PC hardware is crap (99% uptime sucks)

Until now, I've mostly been on the 2 year "faster, better" upgrade path. New CPUs were 4x faster than what I had on my desk, so I upgraded. This happened often...and until the last couple of years, computers lasted longer than I kept them.

I realized the servers in my closet were going on about 6 years old and needed upgrades, and over the last year, the laptops are all 3 years old, and we've replaced power supplies and laptop keyboards and many hard drives and even LCDs, and just tonight my monitor stopped turning on, after my Macbook hard drive started clicking and not booting.

Planned obsolescence.

And all I can think is that the quality of PC hardware seems to be crap right now. Quality of hardware still matters. My computer is less reliable than my car, and a few years ago, it seemed to be much more reliable. When my car fails, it doesn't drive off a cliff, it just smells bad or stops moving. When my computer fails, it loses all my data and leaves me unable to do work for a week.

(MTBF of hard drives appear to be going up exponentially in the marketing literature. It's not true.)

If anything will propel cloud computing to the mainstream, it will simply be the demise of the PC as a reliable store for data. The complexity of client OSes makes it impossible to replace hardware or to ensure that data, settings, or availability of the "upgrade experience" is reasonable. The size of the data is huge, and moving it to a new machine is too difficult.

If I had to give my own IT operations an "N-nines" uptime percentage, I would only qualify for 99% uptime over the past year. It is common for each machine to have a full day outage once a year. We have 8 computers in the house, so generally the internet still works, but individual PCs aren't so great anymore.

99% uptime is awful, and it should be possible to fix the hardware AND the software to do better.

I keep great backups, so I don't usually lose data, but I lose a TON of time. Fixing things, restoring things, reinstalling things.

We're seeing cloud services with 99.9% and 99.99% uptime, and the PC is looking very dated in this model. Because the PC wastes your time, and the PC loses your data.

On the hardware end: why isn't every new PC shipping with RAID-1? OEMs seem to charge 5x retail prices for hard drives, so why aren't there free replacement parts for 3-5 years, like the manufacturers offer? Why can I only buy redundant power on server configurations? Why can't the cabling bus be separated from the power supply, so I can buy a standard part and replace it? Fans? RAM tests? Is it still 1991?

On the software side: why do so few people backup their data? Why is it so hard to restore a full OS, or to upgrade to a new machine? Where is my distributed cloud filesystem? I used one in college in 1993.

I could build most of this redundancy into a PC for $500 extra, and I would pay that for certain to have a reliable computer.

And even the expensive computers from companies like Apple don't have it, not much of it anyway.

The PC needs to evolve or be obsoleted by much better ways to store data.

Today, I can get service contracts that promise to replace things that break, maybe within 24 hours or 4 hours or a week, but nobody in the hardware industry seems to consider it their business to preserve my use of the computer or that my data stays around.

Hard drive manufacturers are working on their "data recovery" businesses (very profitable), instead of trying to improve the environment where so much data needs to be recovered.

Seagate, since you've lost so much data for me this year, why not ship a 2x2.5" hard drive in a 3.5" pack that does its own backups and beeps loudly when it fails and plugs into its replacement for migration? It's possible to build entirely new systems that work better.

I absolutely don't mind a fragmentation into "netbook" and "reliable home PC" market, or whatever it takes to have a place where a person's photos and documents can live without getting lost entirely every 5 years. But the software and hardware that's getting built has to adapt to current needs, and 5 year "catastrophic" failures are just no good for most people's photos and videos and important documents.

All my techy friends buy NAS boxes and setup Linux servers with RAID-6 and bizarre filesystems, and we all spend too much time at it. And lose data too. Regular people just lose data, and that's the end of it.

This really needs to get fixed, in hardware or software.

The long-term arrow is pointing towards software, and the only place things are moving is software.

But today's software isn't ready for it, not entirely.

And today, I think hardware manufacturers are missing out on a boatload of revenue by not offering better hardware, and I think they should meet the demand for it with innovative products that focus on making a promise to consumers that's not solely about price.


  1. I'm currently shopping for a washing machine (the old one blew up), and you can buy products from a couple hundred dollars up to $2000. Some of the high-end ones, notably the Miele, specifically market themselves as being bulletproof, built to last. You pay more, you get better.

    You'd think that PCs could be built and sold the same way. To some extent, that's already part of Apple's marketing strategy, with these nice aluminum cases, but I agree more companies should be playing in this space.

  2. The solution for me has been Dropbox. It's $100/year for 50G of online storage. No, it doesn't backup my OS, but it has all of my data files (especially my active projects). I use Mercurial for source control and *that* is backed up too. (Backing up CVS was always hard).

    As an added bonus, I have the same fileset on each of three computers (a Mac, and two windows boxes), and it's easy to share large files with friends.

    Locally Dropbox is just a normal directory. But a little TSR hangs out looking for updates additions and deletions, and syncs with the service.

    (I am not affiliated with Dropbox, and you might try Mozy or any of the other providers for this sort of stuff).

  3. PC's fail at the hard disk, they are the biggest problem in every way. They are unbearably slow and extremely time consuming to keep backed up.