So a few days ago I was trying to think of a topic to blog about, and checked the NaBloPoMo homepage, since they post a prompt every day. That day, it was to write about a piece of jewelry that I own, which was a little bit less than helpful. >_> But then, Kiriska suggested that I should write about a piece of hardware that I own. I don't think she was serious, but you know what? That'll totally work. XD
I've owned my desktop computer for about eight years now. None of the parts are original, but the spirit of it lives on!
So back in the eighth grade (around 2001 or 2002), I had heard about this newfangled "Linux" thing, and I wanted to try it out. With little or no thought as to the consequences, I downloaded an ISO (Mandrake Linux, if you're wondering) and installed it on our family computer. (This actually took several months - we take broadband for granted now, but have you ever tried to download a Linux ISO over dial-up?) Immediately, problems: I set up the dual boot properly, but nobody else in my family was able to figure out the GRUB boot menu, and as a result nobody was able to use the computer unless I was around to boot it up. (I didn't think it was too hard - you go down to the item labeled "Windows", and hit enter - but whatever.)
I'm not sure, but I think this episode contributed a lot to my parents agreeing to let me build my own computer a few months later. I went online, picked out parts from a ton of different websites (either Newegg didn't exist at the time, or I didn't know about it yet), and ended up spending about $600 on my first computer, if I recall correctly. Back then, that got you an Athlon XP 1500 processor (actual speed 1333 MHz - this was the beginning of AMD's labeling shenanigans), 256 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, and various other bits.
Ever since then, it's been my primary machine, and also a testbed for every crazy idea that I've ever wanted to try out. (When you're me, you have a lot of crazy ideas, apparently.) To be honest, I think that most of my current skill with Linux comes from trying out something a little bit too crazy, and then fixing everything that breaks as a result.
So I mentioned that I started off on Mandrake. After a while, I switched to Red Hat; Mandrake was never especially great, and Red Hat seemed pretty solid. (An aside: Red Hat 8 or 9 was when BitTorrent actually hit the mainstream - every official download mirror was crawling at dial-up speeds, but the BitTorrent download was working just fine. This was when a lot of people sat up and noticed it.) Red Hat (and later Fedora, a spinoff of Red Hat) was nice for a while, but around the middle of high school I decided to take it to the next level. I switched to Gentoo.
For those of you unfamiliar with Gentoo: it is hardcore. Graphical installers? Feh! Installing Gentoo involves downloading and extracting an extremely minimal base system (about 100 MB), and then building the rest of the OS as you see fit from the command line. Prebuilt packages? Decadent! On Gentoo, you build every single piece of software you install from source code. (Sometimes it's overkill, but it's become the defining characteristic of Gentoo.)
Gentoo has this nice property called "rolling releases" - basically, they don't release major versions every once in a while like other OSes. All updates to the system are distributed incrementally through the existing update mechanism. This is useful - it means you never have to reinstall your OS, unless you really want to (or, in my case, really screw it up). End result: After using Gentoo for something like six or seven years, I've only actually had to completely reinstall it once.
Today, my desktop has a dual-core 2.5GHz Athlon 64, 2 GB of RAM, several hard drives (the exact count depends on your definition of hard drive), and I think it's about due for another major upgrade. It's on its third CPU, its fourth motherboard, its third case, and in fact I don't think there are many parts that have only been replaced once. Yet somehow, it's still the same computer it was when I first built it all those years ago.