Mr Speaker

Your Last Ever Computer

I gaze across the calm morning ocean as I sip my coffee. The computer takes a while to boot, and watching the ocean is more relaxing than the torrent of kernel messages that (hopefully) say things are loading nominally.

I wonder if there will be any deliveries today. It's been a while, and recent weather has not been good.

A login prompt appears. I mindlessly enter my password. I should really just get rid of the prompt but it's a comforting tidbit of nostalgia. Makes me feel like work is about to happen. Hmm, what to work on though? I'm not sure yet. Something fun.

I run some diagnostics while I decide. Same bad RAM, same bad disk sectors. That's nice. I don't know if any supplies will arrive today, but I do know that even if they did - they wouldn't include computer parts. The last RAM module rolled off the factory floor a long time ago, and the chance of that kind of treasure around here is, well, zero.

Maybe I'll work on my game, I think. I gaze across the calm morning ocean, sipping my coffee…

Oh, hi folks! Don't fret... what you've just read is a fun bit of fiction: we're not actually living in a world of massive supply-chain breakdowns combined with climate-induced, super-virus-fueled de-globalization. Everything is fine!

But still - and this is just a theoretical exercise - say you wanted a computer that would last as long as possible: how would you build it?

In this scenario, you have access to stable electricity, and (if you start now) a modest stock-pile of replacement parts. Of course, you don't want to OVER-engineer these things: that's just inelegant. What parts do you use?

A baseline

…Recently I dug up my old Amiga 500. It was a lot more yellow than it used to be, but still delightful. This beast saw heavy use in the 90s. Light use in the 2000s. Not much use at all in the 2010s. I plugged it in and fired up Workbench. Worked perfectly. Sufflepuck Cafe: worked perfectly. My copy of ProTracker: sadly did not make it.

It hasn't been a "daily driver", but it gives me some hope: a 30-year-old machine capable of playing good games, making my own games, making MOD tracker songs, and doing simple photoshoping and animations.

The specs

A "desert island computer" should be more robust and powerful than an Amiga 500. Certainly powerful enough to run an Amiga 500 emulator, but let's say it roughly needs to:

  • Support a decent development environment (because I like developing things).
  • Run mid-tier games: say, Kerbal Space Program or lower.
  • Play video files at a watchable quality.
  • (Optionally) Be powerful enough to do some basic 3D modelling and video-editing work (so, some kind of graphics-card oompf would be a nice extra).
  • Have a storage solution that is big, reliable, and lasts a long long time. It's not so useful having video playback capabilities if it's only to watch Death Race 2000 on an endless loop.

Over to you...

I have a 2013 MacBook Pro that I've battered hard over the years - it works amazingly well, given that I once knocked most of a cup of tea in it. But I couldn't fix it if anything died. And I haven't built my own computer since the early 2000s: I don't even know how you'd begin anymore.

That's why I'm asking. How would you design a system that could reliably run for decades? What components would you consider "must haves" and "nice to haves" while stockpiling supplies? What steps would you take to maximize longevity?

How would you build your last ever computer?

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