Back in April of 2011, I was making just over fifty thousand dollars a year as an interactive marketing producer helping entertainment companies promote their movies and television shows online.

Like most of my co-workers at that particular digital agency, I was underpaid, but still, it was just about the highest salary I’d ever earned, so I didn’t feel like I was being too extravagant when I replaced / upgraded my personal computer to a “desktop replacement” laptop that had lots of power and was still designed to work whenever and wherever.

My choice was an ASUS G73SW-XT1. This beast had a 17″ screen with a 1920 by 1080 display, an Intel Core i7 Quad Core processor, eight gigs of RAM… it was designed to handle playing high-end video games while using some gaming speakers I found at this logitech z906 review, and that made it more than suitable for my needs: writing, large-file image editing, and audio and video production. It set me back $1,500.00.

I put that monster through its paces. Last year I had to replace the power cord (it developed a short on the end that plugs into the computer, something that’s inevitable), but the machine served me very well on the road and in my home office, where I set it up with a 24-inch ASUS VE247 monitor, and I use it as much for work as for personal research like a fantastic read I found when I was figuring out how to fix my roof and many other things.

Signs and Portents

Then, after a time, the cable connecting the display to the motherboard, or the graphics card, or whatever, started to short, resulting in a bright white screen of nothing. I learned that I could fix that by taking hold of the left and right upper edges of the screen and flexing it back and forth a little bit.

Problem bypassed, if not fixed.

Then, the machine started to overheat and shut itself off. I figured out this was due to one of the two fans intermittently and unpredictably not spinning. I compensated by rigging a makeshift heat stand and making some trial-and-error adjustments with the power settings. I also gave up on processor-intensive activities like video games.

Problem bypassed, if not solved.

There was wear-and-tear, too: a couple of keyboard keys went missing over the years; a few more were worn away and unreadable. I’m a touch typist, mostly, so, no big deal.

Now and then the touchpad would freak out, but I mostly used an external mouse, so, eh, no big deal.

I worked on that computer for the better part of four years, on average seven days a week, eight to ten hours per day.

Last week, the power socket on the side of the laptop started to act peculiar. Sometimes it wouldn’t take juice from the power cord.

I’d be engrossed in work, not expecting the machine to run out of power because, y’know, it was plugged in… and then I’d watch helplessly as it just… shut itself off, exhausted.

I finally figured out the power socket, which attaches directly to the motherboard, apparently, was loose. I could keep a connection with some creative tension on the power cord itself, but this was not a long term solution. I started to worry that this would be the year I’d have to invest in a new computer.

Since I haven’t made anything near what I made in 2011… since 2011… I dreaded the expense.

Two days ago, no amount of jimmying would coax the power socket to cooperate. The workhorse laid down and did not get up again.

The  old ASUS, shortly after its surrender.

The old ASUS, shortly after its surrender. Yes, my desk is a mess. I work for living.

Eventually Becomes Today, Now

My primary work computer was dead. It’s a stroke of luck that my main gig right now is for a multinational multimedia entertainment company that insists on providing contractors with its own laptops. I could still work as required and expected… for that client.

But I didn’t have the graphics software I needed to finish a job for one of my other clients. Or handy access to the various documents and notes I need for yet another client.

I couldn’t wait. I needed a new computer, my own computer, right away.

How in the hell was I going to do that on my 2015 busted-or-bounty freelancer’s income?

I decided pretty quickly to make a compromise that wouldn’t have a deleterious effect on my productivity: I didn’t actually need a kick-ass, “desktop replacement” laptop.

See, I thought back, and over the last four years I’ve never actually done any of that heavy duty computing—large-scale graphics editing, audio production, or video production / rendering—anywhere other than in my home office.

I didn’t need a laptop at all.

If and when I feel the need to write and do other creative stuff in some coffeehouse, I can use my rooted Nook Color HD tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard.

Heck, if all I need to do is write, I can use my spiffy little AlphaSmart 3000!

I realized what I needed was a kick-ass desktop computer.

And a way to pay for it.

Research, Resources, Relatives

I set out to find a machine that was at least as powerful as my recently deceased ASUS, but cost less than the price I paid in 2011.

I was originally looking at a traditional tower, figuring I’d use the 24″ monitor I mentioned. I’d miss having two monitors, but I couldn’t justify another couple hundred bucks on a monitor.

Then I started noticing all-in-ones: display in the front, computer in the back. I knew about them—I worked on an iMac for a year and a half at Mahalo—but I hadn’t realized what a trend they’d become with PCs, too.

I set my sights on the Lenovo B750 Ideacenter: a massive 29″ 2560 x 1080 screen, an Intel Core i5 4460 processor, six gig of RAM (expandable to twelve), and a terabyte hard drive.

Reviews—both from current owners and from critics—were solid. The most common thing they counted in the negatives column was the lack of a touchscreen, but to me and my way of working, that’s a positive!

The price, with next-day shipping, taxes, and all that rot? $1,342.50.

Criteria met: a better machine that costs less than the one it replaces.

Only problem: I don’t have access to $1,342.50.

It’s frustrating. It makes me feel like I’m back in my struggling, skin-of-my-teeth twenties, praying my car won’t break down, with no money to fix it or buy another, dependent upon the generosity of others.

It’s no fun to be in your late forties and be faced with the fact that you’re basically right back where you were then, at least in that aspect of your life.

Fortunately, I have a close relative who can afford to load a credit card for a few months… and I have a car payment that’s going away in April. The car payment money, which would have gone toward paying down other debts, will instead be dedicated to clearing my latest financial obligation in good time.

Thanks to my very close relative, my new computer arrived last night.

Thanks to my use of services like Dropbox, SpiderOak, and Backblaze, the long process of re-acquiring my files and software is in process.

I lost a couple of working days, but it could have been a much more professionally crippling ordeal. I’m grateful.

My new office workstation looks like this:

The new Lenovo in place, with a second monitor to the left.

The new Lenovo in place, with a second monitor to the left.

Eventually I’ll muster up a better booster stand than fifteen volumes of Masterplots: Digests of World Literature. For now, though… it does the job, and that’s the important thing.

A Month of Speedbumps

I started January with a quick but nasty cold that had me very slow and exhausted for a few days, and then less slow and less tired for a few more days. I’ve felt normal for a week or so.

Then, the increasingly escalating computer issues got in my way in terms of productivity and with stress.

It’s easy to feel like the booster shot of momentum arbitrarily attached to the beginning of a new year has been chipped at and eroded away.

It’s certainly easy to feel like I’m another 1.3 thousand dollars in debt, because, hey, I am.

But there’s nothing I could have done about getting sick, and, given my financial state, little I could do to be able to continue working other than what I did.

So it goes.

Maybe that’ll be it for the speedbumps for a while. Maybe February will be a nice, wind-in-my-hair straightaway at seventy five miles an hour. The fresh new machine, at the very least, won’t be a hindrance in that regard.

How About You?

How’s your January?

If things haven’t gone as expected the first few weeks of the year, what steps are you taking—including necessary, but painful ones—to move through it and move on?

Let’s share… in the comments!

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