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This site was established as a software recommendations site.

However, we do not have to define our scope based on historical happenstance in choosing a name.

Given that our primary focus is on software, it could make sense to allow hardware recommendations as well, at least computer hardware recommendations. After all, a software recommendation is about achieving a goal using a computer, and the hardware is also part of what it takes to achieve that goal.

Should we allow hardware recommendations? To what extent?

Example question:


Note: the outcome of the debate is that hardware recommendations are off-topic, since this is the position of a large majority of participants.

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    +1 Good question! I was thinking exactly the same when seeing that USB modem question. But that particular example could be construed as a software question too, maybe: "is there any driver [...]" – Nicolas Raoul Feb 5 '14 at 12:18
  • @NicolasRaoul “Is there any driver” is irrelevant: the question is about the choice of hardware (prior to purchase), not about the choice of driver once the hardware has been purchased. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 5 '14 at 12:45
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    A proposal has been created for hardware recommendations. area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/65287/… – scubaFun Feb 26 '14 at 15:50
  • @scubaFun, Private beta soon =) – Pacerier Sep 2 '15 at 8:51
  • Currently public beta. – Prometheus Nov 8 '16 at 22:57
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Generally spoken, asking for hardware recommendations are not a good topic for our site, for multiple reasons:

Not only do the answers get obsolete quickly, but even the questions will certainly. Specifications in that sector change too fast to keep up with. Questions should be clearly focused and tell your needs. Think about your needs a year ago when it comes to hardware: Would you request that same equipment today? Software develops to keep up with the needs, so there are newer versions of the very same product, enriched with "today's needs". Hardware has to be replaced completely.

Thee might be a "gray zone", too, where e.g. some specific software requests depends on certain hardware (I've got no clear example for that, but e.g. a special video capture software might require a specific hardware component; think of something like "I want to convert my VHS video tapes to MP4").

So my conclusion:

  • plain hardware requests should be off-topic
  • hardware requests as "side-effect" of specific software requests should be fine
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Even if you reverse the question a bit (let's say he had a modem, and wanted to get it working):

What driver will support the FooModem 2014 on Ubuntu X.Y.Z?

That's .. technically a software question, but it's about getting hardware to work. I think that's out of the scope of the site. It's not a bad question, but we have three other sites where that would be conceivably on-topic and well received.

Are there any [hardware] supported by [OS or platform]

... is a pure hardware question. Hardware almost always involves software, just by nature. But if the question is about getting a piece of hardware to actually work on a computer, I think it would be better served elsewhere.

Interacting with working hardware through software is where we come in.

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    That question would be shot down on Super User and would languish on Unix & Linux. Hardware recommendations are shunned on the other computer-related SE sites, more so than software recommendations. The whole premise of this site is to find a home for software recommendation questions, and I don't see why that wouldn't extend to hardware. (There may be good reasons to distinguish between hardware and software recommendations and only allow the latter, but “because it's about hardware” doesn't explain anything.) – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 5 '14 at 12:48
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    @Gilles I reopened and approved your edit, but I think we'd really be pushing the scope of the site too far if we expanded to hardware recommendation questions. – Tim Post Feb 5 '14 at 12:50
  • +1. Even if there's no other site accepting hardware recommendation questions, I don't think software recommendations should do that. Hardware recommendations are quite a stretch from "Software Recommendations", and probably require different rules: is it okay to ask for "What is a good laptop for playing games X,Y,Z? Max cost 2000€ and max weight 2kg." or "I have motherboard model XYZ. What GPU should I add for bitcoin mining?" – Olli Feb 13 '14 at 11:12
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First, a point of methodology. The fact that the name of the site is “Software Recommendations” has no bearing on this question. The name is a historical accident, and the early beta is when we should validate whether that name and our draft of the scope is really what we want. Validation can be logical or empirical. We can experiment with hardware questions, and see whether they work. Or we can reason (based on data gathered elsewhere, for example on older Stack Exchange sites) to deduce whether hardware recommendations fit here.

Taking the logical approach, do hardware and software target the same audience? Yes. The audience is computer users of all kinds (including specialized users such as developers and administrators). We use computers as a whole. Our focus is on using finding the right computer-based tool to accomplish a task. Our toolbox consists of software running on hardware; in this light we can ask about the hardware parts just like we can ask about the software parts.

Furthermore some questions about larger systems will involve a combination of hardware and software, eg. “What architecture for a datacenter that offers this and that service with these administrative requirements etc.?”

Now, does hardware have specific problems that might make it unsuitable? This is where I'm unsure. There are a few characteristics that arise far more often when it comes to hardware than when it comes to software.

  • Most hardware obsoletes more quickly than software. I'm still using many of the same programs than 10 years ago (newer versions, but that doesn't imply new choices); I have very little computer hardware that is that old.
  • For hardware, price is a lot more sensitive than for software. For starters, there's a lot of free (as in $0) software out there. Then $300 vs $200 is typically not very important for software but is often a deciding factor for hardware.

I don't feel that I have enough information to conclude at this stage.

Taking the empirical approach, here's one: https://softwarerecs.stackexchange.com/questions/688/tablet-with-a-keyboard. I would like to see a few other (good!) hardware recommendation questions, so we have something to judge.

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  • does hardware have specific problems that might make it unsuitable? Definitly. It invites "shopping recommendations" and other "illnesses". Plus wait for the repair and service crews... It would put a lot of additional load on the mods. And speaking about moderation, I'd use the term "too broad". – Izzy Feb 8 '14 at 1:16
  • @Izzy Please define “shopping recommendation”. This is not a standard term that everybody understands in the same way. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 8 '14 at 1:17
  • Hardware also has many more potentially correct answers for a single question. A question regarding motherboards or video cards that has approximately the same level of specificity in requirements as your tablet with keyboard question could warrant hundreds of correct answers as there are numerous devices featuring the same or similar chipset, thus supporting the same features. I think with hardware we are also much more prone to questions with essentially the same answers that technically aren't duplicates because of the features they are asking for. – Ken Herbert Feb 8 '14 at 1:20
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    @Gilles as I wrote in chat: Not only do the answers get obsolete quickly, but even the questions will certainly. Specifications in that sector change too fast to keep up with. Questions should be clearly focused and tell your needs. Think about your needs a year ago when it comes to hardware. Software develops to keep up with the needs, so there are newer versions. Hardware has to be replaced completely. That's one of the reasons "shopping recommendations" are off-topic on most SE sites. – Izzy Feb 8 '14 at 1:27
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    I think that the audience is different and thous HW questing should not be here. How about the question: I look for a toaster with ethernet port to tell me when toast is ready? - Or other: how do you separate "computer" hardware from "electrical machine" (like a toaster) – Angelo Fuchs Feb 9 '14 at 10:43
  • @AngeloNeuschitzer A computer is a general-purpose computing device — since Church and Turing, we think we understand what computing means. A piece of software is a part of what performs a specific class of computation tasks. This definition doesn't really exclude hardware. Toasters, on the other hand, burn food, they do not compute. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 9 '14 at 12:00
  • @Izzy This is a valid objection. Please post it as an answer. But please don't just say that “‘shopping recommendations’ are off-topic on most SE sites”: that's the Super User term, which is applied to far more than actual shopping recommendations, including the kind of software receommendations we do here. Just because a recommendation is for hardware doesn't mean that it's a shopping recommendation — and dually a software recommendation can be a shopping recommendation. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 9 '14 at 12:02
  • @Gilles: Posted. – Izzy Feb 9 '14 at 13:07
  • @Gilles A toaster with a Ethernet Port that produces some sort of event that notifies me over my computer does calculate stuff. My actual refrigerator has a computer in it that controls temperature and warns me if I leave the door open too long or if there is too much ice in the freezer. They are obviously computers (most likely some ARM) but still I wouldn't consider them as 'computer hardware'. – Angelo Fuchs Feb 9 '14 at 14:17
  • @AngeloNeuschitzer A computer (desktop PC, racked server, smartphone, etc.) is a general purpose computing device. A fridge isn't: it may have a general-purpose CPU, but you can't run arbitrary software on it, so you can't make it perform arbitrary computations. If your fridge allows installing applications, that does make it a computer. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 9 '14 at 14:21
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If you decide to open scope to allow to X-recommendations where X~="software", where do you draw the line? Hardware? Video devices? Cars? Refrigerators? Vacation sites? I think limiting scope is key to a successful site like this.

If hardware recommendations are interesting, a new site can easily be proposed.

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Now that we have a solid Hardware Recommendations site, I believe we should cleanly split questions between the two sites, by not recommending any hardware here. Rules:

  • What software {meeting these specific criteria} do you recommend? → On-topic here
  • I already own this hardware, what software {meeting these specific criteria} do you recommend to use it? → On-topic here (see specific discussion)
  • What software+hardware {meeting these specific criteria} do you recommend? → Off-topic here

Examples of on-topic questions (would need additional requirements obviously):

  • What software {meeting these specific criteria}do you recommend to convert an XYS file to FUW format?
  • I have a L32 fridge with Wi-Fi. What software {meeting these specific criteria} do you recommend to communicate with it?
  • I have a USB-connected EPSON500 scanner. What driver {meeting these specific criteria} do you recommend for it?

Examples of off-topic questions:

  • I have a high-altitude balloon. What software+hardware {meeting these specific criteria} do you recommend to stream video from it?
  • I want to convert my VHS video tapes to MP4. What software+hardware {meeting these specific criteria} do you recommend?
  • I use Ubuntu. What USB modems {meeting these specific criteria} do you recommend?
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