Europe. The VM Beetlw is a HUGE seller in Mexico and other countries.

Likewise, these "old" computers can find welcome homes in schools, non-1st world countries and several other places.

Besides, wasn't the industry whining not too long ago about a slump in PC sales. Not because there wasn't anything new, but that there wasn't any reason to BUY anything new.

Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Paint Shop, Corel Draw, etc. don't tax my 833 MHz PC so why do I need a 1.7 GHz one?

Non-professional audio and video editing need more RAM and HD space more than fasster CPUs.

It was at least 5 years after the releases of the Commodore 64/Atari 800 and later the Amiga and Atari ST that the systems were pushed to the limits by the software.

Hell, the "demo" that came with my NVidia TNT2 card has graphics that blow away any of the games today. Yet it is considered "obsolete" by the GForce 2 series and GForce 3. Snickered at by serious game players.

That "old/obsolete" hardware has more life in it regardless. Bring on the $500 whiz-bang systems. My local school would love to have my "old" dual-P3 800 MHz PC -- they're running P75s now!

Finally -- he was talking about a 1988 (13-year old) PC. 13-years in computers is like 50-years in cars.

Charles E. Hill

Re:Appliances (1)

CBravo (35450) | more than 13 years ago | (#89990)

true, very true. The reason is: people don't want to understand computers _but_ they realize that they are missing out if they don't. That means changing the interface until they understand what they have to do...

Don't say people don't understand computers. Look at playstations! and you know what is expected hehe.

The author almost got it, but not quite (5)

anticypher (48312) | more than 13 years ago | (#89993)

Its a good article about DIY projects. The author touches lightly on the one thing that may effectively kill the DIY market, new laws. But then he swerves back into his nostalgia for overclocking and other simply build-it-yourself systems.

As noted on /. and other places, many of the market leaders of commodity PC components have realised that there is no profit in a commodity market as long as every little taiwanese/korean factory is allowed to create cheap knock-offs that are functionally equivalent. Consumers love the fact that PC components are cheap, but what if that isn't always the case?

If projects such as CPRM move ahead, it will create a new, protected technology for PCs. All of the mainstream market companies will band together to offer only new machines with CPRM, locking out all the non-licensed competition. When federal/euro laws come into effect outlawing the sale or possession of non-compliant disk drives, the market for cheap far-east drives will disappear over night. The laws will be based on protection of intellectual property, and the battle will become much tougher to fight once those laws are passed. This is why so many intelligent people are fighting the creeping crud of bad IP laws, they can see the economic damage if more laws like the DMCA/UCITA are passed.

Further down the road, more laws protecting IP will eliminate competition in the video card market, sound cards, or any IP storage, transmission or playback mechanisms. When that happens, only large computer manufacturers will have systems on the market, and even though they will only cost about US$500-US$1000, they will become sealed units. If you want a system with more storage, buy a bigger computer. Faster video for games, get the next expensive system. Upgrading will no longer be an option, and all those internal upgrade slots/cables/connectors/sockets will disappear.

Getting rid of unused DIMM sockets, IDE sockets, plugs, cables, AGP adapters, PCI buses will make a computer system much cheaper than today. Systems will become sealed, and changing components will be left to only the most technically gifted. Those cheap systems will use technologies like .NET to store everyones data in data centres, so if your box fries, you just go buy a new one, and keep working where you left off.

This also has a knock-on effect for Free Operating Systems, if the law extends to cover drivers for IP protected components. No longer will linux be allowed to have a free version of a driver for CPRM drives, or a DeCSS decoder for DVD players, or De4HGFu for the latest 4D-Hyper-GeoForce-Ultra video chipset. Possessing, creating, or distributing un-licensed drivers will be completely outlawed, possibly with criminal charges as opposed to the current civil laws. Universities will be required to monitor students work, and forbid any student working on any project that might infringe on IP protected software. When the boxes close up, free software will be marginalised to very small groups dedicated to keeping the counter-culture spirit alive.

the AC

Re:Keep on hackin' (2)

jyuter (48936) | more than 13 years ago | (#89994)

Yes, but there still is the ossiblity of legislation being passed which could ban people from tweaking the hardware in a similar way that DMCA bans tweaking software. Think about it - a manufacuter can start selling "rights" to use the hardware instead of the hardware itself. If you try to upgrade, tweak, overclock or whatever, that would be illegal. It's a longshot, but it could theoretically happen.

Re:Versatility (2)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 13 years ago | (#89995)

> With this idea of sealed boxes the scariest thing for me is that maybe they'll sell one box for video editing and one for gaming but not one that does both well. So instead of paying for one card I have to buy a whole system to get the same functionality. The beauty of PCs is how customizable they are, it would be a great loss to lose that.

Look, ma, Extremetech! That corporate-owned site that's trying to astroturf over the overclocking/geek/performance community!

And surprise, surprise, the guys who take in advertising dollars in their print publications form the likes of D3LL, Compaq, Gateway, and the other "prefab boxes with proprietary motherboard form factors" are saying that the screwdriver shop is dead.

I'll grant the proprietary shops one thing - proprietary mobo designs allow for great control of airflow and quiet cases in comparison to the DIY market.

But that's all. A fellow tech here saw a D3LL P4 box for $800 and thought it was a bargain. Yeah, right, a 1.3G P4, PC600 - yes, SIX-hundred - RDRAM (shit, I didn't know they even made that stuff anymore). I calmly pointed out that any Athlon 1G could whup its ass six ways to Sunday on any benchmark he cared to point out, took him to a few sites that proved it, and the rest was history.

Michael Dell, if you're listening, you make a good proprietary system for an office setting, but you lost ten desktops that day. You'll lose more tomorrow.

Re:Keep on hackin' (1)

Palshife (60519) | more than 13 years ago | (#89996)

Agreed. Furthermore, the author quotes the "demise" of modifying your car. While it's certainly not the #1 male adolescent passtime these days, it's far from gone. I have a college pal who put thousands of dollars into souping up his Taurus. Crazy.

Computers may get harder to hack, but I think that's something to look forward to :)

Re:Title is misleading. (1)

Emil Brink (69213) | more than 13 years ago | (#89997)

While you're probably right about the TiVo, I can't agree that the Familiar Linux distro for the iPaq is a "hack on a closed system", simply because the iPaq is not (IMO) a closed system. You do know that the primary sponsor of the (excellent!) [] site is Compaq Computer Corporation, right? And that they (Compaq, that is) had their own Linux for the iPaq going initially, but then merged that with Familiar because it was better? Compaq are not behaving in a very proprietary way when it comes to people running "alternative" software on their iPaq... Which is good, because it allowed me to easily port something unexpected [] . ;^)

Deeper Touches Than Just Hardware (3)

tarsi210 (70325) | more than 13 years ago | (#89998)

From the: I-prefer-to-cuddle-my-own-hard-drive,-thanks dept.

This is not a big surprise, really. Palmtops, laptops, eMachineish types of computers are coming out all over. Cheap, working, closed-case machines for the masses. And the trend will continue, I think....but I think there are other issues at work here.

First, raise your hand if you like to upgrade your machines. Lots? Good. Next, raise your hand if you enjoy upgrading your mother's aunt's sister's machine. No? "But it's soooo slow!" Imagine. She's had it since 1996 and thinks it's slow. I'm flabbergasted.

The point is this: These compact, $300ish, throwaway machines are practical for the masses of lusers in the world looking for a quick, working desktop/Internet PC. They don't care about upgrades, and if it's only $300, so what? Trash it, get another. And there are a lot of us geeks out there who would rather NOT worry about having to try to upgrade it.

Now, I don't know about you, but there's nothing more satisfying than having a good night of tinkering with my hardware. (computer, you sick mind) I'll gladly pay the little extra to get cards that aren't integrated, to get 45 case fans all at the same time, to see the lights dim when my new 540,000RPM hard drive spins up. It's a disease, and I'm infected. And you know what? The machines run great. They just do. Maybe it's the love, maybe it's the time, maybe it's because I know every inch of it. I need my hardware fix. Or repair. Or upgrade. And as long as there's a demand for such systems that allow this, they'll be there.

I think we'll see these disposables before long. But there will be a chasm: disposables for lusers, tweakables for the elite.

Re:Versatility (1)

Durrik (80651) | more than 13 years ago | (#89999)

I don't think the tightly integrated PCs will be the be all, end all like the article says. For consumers and most bussiness uses it might be. But because of the versitility and customization of the PC you'll always see them in their current form.

Some scientfic applications require High Data Rate digital capture cards. You'll never see a chip that allows you to hook the number of inputs into it that some scientists want.

When it comes to capturing this type of data, some scientists are anal, and always wanting more data points at higher resolution. You won't see this type of data being captured on anything put direct to the computers memory/hard drive. You won't see it through gigabit ethernet, firewire or USB. The big word in this sort of application is 'Realtime', I think its mostly a fad that isn't needed in most applications, but everyone wants it, and this requires as high bandwidth as possible.

Other type of equipment in some labs use a custom control interface, often made inhouse. This type of control might move towards USB and Ethernet, but I honestly doubt that.

GPIB isn't what I call a custom interface, but I doubt you'll ever see it based in an integrated box. JTAG interfaces for embedded development probably won't make it into an integrated box. But these interfaces do have ethernet adaptors now. But even with these the direct connect to the computer adapters are still more popular.

There will always be small, important applications that have markets too small to be included in the integrated boxes, but still need to have a computer interface.

Re:Think outside the box (1)

jkorty (86242) | more than 13 years ago | (#90000)

Like me. I remember the days of wirewrap boards, where a manufacturer could change the design of a computer and then send technicians out into the field to add and delete wires on all the customer's computers. And that wasn't so long ago either .. wirewrap will still very popular in 1975, the year I graduated from college.

Re:disposable? (1)

jkorty (86242) | more than 13 years ago | (#90001)

486 systems are useful as firewall/routers. One can pick them up for $20 and run that linux router distribution on it straight off the floppy.

Let's revisit this when... (5)

Amokscience (86909) | more than 13 years ago | (#90002)

... I can get multi-gigahertz performance in something the size of a wallet that costs less than $50. In other words, when computers are truly ubiquitous. When they are so cheap and numerous that I truly don't care.

Until then the mainstream will be (easily) modifiable computers. People still need customized solutions for at least a few more years and it's still cheaper to do so rather than have one prepackaged system. Remember that $500 isn't chump change. PC gaming in particular, which is a huge factor in popular computing, doesn't invite closed systems since we haven't plateaued. You can't equate PC and consoles for at least the next couple generations.

It's going to happen, yes, but not for several years at the minimum.

Yet another example... (1)

scriber (89211) | more than 13 years ago | (#90003)

I've been getting into DIY electronics for school projects lately, and have run into a similar problem to what he's describing. Years ago, computer enthusiasts actually designed and built their own custom computers, with homemade printed circuit boards and off-the-shelf components. Yet today, it would be nearly impossible for a simple hobbiest to build a modern computer equivalent from the bare essentials. Pitch sizes on semiconductor leads have dropped to 0.025 inches, and modern computer motherboards require at least four layers due to the integration of components. BGA chips, like the chipset on a motherboard, require expensive reflow soldering ovens just to mount (though a few expensive clamp-down sockets for these can be had).

This isn't necessarily a bad thing--computers are faster, cheaper, and smaller today than ever before. Yet the barrier of entry to the market has risen significantly. Chip fabs, for example, are so expensive to build that only established players in the market can even afford to build them, effectively making market penetration all but impossible for any new company wanting to fab ICs.

This isn't a new thing--companies constantly try to raise the barrier of entry to various markets to eliminate competition. You could fix a Model T Ford with only a few simple tools, or it couldn't be fixed. Today, you need an incredible array of tools to service a car beyond simple oil changes and such, effectively cutting the little guys out of the market in favor of large automotive dealer shops.

So it's bound to happen, and hard core people will find ways around it, while everyone else will find some new toy to play with.

Re:Electronic emissions standards (2)

Shoden (94398) | more than 13 years ago | (#90005)

So, regardless of what good intentions you may believe the clean air act had, the end of car modding (till recently when it has become affordable again) was what the big supporters had in mind.

And just why would the auto industry want to prevent people from modifying their cars? Most of those modifications require part, usually more expensive than the original parts, and somebody has to make them.

Throughout the 60s and the early 70s, the American auto industry was heavily involved in various types of racing, and the high performance parts they developed were often available to the public for use in modifying their own cars. Aftermarket modifications resulted in the auto industry being able to sell more stuff and make more money.

And if you think they (the auto industry) were thrilled about putting all the emissions control devices on their cars, think again. Those things severely reduced power output, and cars had to be made smaller to maintain reasonable performance. And smaller cars just happen to have a smaller profit margin than larger cars.

So sure, I can just see some auto company's board of directors sitting around, gleefully plotting on how to screw the consumers and their own profits at the same time...

And just to try to keep this on topic, how does requiring the use of an LCD instead of a CRT considerably cut down on the ability to customize a computer? Sure, it might limit your choice of graphic card somewhat, but don't most of the good graphic cards these days support LCDs? Besides, if they were going to require LCDs instead of CTRs, then there'd be a lot of TVs that'd need replacing too.

Re:The Cube was an unhackable computer. (2)

Sc00ter (99550) | more than 13 years ago | (#90007)

You could upgrade the hard drive, and swap out the video card, also add memory.. Sure you can't add 4 more cards that do whatever you want, but it has USB and Firewire for external devices.


Re:There's Another Reason For Non-Hackable Compute (1)

wltack (103314) | more than 13 years ago | (#90008)

This is a method of social control, I'm afraid. It wouldn't even be necessary to make it illegal to use anything other than the "approved" OS, you would simply have to require a license and examination (or some such obstacle) to make to make the use of "dangerous" OSes tracable and controlled. "Professionals" may even support this, as they would perceive it to give them a market advantage. The means of production is in the hands of the user currently, and some are working hard to change that, just as they did with radio years ago, and again currently with legal restrictions on low-power radio. Anything to keep control in a few hands.

PCs were inherently hackable devices (2)

DeepDarkSky (111382) | more than 13 years ago | (#90010)

From the very beginning, PCs were the general-purpose computing devices that were designed to be hackable and experimental, at the same time providing us with the ability to get some work done.

Ultimately, of course, whatever we wanted on the PCs make its way to relatively non-hackable end-use, single-purpose "appliances", such as Tivo (yes, I know they are hackable), MP3 players, etc. I believe that more and more of these kinds of things will arrive, but without the PCs leading the way and providing functional experimentation, marketing experimentation, etc., it would take a lot longer to bring such appliances to market. Could you imagine how long it would have taken to create things like Tivo and portable MP3 players that we have now if we didn't have the PC platform to first show that there was a market, second show what the user-interface might look like, and all of that? The PCs are the ultimate mass test-marketing and experimentation tool, somewhat akin to breadboards in electronics. The PCs will always be hackable and will always be useful because of its value as I have described above.

Re:Edible computers (2)

ReelOddeeo (115880) | more than 13 years ago | (#90012)

What the hell are we going to do if we throw away a computer every year instead of every three years?

I think we should focus on edible computers instead of disposable.

As technology matures in this area, we could have low-fat and low-carb varieties.


Null content article. (1)

Dr Caleb (121505) | more than 13 years ago | (#90013)

Imagine a future where PCs are shipped in sealed cases...What if you had no other choice?

No. I will always have a choice.

Now, let me ask you: do you want to take that 386/33 and mod it up?

If that's what I have to do, then I will.

Ultimately, we all love to customize in some way. What better way than to build a PC that's a reflection of your own ultimate computer?

Most things I own are that way. My computer. My car. My home. I hack them from the original specs to make them fit the job I want.

I don't have one car to go grocery shopping, one car to go to work, and one car for a drive in the country. Similarly, I don't have one computer to surf p0rn, one computer to game and one computer for werd processing.

I've only purchased 2 computers in my life that were pre-built, and nethier of them stayed true to thier factory specs much longer than it took me to get them out of the box and take their lid off. Pre-built and sealed computers are great for the technically challenged, who probabally would never open the hood to look inside anyway. For me, not a chance.

I don't think the Dell's, IBM's or Compaq's are that dim, they will never go to a sealed factory unit only line of product. If they do, where will that leave companies like ASUS and GigaByte?

Re:Versatility (2)

stilwebm (129567) | more than 13 years ago | (#90018)

The beauty of PCs is how customizable they are, it would be a great loss to loose that.

This is why PowerPC machines are much more rare than Intel counterparts. For many purposes, a PowerPC system is much faster than a similarly clocked PII/III. But the price of a PowerPC is artificially high because you can only buy a couple of motherboard models at a time, and there is no flexability as to which case you can get, and little flexability what options you can get. While they have PCI and AGP slots, you have to buy whatever AGP adapter Apple want to put in there first. And IBM has made PowerPC workstations, but those are marketed at the higher end, and at installations where variation is not necessary. Because of this limited competition and flexability, prices are artificially high and user acceptance is much lower

We already have "un-hackable" computers (4)

No Such Agency (136681) | more than 13 years ago | (#90020)

... they're called "laptops". OK, so they're not completely untouchable, but they're not nearly as easy to mess with as a desktop system. What limited mods can be done require a good deal more skill too. Maybe if similar desktop systems become the standard, more people who want to play around with hardware will be forced to improve their technical skills. But I can see that it'd just make computers even less understandable to "Joe Sixpack", who can currently swap in new cards/processor/RAM/HD on his desktop machine without being a l33t haXor or having a CS degree.

It won't be disposable unless ... (1)

Cestus (141759) | more than 13 years ago | (#90021)

It's already got a free OS on it. I know that I'm not willing to spend even the licensing fee for MS Windows products on a yearly basis. Even IF it came with new hardware. So, I guess if this ever comes to pass, the Open Source model will have WON the battle. So the necessity for hacking would wane considerably.

Re:Keep on hackin' (3)

Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) | more than 13 years ago | (#90023)

Hardware manufacturers likely do'nt have enoguh clout for that. More likely is that the hardware will be closed, and an extension of the DMCA will make it illegal to hack on any hardware which as been "closed for the benefit of content holders". You wouldn't even have to circumvent or develop a circumvention tool, just do anything that might make circumvention easier down the line.

E.g. opening a case which is designed to destroy the computer when opened, but done it such a way that the computer isn't destroyed. Now it would be easier for people to add "non-secure" (i.e. doesn't restrict fair use) hardware and possibly violate the DMCA.

That is more likely, and even scarier. The MPAA owns way more of Congressional mindshare that the hardware companies. And the hardware companies have been on the side of good quite a bit (often not for noble reasons, but for economics. In a way, that's better because they aren't likely to change their mind unless the economics of the situation changes a lot).

Congress has members who actually believe that if the MPAA makes less money (but still a huge amount) due to priacy, that they'll just stop making movies (and make zero money), and that they won't be able to go to the theater on Saturday night.

Hopefully by the time things get too bad, Linux will be mainstream enough that crushing us will be politically incorrect.

Re:disposable? (1)

BitchAss (146906) | more than 13 years ago | (#90025)

486es don't have enough processor power to justify the electrical cost of powering them on anymore

Not enough power? Whatever. Haven't you been reading /. long enough? I'm looking for some free 486s for a router for my 'rents. For my gf's mother who wants to learn how to use a computer. For a cousin of mine who's parents can't afford a computer for him. Take one of them apart and learn how a computer works.

Don't fall into the mindset that a computer has to be the greatest/fastest/newest to be useful. Geeze. They're free machines. They're not useless. (I feel like I'm writing something for a lost animal telethon - There are millions of lost animals in the city. Be kind to them.)

Re:Electronic emissions standards (1)

BitchAss (146906) | more than 13 years ago | (#90026)

Eventually it will be a requirement to buy an LCD machine rather than the energy hogging CRT monitors. This cuts down on the average joe's ability to customize his own machine quite considerably.

I think the consumer will make this choice on his own. Would you rather have a low power consuming monitor with a small footprint or a large clunky power hog? I think alot of changes will be driven by market demand.

PROGRAMMABLE Personal Computer... (2)

Picass0 (147474) | more than 13 years ago | (#90027)

If you take away the word programmable, it's just a terminal.

Just another jeremiad... (2)

connorbd (151811) | more than 13 years ago | (#90029)

I don't think the situation is as bad as it looks. I agree that for a lot of people "desktop laptops" are probably the wave of the future -- the simple fact is that big boxes are a waste of space to most people and upgradability is not a major concern. (I never quite understood the popularity of the minitower anyway. Is it a standard-parts thing? You can stick an ATX into a fairly small desktop case, can't you? Or is it just big == racing stripes cool?)

I don't think that necessarily bodes ill for DIY systems, but I do think they might eventually become more expensive as the minitower idea becomes obsolete (again?). Reason: there will still be significant demand, from both systems integrators (commodity shops like Dell and Gateway especially) and customers. If you don't believe me, try something like I did a couple of weeks ago:

Go down to your local CircuitBuyUSA and try and take a look at the back of the systems they have on sale. To most of you it will probably come as no surprise that these systems are all ATX-based; it came as something of a shock for me because all the PCs I've owned are recycled business machines with nonstandard mobo designs. They are as they are for good reason: it's probably vastly cheaper to base consumer hardware with no special requirements on parts that can be easily second-sourced if you run low. If HP runs out of Vectra motherboards that require risers for PCI slots, they have a problem because they themselves are the only source for their motherboards.

The flipside: if they run short of motherboards for Pavilion boxes, that's not as big a problem, as they need merely place a call to Asus or whoever and get, say, 50K AMD760 motherboards shipped over by next Wednesday; from there, all they have to do is quietly slip the new motherboards out in those pretty grey HP-labeled cases and no one is any the wiser.

I think DIY computers will continue to be available to anyone who wants one. The fear that the world is headed in the iMac direction as a general rule is slightly justified, but not really so much of an issue as things like CPRM and SDMI that could create lockin issues on the OS level while taking hardware questions completely out of the loop.


A postscript on customizability: I decided once when walking through a local Best Buy to actually see what their "build-your-own-computer" station did. Suffice to say that it made a mockery of the whole concept of designing your own system -- it didn't so much place an order for you as give you a very small choice of "requirements" and tell you what they had in stock already that matched it.

Truth in advertising? Not here...

Re:Versatility (2)

connorbd (151811) | more than 13 years ago | (#90030)

I'd love to see a PC case designed like an Apple case. Granted, the whole idea of being able to open it up and swing out the motherboard while the system is live strikes me as being pretty useless without a hot-pluggable PCI bus, but geez, on cool points alone...


Re:Keep on hackin' (1)

tchuladdiass (174342) | more than 13 years ago | (#90035)

The most likely way for this to happen is for manufacturers to only give you the option of leasing a computer instead of buying. However, as long as there is a market sold vs. leased computers, there will always be products available.

Another possibility is for the market for "open" components to be artificially diminished. Lets say that some new operating system (which becomes very popular, with 90% market share) requires a custom licensed chip for copy protection. Since this new OS will not run on open systems that don't have this proprietary chip, there will be little deminde for the open hardware, the market dries up, ...

However, the most likely threat is a trend in hardware that has been going on the last few years. As processors get faster, there are more spare cpu cycles for the average applicatoin. Also, since it is cheaper to manufacture software than it is hardware, more devices have come on the market with much of the hardware functionality replaced by software (winmodems, winprinters, winsoundcards, etc.), with the software component of thesed devices are usually only written for the most popular OS's. The trend for these types of devices will only accelerate as cpu power becomes more abundant and demand for more expensive non-software based components drops off. The only solution I can see for this situation is to develop a mini-os that runs inside a virtual machine inside your main os, with a well defined api. The api will talk to the parent os, which in turn talks to the hardware. Thie mini-os should be simple enough that it can be implimented under any system, while being capable of running the same binary drivers no matter which parent os you're running.

Re:Article is about DIY (3)

Prior Restraint (179698) | more than 13 years ago | (#90037)

[Political Party X] will introduce legislation preventing techies from building their own machines at feasible prices within the next 5 years.

You failed to state a rationale for this. You seem to imply it's because corps. will lobby Congress so they can force you to buy whole systems, but the same end-results can be achieved by convincing MS to tighten the screws on its WPA (and Apple can solder its machines shut if it wants).

A better argument would be to point out that as processor speed goes up, so does RF interference. Once it gets to a certain level, the FCC will feel compelled to step in. Of course, that doesn't require Congress to act, either, so I'm still not sure why you said what you did.

All-in-Hackable (3)

SubtleNuance (184325) | more than 13 years ago | (#90038)

Anyone who thinks 'all-in-one' computers are 'unhackable' needs to remember the I-Opener phenom. Have a look at Linux-Hacker.Net [] to see that the same people who soldered their IOpeners are doing it with everything imaginable - specifically interesting is the GateWay Connected Touchpad (which originally runs Linux on a Transmita CPU), it has 802.11b and a touchscreen....

Beware of programmers with screw drivers. (2)

leuk_he (194174) | more than 13 years ago | (#90040)

It is, and stays easy to run linux on this "sealed" boxes. The only reason they cannot run linux is thay some specifications may noy be released when the last PC(tm) is made available.

Huw, wait, isn't this already the case now? do the latest (matrox.power) gfx card have linux drivers. how about the latest cable modems?

And the new nvidia nForce. Will it have full linux audio support or just support some legacy mode?

Linux on lthe last model computer, forget it, you do not wnat that. If you know what it is all about you build and overclock your own system, it will be faster and just as cheap and will have all linux supported items in it.

Great thing about it that you will be able to run linux on 1 year old PC's that are thrown away.

and... you do not need to hack a box to run linux on it. Just boot the cd....

uhh, yeah.. (1)

Fujisawa Sensei (207127) | more than 13 years ago | (#90042)

I think the writer has the wrong idea with car metaphore. He needs to check out Mags like Import Racer, and Sport Compact. There are Miatas running around with ~300hp! Just because mods today are differnet from mods 30 years ago, doesn't mean they wont exits, they will be different.

Computer mods will be the same, mods and home brew system will be around, it's just they will be different, and hopefully more interesting.

How do I know mods be around?
Economics, if there is a market for a product, companies will try and sell to it.

TSMC's website allows you do design a chip via the web, in a few years you will probably be able to design a chip by have is manufactured at a reasonable price. (Currently a full reticle set costs something like a million dollars. Tech allwoing for the custon production of chips wold require the elimiation of expensive reticles.)

Not quite the same.... (1)

QwkHyenA (207573) | more than 13 years ago | (#90043)

Although the article shows some similarity between the two industries. And how one could look back at the demise of the MOD'd car and assume a similar scenario is plausible, I don't see this as the case. Computer systems in general aren't going to get locked down faster than the hacking community can adapt. I just don't see it happening.

First, most of the engineers and developers working at the corporate level are touting the Open Source model to their management or atleast making it known that they have a preference for said technologies.

Second, as one industry tries to lock something down, it ends up blowing back in their faces as Hackers/Crackers/insiders get into un/official teams and tear it apart!( i.e. DVDs,encrypt'd CDs, CueCats, satellite hacking, phone freaking,etc..)

Third, corporations are slowly seeing the benefit to launching their products from the base of pre-existing technologies versus reinventing the wheel.

Just a rant..I'm sure their are some holes to be discovered..
*QH wraps up in fire resistant blanket*

Re:Versatility (3)

akc (207721) | more than 13 years ago | (#90044)

With this idea of sealed boxes the scariest thing for me is that maybe they'll sell one box for video editing and one for gaming but not one that does both well. So instead of paying for one card I have to buy a whole system to get the same functionality. The beauty of PCs is how customizable they are, it would be a great loss to loose that.

I don't know why its scary - the point about this "sealed" box is that it is cheap. Think more along the lines that you have a several ball point pens (maybe each with a different colour inks) than a quill pen and lots of bottles of ink.

Title is misleading. (2)

Gannoc (210256) | more than 13 years ago | (#90045)

The title avoids the real problem. Of course, computers will ALWAYS be "hackable", look at Familiar [] for the ipaq or the Tivo hacks [] . Both of these are hacks on closed systems.

The problem is, that it takes a LOT more technical skill and "bravery" to modify these devices that it does to upgrade your video card. How many people own a Torx screwdriver set?

Dell/Gateway/etc would love to be able to sell you a brand new computer every 2 years. They can profit just as much off $1000 computer as they can off $2500 ones.

Ergonomics and monitor emission standards (1)

Sheepdot (211478) | more than 13 years ago | (#90046)

Remember, both those two items I mention in the subject of this message are *not* new items. What if the government started saying that monitor emissions needed to be regulated and or that cases had to fit a certain design with no sharp corners.

For all we know, Alienware machines may be this century's Mustangs!

It's all up to what regulation the government has planned for us next.

Electronic emissions standards (2)

Sheepdot (211478) | more than 13 years ago | (#90047)

We already have several *regulations* in place. Eventually it will be a requirement to buy an LCD machine rather than the energy hogging CRT monitors. This cuts down on the average joe's ability to customize his own machine quite considerably.

And what do we do when emissions are *discovered* to come from the computers themselves? You tell me...

Do I feel the clean air act was implemented to stop car mods or achieve clean air?

I feel that if the auto industry truly had the grip that it did on politics at the time, I don't think it should have *supported* the clean air act, yet oddly enough, most did.

It would almost seem as if it was an attempt to *prevent* people from doing their own customizing and design, and rather have them pay full price for big auto's machine instead.

So, regardless of what good intentions you may believe the clean air act had, the end of car modding (till recently when it has become affordable again) was what the big supporters had in mind.

They just successfully tricked the American people into thinking they were "helping the enviroment".

Article is about DIY (5)

Sheepdot (211478) | more than 13 years ago | (#90049)

First off, the article is about Do-It-Yourself computing. Or more specifically, building your own machines, something we all do.

He seems to think that we won't be doing it much longer since companies have been catering to our needs? I ask, in what fashion?

I still can't find an AMD Athlon T-bird 750mhz with a gig of RAM and all the fixings without building it myself for under 500. Pricewatch will be around for a long time hopefully, and as long as it is, I'll be ordering my stuff on there. Sepearately.

I've yet to see company offer a great price for prebuilding a system to my specifications.

I do have to say he hit the nail on the head with this one:

Two events conspired to effectively destroy the market for modifying cars. The first was the Federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, which started the ball rolling for mandatory air pollution controls on cars.

While the second one was about oil shortages, I'd have to say the first was the biggest problem. My dad and uncle *still* talk about how great life was way back when they could modify cars as they see fit.

So, here's my prediction: The Greens/Democrats (not chosen cause I disagree with them political, but rather because it is most likely based on philosophy that such a social policy would come from either of those two) will introduce legislation preventing techies from building their own machines at feasible prices within the next 5 years. The Republicans (not chosen because I disagree with them politically, but because they are in a "compassion" phase right now, which ultimately mean "comprimise" phase, where they vote however they deem necessary to get majority votes on *their* bills) will of course support the bill once the Democrats get enough convincing and possibly support from Apple (the biggest company to gain from the bill), Dell, HP, Compaq, and other big PC builders, which could easily meet the regulations, while us small-time PC builders cannot.

Don't think it'll happen, you just wait. Remember I made this post.

Re:disposable? (2)

sdo1 (213835) | more than 13 years ago | (#90050)

Well, just last month I threw together a system from a bunch of old 486 based scrap I had kicking around and installed Linux on it. It's now acting as a crude webserver [] . My upload rate (behind a cable modem) is only 100Kbps, so I'm guessing the system isn't going to be the bottleneck. It's not mission critical... just a bunch of hobby stuff and pictures to share with friends and family. So far, it works fine.

I think it's a 66 MHz... 30 pin memory (80M worth)... generic svga card... 500M HDD(?)... 2x CD ROM.

Perfectly acceptable computer for what I wanted and for essentially zero cost. Not that I'm going to run around collecting 486 machines... but they can serve a purpose.


I mod therefore I am... (1)

Traicovn (226034) | more than 13 years ago | (#90051)

Before people go off ranting that computers will ALWAYS be 'hackable' from a point that CRACKERS can get into your machine. Read the article. They are talking about 'hacking' in the idea of tinkering.

I think though that I have to go with the writer of the article though. At the end he says that he's probably not gettina a new computer every year either. Personally, even if it's cheaper to get one of these boxes every year, I kinda like being able to get a case I like, build a nice computer, or spec one out that I like online, have some upgradability options, and use that computer fvor about 2-4 years.

What's great is that you might even be able to REUSE some of the computer parts.

Now, I can see where this might be an alright option for some people. People who aren't heavy users and just want a computer might not mind having a 'sealed case'.
However, this is kind of 'reverse engineering' and discourages people tinkering with stuff, which is how alot of the great minds in Science and Technology have learned about things. But we have to remember. A determined person who doesn't care about how it looks and is willing maybe to design their own case after they destroy the original, will be able to get in and tinker with stuff, but there may not be much to tinker with once someone gets there.

[Something witty and intelligent should have appeared here.]

Uncrackable computers (1)

James Foster (226728) | more than 13 years ago | (#90052)

I've always wondered... what if a completely new computer architecture was built from ground-up with only a few basic functions to act as an un-crackable server?
Surely if it only accepted a few simple text string commands it would be possible to make it un-crackable by software methods?!? Of course, theres still other ways to attack it with denial of service and the like, but for the most part it would be secure... wouldn't it??

Versatility (3)

trolebus (234192) | more than 13 years ago | (#90055)

The best thing about computers these days is I can put exactly what I want in there. If I want to have a video editing box I put some RAM and a firewire/capture card in and install some software. That same computer can be a screaming game machine with the addition of a GeForce 2 or 3.

With this idea of sealed boxes the scariest thing for me is that maybe they'll sell one box for video editing and one for gaming but not one that does both well. So instead of paying for one card I have to buy a whole system to get the same functionality. The beauty of PCs is how customizable they are, it would be a great loss to loose that.

Re:disposable? (1)

ffsnjb (238634) | more than 13 years ago | (#90057)

My workstation at home has 2 1 gig drives in it, and until I see the need for anything more, thats all that will be in there.

486s are good for a few things, specifically routers. I just gave away 8 30 pin simms to a guy who had a board for them; he's using it as a router for his home LAN. I got some 64 meg EDO simms for them, which didn't work in his motherboard, but work great alongside the pc100 sdram in my Soyo E5HM.

I most likely would have taken those 486s by the dumpster and found some use for them, even if it was just to use as storage space for the LAN, assuming the hard drives still spun up.

The only truely useless hardware for anything other than old time gaming (playing Wolfenstein 3D on my workstation, a p2-233 with 384 megs of ram is just not fun) is 286 and 386 class boards, because they can't run modern OS's (esp. 286's). Who needs a GUI anyway?

Re:disposable? (1)

ffsnjb (238634) | more than 13 years ago | (#90058)

I have no kids, and never will. Diapers came to mind as something disposable because I work in a place where it seems half the employees should be wearing them. Nothing like being a system admin for a food service operation. All the worst workers, and shitty pay...

disposable? (3)

ffsnjb (238634) | more than 13 years ago | (#90061)

What the hell is up with everyone wanting to dispose of perfectly good items? Stuff like diapers should obviously be disposable, but computers? Thats just plain ridiculous. Even if a piece of hardware is totally shot, its got other uses, like hanging on the wall of the server room to remind the working hardware what it will end up being once it breaks. :)

Re:There's Another Reason For Non-Hackable Compute (2)

rknop (240417) | more than 13 years ago | (#90062)

...which is fine, so long as those of us who want them can still get *real* computers.

My fear is that the huge media organizationas will be able to succesfully lobby the governments of the world to pass laws strictly regulating which computers are legal to own-- in the name of "protecting intellectual property" or some similar. (You can't own a real computer because you *might* use it to pirate music!)

It doesn't seem that unlikely a result to me at the moment. Indeed, in the absence of campaign finance reform much more radical than what is currently being proposed in the US, I suspect that an outcome like this is all but inevitable, at least in the US. (Right now, it is too easy for huge corporations with a vested interest in curtailing intellectual freedom to buy congressmen.)


Keep on hackin' (5)

Red_Winestain (243346) | more than 13 years ago | (#90063)

As long as there are systems, they will be hacked. They may not look like current systems, and the hacking might be harder, but so much the better.

Pffft. Experts my ass... (4)

ryanvm (247662) | more than 13 years ago | (#90064)

I'm getting real tired of so called "experts" always telling me how things are going to be.

These are the same people who tricked me into thinking that by the year 2000 I'd be watching holographic porn while riding in my flying car.

Most of the time these people can barely grasp how things work now - let alone in the future.

Bah. (2)

daniel_isaacs (249732) | more than 13 years ago | (#90065)

While DIY may become limited, hacking never will. So long as curious people with Dremels [] exist, the things around them will be modified/hacked.

Will I be able to build a killer DIY system in 10 years? Maybe, maybe not. But If not, so what? The prefab stuff will be so cheap it won't matter. Sure I get a kick out of messing with my hardware. But I hope to develop new hobbies as I pass into my 30's and beyond. Like fixing up old cars. Or getting elected to Congress so I can screw around with hot interns.

This is the dumbest article ever (1)

neurokhan (256555) | more than 13 years ago | (#90066)

Nuff said. Why did it get /.????

Re:Keep on hackin' (1)

mythr (260723) | more than 13 years ago | (#90067)

Hey now, stop giving The Company (TM) ideas!

Slashdot is bit misleading.. (1)

entrox (266621) | more than 13 years ago | (#90068)

The article doesn't state that these new systems won't be hackable in the l33t h4x0r d00d sense. It's about closed systems, where you can't change your configuration like you can today (only through expansion ports e.g. for memory etc.).

If this means better compatibility (no more hardware conflicts, missing drivers and so on) and better performance through unified memory for example, then I'm all for it. But what happens to those obsolete boxen in the future after you bought yourself a new one? Dump it? At least you can 'recycle' todays systems.

Think Green (2)

dasmegabyte (267018) | more than 13 years ago | (#90069)

Okay, every argument against non-upgradable systems in here is totally invalid, because upgradable systems are a stupid idea for 95% of the population who don't even use the machine they have. It makes no sense to sell machines to a population that doesn't need them, either from the point of view of manufacturers solving device contention issues or of users trying to get the best machine for their money. It's kind of moot, anyway, since the range of devices available standard on modern machines is so varied, you shouldn't really need anything else. Hell, my $1800 iBook has 3d video, firewire video editing, DVD/CD-RW and plenty of ram...I can't think of anything I want to plug into the thing that I can't already plug in.

But the big question here is the obsolesence issue. We've got all these machines around that can only do what they are supposed to. Because of this, they're cheap as hell...maybe $400 for a complete machine. Nowadays, when a machine gets old, you wait a couple of years to replace it. I spend an average of $1000 per year on my machine (tax deductable, thank you very much freelance work). If I could buy a new whiz-bang PC every 5 months for the same price, I might do so. Now, if everybody does this, and many will, especially the folks who think that higher numbers improve their lives and that a P4 1.4 is "one louder" than an Athlon 1.33, we'll end up with a lot of waste. What might have been one tossed large metal box every two years, scroungable by wise hackers into a useful machine, is now two or three tossed large metal boxes per year with no scrapability factor. And that doesn't bode well for an industry that already impacts the environment more than its fair share (huge power supplies for underpowered machines, unreclaimable fibers in PC boards, increased environmental heat from speedy chips not designed to run HLT when they're not doing anything, and dirty, expensive, power sucking manufacturing firms).

The idea itself is not horrible...many people would benefit from a cheaper, "subscription" PC service. But use & lose hardware is not the most elegant solution. What if we made PCs like Swatches, with beautiful, expensive exterior cases that could be swapped with blocks of interior components? I don't mean components like a video card, expander card, &tc...i mean broad components, like a PC in a box, power supply in a box and a smaller box for storage. When the parts get old, take them to the store and have the boxes swapped out...but have the manufacturer reclaim the old parts. Sand down and remanufacture the processor. Melt down the steel and re-dye the pc board. Reuse wires and fans and pins.

If done right, the Swatch PC could be a very elegant solution, beautiful and slightly hackable with a high environmental conscience. But a disposable PC...disposable anything is bad!

Ridiculous (1)

Smegma4U (301112) | more than 13 years ago | (#90070)

First off, what's with the teaser about unhackable computers? Talk about pulling the old bait n' switch technique /. style. Couldn't they have said something like unmodifiable computers?

Then there's the actual article. It seems to me that it's simply someone editorializing, and not deserving to be placed as "news" on /. It would have been more at home as an offtopic comment to some other /. article than as an article itself. I didn't think the author said anything particularly new or interesting, and it seems like most people concur with that.

The more I read /. the more I become convinced that these sites are paying /. to link to them. Maybe it's a secret scheme to keep VALinux in business...

Re:analogy all flawed, just like his argument (1)

shorti9 (307602) | more than 13 years ago | (#90071)

The mods you list are all pre-packaged, fairly non-customizable units. I highly doubt that you're going to be burning a new ROM to chip your engine. Nor are you going to be dropping in a new transmission in your home garage (Admittedly difficult to do Back In The Day, from what i know, but still much more doable than it is today). You can't just take your car apart and rebuild it from the Chiltons anymore (for most newer cars, at least. with significant know-how you could, but that requires manufacturer training). With an old car, you can change your peformance by fiddling with the carb. You have access to the screws to change your automatic (or you have a manual). You can tweak things the way you want them to be. With a new car, you take what you get, or you spend a whole lot of time studying.

With new computers, it's much the same way. Have you tried replacing the video card on an all-in-one motherboard? For example, systems with an AGP on-chip video card? More often than not, there's no AGP slot! You have to use a PCI video card if you want something decent, so that AGP interface, with all its benefits, does you no good.

Or perhaps a better way to argue the point is by examining laptops. Laptops today are pretty much an all-or-nothing deal. If your laptop works for you, it works. If it doesn't, you drop in more memory or a new hard drive, or replace it. That's about all that's easily changeable. Imagine if every computer in the world was as versatile and expandable as a laptop.

Though, even this wouldn't be as much of a problem if it weren't for two potential issues:
- Proprietary standards
- Custom homebrew hardware

Companys like to make money. A good way to make money is lock-in. So if i make a laptop that uses non-standard DIMM pinouts, you have to order memory from me when you want to upgrade. Do you need a new modem? You have to buy FOOBAR's amazing new modem daughtercard to get it. If there was a standard interface for these things, it would be almost acceptable from a customizer's point of view.

I'm a bit of a hardware hacker (or at least, i pretend to be). I like the way computers are today because i can throw some ICs on an ISA board and slap that into my box, and it does something. Or i can dangle things off the parallel port or the serial port. Have you seen what it takes to interface to USB? USB is a big ugly beast, not something that's acceptable for the weekend relay-switcher like myself. Legacy-free PCs only have AGP, PCI, and USB for the most part (i don't recall the exact spec offhand). PCI is also very annoying to interface with for homebrew equipment. So we're basically being forced out of homebrew hardware development.

All in all, i agree with the author of the original article, and i feel it's a road we don't want to go down. I also realize i'm in the minority, since i'm actively poking and prodding my systems.

Manufacturers will subvert this to their own uses, since they have profit motive to--don't expect to run anything but the original software on boxes like these.

Perhaps i'm just paranoid and delusional, but i think this is probably the future, and i'm not looking forward to it.

This is wrong! (1)

SumDeusExMachina (318037) | more than 13 years ago | (#90072)

Seriously, though, who doesn't already buy a new computer on a yearly basis? It's kinda already in practice without these new "disposable" computers.

That's another thing that bothers me: the concept of throwing away your old hardware. I could not bring myself to throw away an old computer, that would be a complete waste. What we are coming to here, folks, is a society akin to that portrayed in "A Brave New World," where people are taught from birth to throw away items that are old or outdated in order to promote consumerism.

Personally, this whole thing saddens me, as I love hackable hardware. This is kinda like the whole fiasco with That DSL Company (tm) asking for their gateways back after abandoning them for months. I ended up having to shell out $500 to because I had made mine into a kewl little MP3 server.

Disposal? (3)

Calamere (318591) | more than 13 years ago | (#90074)

Aren't we already starting to hear about massive amounts of old computers stacking up at junk yards and so forth?

What the hell are we going to do if we throw away a computer every year instead of every three years?

Just a question. Well... maybe two.

crashed netscape 4.76 on Redhat 7.0 twice (1)

Carbon Unit 549 (325547) | more than 13 years ago | (#90075)

WTF is up with this site?

Un-Hackable, yeah right (1)

BigGar' (411008) | more than 13 years ago | (#90077)

When I first saw this post I thought it was about someone claiming that a hacker couldn't break into the system. Infact the word hacker isn't even used in the article. It's about being able to build/change/mod your system the way you want to. As Computers become more more common some of them are going to be more difficult to change the configuration, size being the issue here. It's pretty tough to mod a wrist watch, but not impossible. They use the example of people moding their cars back in the 60's & 70's as an example. Never mind that modding cars is still around and a multi-billion dollar/year industry. Hackers are hackers, they're going to find a way to mod their car/ computer/ software/ watch/ whatever, if they want to, it'll never end.

don't count out this profession yet (2)

nilstar (412094) | more than 13 years ago | (#90078)

Ever heard the phrase 'where there is a will there is a way' and 'necessity is the mother of invention'? Well, I don't think hacking will ever go away.... there are just TOO many people out there with nothing better to do and the desire to do something like hack a computer (or whatever they'll call them in the future).

It's not the hardware, it's the OS (1)

MajorBurrito (443772) | more than 13 years ago | (#90079)

Hardware is cool, we all know it. I live it, I love it. But when you get down to it, how long do you spend hacking your hardware in comparison to the time you spend hacking your OS? Not much for most of us, I would guess.

What OS you run says far more about you than whether you have an Intel or AMD chip, or whether you have an ATI vs. NVidia card. So what if the computer is a cheap black box? As long as it has an I/O port, someone will figure out a way to get your favorite OS on there.

NetBSD runs on a Dreamcast. I don't know if it does anything useful, but this is what I'm talking about. You just put your OS on your hardware, and that is what you customize.

I wouldn't worry about it too much (3)

MajorBurrito (443772) | more than 13 years ago | (#90080)

People love to be able to point to something and say "I did that." It's just human nature.

The example from the story, modding cars, is not a good analogy. Federal standards caused cars to become more complex, and thus harder (impossible?) to modify. I can't think of any reason the same would be true of computers.

Besides, as long as there is a reasonable market, companies will still individual parts. Black boxes may become commonplace, but think about the server realm. It would be very expensive to replace a black-box server compared to the cost of swapping out bad components. So as long as the server market is alive (forever?), there will be a market.

I don't think customizable computers are dead.

Think outside the box (5)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 13 years ago | (#90083)

(mode-set Old-fart t)

My first reaction was, "didn't this happen years ago?"

I mean, when was the last time you got out a soldering iron and had at your PC? That used to be the norm, back when messing with micros meant S-100 and IEEE stuff. But with multi-layer boards (gack, I can't remember the last time I saw a single or layer two-sided board made by someone I didn't know) it's a lot harder, and likewise with the decreasing size and increasing complexity of ICs. But the main reason I stopped is that I no longer needed to work at that level to get the job done. The optimal level for configuration moved up, and I followed it.

This (if it happens, about which I have some reservations) will just trigger another migration: rather than hacking inside the box we'll just be hanging odd homebrew things [] on various I/O ports and treating the PC as a blackbox.

(set-mode Old-fart nil)

-- MarkusQ

P.S. A real old fart would tell us hardware hacking died when they went to these here new-fangled "chip" things. You can't pry them things open, or least wise 'tan't worth it.

Disagree (2)

blang (450736) | more than 13 years ago | (#90084)

One of the strengths of the PC industry is the modularity. This allows PC makers to introduce new models quickly, and reduce inventory. We have just in time manufacturing, with an almost unlimited choice of component vendors.

By changing to a model where everything is integrated, the PC industry would lose this advantage. PC makers who move to a proprietary, closed model would lose out to PC makers confirming to modular standards.

Let's say intel started building integrated systems, and DELL, Compaq, and Gateway resold these systems by slapping stickers on them. Now these companies would be forced to have inventories of components $500 a piece, instead of $100-$200 a piece. Their margins would shrink, inventories increase, and they would not be able to react to changing market conditions and customer demand.

PC makers who stick with a modularized model, would be much more nimble, have less inventories, and would be able to add new features and technologies as soon as component manufacturers came up with new things. The part of the industry who depended on fully integrated systems, would always end up being 6 months behind the curve.

I think the author completely missed the advantages of JIT manufactoring. The auto industry used almost 100 years to move to such a model. Although the finished car is less accessible to hackers, the process of building a the car is somewhat similar to the way PC's are built. Car manufacturers rely on 100's of reduntant vendors.

PC form factors and buses may change, but I still think that the future is not proprietary integrated systems. The advantages of having competing vendors making the components are too big.

No foreseeable end to hacking. (1)

AtariAmarok (451306) | more than 13 years ago | (#90086)

There is no forseeable end to hacking. Disposable, short-term-use, closed systems will not change anything.... from the CueCat to garage door remotes to cell phones, these types of devices ARE hacked!

Take a Bite out of Apple (1)

AtariAmarok (451306) | more than 13 years ago | (#90087)

Hmmmm... with a focus on edible computers, the utility of the tangerine iMac gets a whole new dimension!

the Fast and the Furious (1)

AtariAmarok (451306) | more than 13 years ago | (#90088)

If this film is any reflection of reality, automobiles are as "hackable" now as they have ever been.

This happened decades ago. (1)

leifb (451760) | more than 13 years ago | (#90089)

-When was the last time you extended the instruction set of your nice, multigigaHertz x86-compatible processor?
-Added another platter to your Maxtor hard drive?
-Overspun your CD drive?

What this guy is worrying about happened about the time computing stopped being about vacuum tubes and patching cables.

C'mon, folks. Computers are (intended to be) tools. A tool that you can tweak for better performance was poorly designed to begin with (a point nicely expounded upon by Jef Raskin in The Humane Interface).

When was the last time you wanted to reshape the head on a hammer? Calibrate the springiness of the rubber in the soles of your shoes?

That's what the article is really talking about: the day when computers are so ubiquitous and mature that they become invisible.

Aside: also, it strikes me as unlikely that we'll ever see the new-computer-every-year schenario really take off. The .NET/MONO strategy seems poised to make that obsolete. Instead, you'll just be tapping into remote services via a local terminal. Once digital paper reaches the limits of naked-eye resolution, buying more will be pointless.

Furthermore, this also partially resolves the problem of obsolete hardware, as lower-priority tasks can be assigned to the decade old PentiumV 10GHz boxes sitting in a (very air-conditioned) warehouse in (now-balmy) Montana.

Appliances (2)

qxjit (461981) | more than 13 years ago | (#90090)

Like it or not, computers need to becomes more like appliances, more like the TV the be truly accessible to everyone. That means that the system on the computer will be largely static and most of the software and services will be stored on the internet and upgraded by professionals. However, Servers WILL needs to be maintained and upgraded to keep up with the increasing demands of customers. This scenario helps ensure that the parts market will be around for quite a while. Even if it costs a bit of change for the parts, we will always be able to build our own systems. This is largely what will be done by the people who are writing the services because their systems needs to be up to date with server software and compilers and such as a testing and development environment. In short, the developer needs his own servers to do what he needs to do. There's going to be two paradigms and they will coexist without our digital world.

Re:Send them to me (1)

compugeek007 (464717) | more than 13 years ago | (#90091)

Please send them to

The Linux Cluster to Rule the world foundation
1 Evil Way
Capernaum City, The Secret Uninhabited Island Base

They will be put to use in charitable organiztions

Down but not out (1)

analog_line (465182) | more than 13 years ago | (#90092)

I don't believe customizing computers will ever really go away, though I do believe that it will become much less popular. The vast majority of people who own computers don't want to get anywhere near opening their cases. They don't want to worry about video card compatibility, they just want to be able to play _all_ of the neat games they see their friends playing, or whatever office package they like, or whatever personal finance package their friend recommended them.

Hence the attraction of the various console gaming systems. No worries about whether the testers thought your video card was worth the extra time working out the few major problems it causes. No worrying about whether you need A3D or EAX to get good sound out of it. No worrying whether the minimum system requirements on the back of the box mean "minimum for a decent playing experience" or "minimum to get the splash screen to come up and lock up the computer". When you buy a game for your Playstation 2, you have 100% certainty (barring flaws in the manufacturing process and COMPLETELY incompetent coders) that the game will load and run on your machine. Yeah, some peripherals are required, but they're shown prominently on the back with simple icons so even the dim have a chance of understanding it. Most of the people I know have conniptions trying to deciper the requirements on PC software. Even some of the computer literate people have issues.

The main problem, as with almost everything in the tech industry, is developing a standard, and having enough people sign on to that standard to make it viable. In the Linux world that isn't too much of an issue, as Linux can run on just about everything. Make a standard, Linux will 9 out of 10 times be able to work on it, and the 10th time will just take a bit of hacking by someone to fix. The greater Windows-based world (and I mean greater as in larger, not better) doesn't have that luxury. It'd turn the greater world of software into something much like the game industry is. You'd have Office for Compaq, Office for Dell, Office for Gateway, etc. Mac people aready deal with this kind of situation.

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