Right now a lot of the Gen 2 and earlier Intel “Core iX” chips are on the secondary market, along with their Xeon server brethren. These represent an amazing amount of “bang for buck” but also come with some hardware vulnerabilities.
With the “Vault 7” release by Wikileaks people are talking again about computer and network vulnerabilities. The truth is that ALL systems are vulnerable, just that these older processors have much more available documentation on their vulnerabilities. This also means that the BIOS updates needed to minimize these vulnerabilities are also out there. I’m typing this out on a second gen core i5 laptop, and have no problems accepting my risk level using this hardware. Yes I could get a newer laptop without the vulnerabilities the current laptop has, but I’m at the point where if someone wants to compromise my laptop, they are REALLY putting in some work to do so.
What I really want people to take away from this post, is that “digital security” is a moving goalpost. Older hardware is still good and useful for most people (the exception here is when you are a business and hardware vulnerability exploitation by an attacker would cost you way more than simply buying hardware without that vulnerability). With good software security and patch management you can minimize your risks as an individual.
Now…all this advice about being ok with older hardware comes with a cost, YOU need to know what you are doing. If you are going to rock out a five year old laptop as an investigative journalist and you want to protect your sources, you really need to use an operating system other than Windows that is designed for security. It won’t stop a nation state level attack, but it will make them work for it.
Oh..and as far as exactly how much of a bargain are those older chips? Plenty of quad core xeons in the 2 to 3 gigahertz range for less than the cost of a decent meal out, and even a few dual processor motherboards for less than a hotel stay for a night. Simply put you can now slap together a 16 process thread capable computer for under 100 bucks (before shipping at least). That’s an amazing value, and computer enthusiasts can really do some cool stuff with that much processing power.
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