Vas' reviews and other stuff2020-07-19

Bad technology memes : save money, fuck hype

Technology is plagued by shitty, incomprehensible decisions by people who should know better. Accepting a shitty deal is something we all have done out of ignorance or hastiness and it is no grave sin. It is a different matter altogether if these decisions are backed by false ideas, because that way you will systematically keep accepting shitty deals. You aren’t even playing the lottery at that point. You’re playing a rigged lottery that’s always going to fuck you over. These shitty opinions are echoed by redditors and techtubers alike, but at least the techtubers get money out of it ; redditors only get ethereal internet points. In this article I will help save you big money that your « influencers » ignore because they don’t make for good clickbait.

Cheap smartphones are mostly pointless

It is true that flagship smartphones are overpriced and most people have no reason to buy one, because a cheap one will do the trick just fine and they’ll never know the difference. It is simultaneously true that paying €300 for a mid-range smartphone is also pointless. The primary reason flagships are overpriced is because you are paying for the logo, the hype, and the company’s profit margins. This is also true for non-flagships, it’s just that the margins are less extreme and consumer-hostile.

You can bypass the hype altogether by buying used or refurbished smartphones. You do pay for the repair shop’s margins, but it only has to cover the costs of the repair, not constructing and designing an entire smartphone. LG G8 is selling for €200 on eBay, and old Xperia flagships for €100 or less on AliExpress. Heck, old iPhones are selling for €400. You will simply not find better deals on the overall package at those price points ; at €200, you’re looking at super budget smartphones, which skimp out on everything, but if you luck out and the performance is good, the camera is going to suck. By buying an old flagship, you are buying into a premium ecosystem that tries to cut as few corners as possible and the experience is better overall.

You do accept an increased risk this way, so I don’t recommend you do this at scale for your business, but for your personal purchases it’s good enough and it’s very unlikely you’ll have a hot potato in your hands if you roll the dice. An argument can be made for Xiaomi’s ultra-budget Redmi line, mostly because of their battery size and efficient chipset ; if battery life is literally the most important thing to you, you should go for that. Otherwise stick to last year’s flagships at 1/4 the cost.

Old Intel Xeons belong in the trash

AMD has made high core systems trendy again with its Ryzen lineup and pro-consumer attitude. As such a shitty new trend has appeared on bottom-feeding shitty tech YouTube channels (kill all techtubers BTW, hashtag yes all techtubers), involving buying up new Xeons and trying to build « budget gaming builds » out of them. They have lots of cores and the specs look good on paper, but reality is often disappointing. As seen above, I have no problem dumpster diving for a good deal and saving useful technology from the trash heap, but unfortunately the desktop computer used market isn’t what it’s made out to be.

First of all, the good deals are segregated to the USA, and everyone else has to contend with shipping fees that don’t make the deals good at all. But even if you are in the US, you will be significantly better served by buying a modern system instead ; you can still buy used if you find something good, of course. The reason why is that you can’t compare core for core or clock speed to clock speed with processors ; every year, there are efficiency improvements, even within Intel processors that are Skylake refreshes for the 5th consecutive year. Even if you settle for fewer cores, your gaming performance will be better anyway, and likely your productivity too.

By buying old Xeons, you use a less efficient architecture, that costs double or triple the electricity of alternatives, is clocked very conservatively because it’s a server chip, are buying ancient silicon, and are committing to a dead-end ancient platform with fewer motherboard options or useful features, and good luck finding a compatible cooler. Ryzen 6 cores are under €100 and motherboards under €50 on AliExpress. Unless you find a Xeon+motherboard combo at €100 or less (you won’t), you should pay the few € extra to get the Ryzen instead.

Ancient Thinkpads are for the starving

I understand why they are so beloved, but every year that goes by, they age more and lose more of their usefulness. They aren’t as durable as people think they are ; I’ve known people who go through one every couple of years because something ends up breaking. As with the Xeon problem you are paying for ancient architecture with terrible efficiency (10 to 25 times worse than modern laptops), bad display, decomposing keyboard membranes, dead battery, etc. It is true you can snag something for close to €100, but the battery won’t work and you will need to get an SSD in order to have a decent experience. By that point your expenses are north of €200 and perhaps you should start looking into something else.

I agree that you should consider a Thinkpad if you’re really low on money and can’t afford anything else. But keep in mind that you can get a Ryzen laptop with a better screen, 8+GB of RAM, 256+GB of SSD, working battery, lower power draw, smaller footprint, lighter, significantly better CPU and extremely better GPU at under €340 on eBay and AliExpress. It’s going to age better and you will still be able to use it in 10 years for work and play ; the Thinkpad won’t age nearly as gracefully. If you use it a lot, €100 or even €200 in price difference will pay for itself because of electricity costs. You won’t get the feeling of being a 1337 Linux hax0r, but do you want to do your work, or do you want ethereal internet points ? Because if reddit karma is worth more to you than your hard-earned money, please consider killing yourself immediately.

Faster SSD or RAM isn’t noticeable

You can find loading time tests for all your favourite games and applications on YouTube. While the difference between a magnetic spinny drive and an SSD is significant and noticeable, it is not so between SSDs. Most people won’t be able to notice the difference between a SATA3 SSD and the latest and greatest NVMe from Samsung at literally twice the price per Gigabyte. While I suggest NVMe m.2 drives for their form factor and lack of cables, performance-wise you will be fine for gaming and productivity with SATA SSDs. More expensive drives are worth it for server or workstation use, and even then it depends on the workload ; always benchmark before you commit to a purchase.

The same holds true for RAM speeds, especially in games. CAS latency is more important than clock speed, particularly for Zen 2 CPUs. From the CPU’s perspective, even RAM is too slow compared to its caches (L1, L2, and L3), and it tries to touch RAM as infrequently as possible. This is highly dependent on workload, but you will see maybe a 5 FPS difference between the cheapest RAM module and some overpriced gaming bullshit. This can be 10 FPS if you’re running on integrated graphics, but that isn’t true for every game, and you should investigate if it’s worth it. Most games sit at around 3 FPS gains, which is not money well spent in my opinion. Instead of overpaying for RAM, you could invest on a more powerful GPU, bigger drive, or more RAM, which you will feel more. Or if you’re rocking integrated graphics, buying a GPU in the first place ; RX 570 can still be found for €65 on AliExpress, and it will rock your world guaranteed.

Laptops and desktops aren’t equivalent, even at the same price and specs

Because laptops are thin, they are thermally constrained, so hardware can’t flex its full potential even under seemingly identical configuration, with same RAM, same CPU manufacturer, same GPU, same cores, same process, same everything. Not to mention that running hardware at 90+℃ as is often done with laptops is going to kill your hardware. There is one thing that laptops offer, and that is portability. If you need to use your computer with you and move around often, you need a laptop. If it’s going to be sitting in the same location 99% of the time, a desktop is far superior in every respect. There have been times before Ryzen mobile, when RAM prices were sky-high and Intel was price-gouging left and right without remorse, but fortunately we don’t live in that dystopia any longer.

Every person has different priorities, but where desktops excel is performance, longevity, repairability, value for money, ergonomics, and the quality of the individual components. To this day you can pay €1000 for a laptop and receive something with a terrible screen, terrible speakers, and terrible keyboard. Laptops that are good at everything are around €1500 or more. You can build an equivalent desktop for €500 or €600, with the added bonus that if something breaks (everything does break given 10 years), the repair can be as simple as replacing a component for €60 that any toddler could do, versus soldering and used parts hunting on eBay for hundreds of your hard-earned cash. My desktop has outlasted 3 laptops with 10 years of use, whose screens or hard drives have failed, and it was always more pleasant to use. Frankly, laptops aren’t manufactured for poor people who can’t afford a new machine every three years. Desktops don’t have to be large and noisy ; you can invest in a smaller, 10 litre case if space is a premium and configure fan curves so that it’s mostly inaudible. If it’s something extra small, like a NUC or a Deskmini, you can even move it between locations, assuming you don’t have to take peripherals with you.

Membrane keyboards aren’t worth the premium

Membrane keyboards exist only if you only want to pay €10 or less. At €25, that’s where the cheapest mechanical keyboards start. There is absolutely no reason to be paying €100 or €200 for membrane keyboards, just because they have an LG or Apple logo on them. I can make an exception if for some reason you prefer membrane keyboards, but for most people, even the cheapest mechanical keyboard is better than even the most expensive membrane keyboard. Your keyboard doesn’t have to have RGB vomit on it or a loud, blue switch. You can get a linear switch, and with some lube it will be nearly as silent as a membrane switch. I work at an open office, and the fan noise from 10 computers running at full tilt is noisier than any keyboard.

There is no « best switch » for gaming

The best switch for gaming is the one that you like to use. It is true that many gamers prefer red switches because they are linear and light, but those characteristics don’t make them better for gaming ; these are simply their preferences. While their lightness makes them easier to actuate on the downstroke, they also return to their default position slower because the spring uses less force. Acceleration is force multiplied by mass, as I’m sure you remember from your high school class that you totally paid attention to. Heavier springs technically have less mass, because they use fewer coils overall, but you can treat mass differences as infinitesimal in this example. A switch with twice the spring force would accelerate twice as fast and would return to the default position at slightly under half the time. All of this is irrelevant, because human reflexes are 15 milliseconds if you’re really lucky, and we are talking about microseconds here.

You should always use the type of switch that you like, regardless of what people say. There are professional gamers using all types of switches. Now, personally I would suggest that if you play a game with very rapid keyboard input like Starcraft or Osu, you should opt for light switches, since there is extreme risk for repetitive strain injury in that sport. But if you don’t play full time without breaks, that isn’t a concern and your sitting position will have more effect than your switch type.

MX Vintage Black and Alps feel special because of their age and lubricant

Alps use a particular lubricant that affects sound and feel when it dries up. People are in the process of bringing it back to market, so be patient. Additionally, mechanical keyboard switches have a « break in » period ; basically by repeatedly actuating them, you wear down microscopic imperfections on contact points, notably the stem, which enhance smoothness. Think of pebbles in water if it helps any. You can artificially age them by repeatedly actuating them after purchase. Around 10,000 actuations should do it.

There is no need to pay hundreds of dollars just to get your hands on vintage MX Black switches or Alps switches. What you’re feeling is lubricant and switches that have aged. Any switch you use will feel that way when the lube dries up and the plastics wear down. Just get any linear that you fancy — Gateron Yellow is a great choice — and mount them on a plate or lubing station, then flip the station and actuate the entire station with your feet. 10 actuations takes about 4 seconds, so it should take you about 2 hours total if you go real slow. Just do it a little every day and you’ll be done in no time. Then apply a careful, thin coat of thick lube and wait.