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Not hardware, but Hardware.

We've half-defined our scope, thanks to Robert. The other half of defining our scope is an issue that's been sitting around since Day 1, and one that I've seen plenty of opinions on.

What is Hardware?

I.e. what types of questions do we allow here? Computers? Electronics? Digital electronics? Related hardware like desks or wrist rests or monitor stands? Anything computer-related?

Put your idea of Hardware in an answer, if it doesn't already have one. Vote for the scope you want; don't vote on a scope you wouldn't mind; downvote a scope that you think would harm the site, drive people away, etc. Give it a couple of weeks and we should have a good idea of what the community here wants.

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I've been thinking about this for the last few weeks, trying to come up with a succinct, objective definition. This is my best try so far, feel free to derive it into your own answer:

Hardware is any primarily electronic item that can perform more than one task, designed to interface with, connect to, or be, a primary computing platform in day-to-day operation.

A primary computing platform is any primarily electronic item that can perform meaningful tasks on its own with minimal external support, and designed to be operated by a user, consumer or professional.

For the sake of convenience, I'm going to refer to a primary computing platform as a PCP. No, not phencyclidine. This would allow questions about:

  • Laptops (PCP)
  • Smartphones/tablets/feature-phones w/ special features (PCP)
  • Flash drives (meant to interface with a PCP in day-to-day operation)
  • PSUs (connects to, often communicates with PCP)
  • Non-commodity batteries (connects to, often communicates with PCP) (Related meta discussion)
  • LED light bars (connects to, communicates with PCP)
  • Graphing calculators (PCP, they perform meaningful tasks on their own)
  • Routers (designed to interface with PCP)
  • Microphones (designed to interface with PCP)
  • Mixing consoles (primarily electronic, does meaningful work on its own. Therefore is PCP)
  • Bigger electronic parts. This seems to naturally separate the 'little tiny things' from the 'things you can put in with a screwdriver' (see Gilles' thoughts on the subject). For example, RAM would be on topic, but transistors and such would be off topic - they can't perform more than one task effectively. This might require some tuning.

But not about:

  • Cars (not a primarily electronic item, and the computer in a car can't do meaningful work without... being in a car. You can probably connect it to a PCP, but not in day-to-day operation for 99.9% of folks)
  • Desks (not primarily designed to interface with or be a PCP, even if you can put a PCP on a desk)
  • Tiny little parts, like transistors. They can't perform more than one task. (Related meta discussion)
  • Boat engines - not a PCP, and not designed to interface with one in day-to-day operation.
  • Commodity batteries (Related meta discussion)
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    Yay! I get to discuss the shredder...again. It makes a good example question. "can perform more than one task" - The requirements for the shredder were autofeeding. A standard shredder can also sense when there is paper in position to start the shredding. The "more than one task", then would be the "autofeeding" part that is not common and "autostarting" part that is common. Would this piece of office equipment fit in your definition of hardware? – Andy Oct 8 '15 at 17:37
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    So by this definition, my monitor stand question would be off topic, right? – Cfinley Oct 8 '15 at 17:46
  • @Cfinley I believe so. I definitely wouldn't classify it as 'electronic' by any means. We probably need to decide separately if 'furniture' is accepted here, and if so what that means. I think that needs to be a separate discussion, though. – Undo Oct 8 '15 at 17:49
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    @Andy I'm borderline on the shredder question. If someone asked for a shredder that communicates how many pages it's eaten to a computer to comply with some security standard, I'd say it's on topic. I would also say that a standard home shredder like I have, which just runs the blades when I stuff something in it, would be off topic - it does one thing. I'm leaning towards saying that your shredder question would be off topic, but I'd like to see more debate on the subject. Thoughts? – Undo Oct 8 '15 at 17:52
  • whispers to anyone who will listen They talk to computers now?! Seriously, though, I'm not opposed to having the question be off topic. I agree that a shredder is a fairly simple machine, but it does meet other criteria for being hardware: It's electronic, it's not so simple that it's a basic component, there is a level of automation involved, and somewhat importantly, maintenance on a shredder can't be performed by everyone - it would require some specialized knowledge of the electronic components. – Andy Oct 8 '15 at 17:56
  • @Cfinley, Not unless it has lights and run on battery, then it would be considered electronic? – Pacerier Nov 8 '15 at 2:56
  • Are "connected home" items such as smart bulbs, fair game? – Nathan H Jan 11 '16 at 16:42
  • @NathanH I'd say so - I would classify those as "designed to interface with, connect to... a primary computing platform in day-to-day operation." – Undo Jan 11 '16 at 17:09
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I agree with @Undo's answer, but want to add a bit more to the on-topic section. I think things related to hardware should also be on-topic, as long as it was specifically designed to be used with hardware. Things like monitor stands, mouse pads, smartphone cases, styluses, laptop bags, etc. Obviously, if a question is just asking for a mouse pad, it is off-topic as too broad. But if it is asking for a mouse pad that is a certain size, has a wrist rest, and doesn't easily move would be on topic.

A desk would still be off-topic, as it wasn't designed specifically to be used for a computer.

  • I am open to suggestions as well, especially at the "as long as it was specifically designed..." part. I do not want to open a can of worms for us later down the road. – Cfinley Oct 8 '15 at 19:12
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    I can't really get on board with laptop bags, smartphone cases, and all that. It seems too irrelevant to me. Maybe I'll be persuaded. – Adam Oct 8 '15 at 19:45
  • I like this, but for other items, how do we determine whether it relates to hardware? Otherwise, this is good – Zizouz212 Oct 9 '15 at 1:51
  • @Zizouz212 In my answer I have "as long as it was specifically designed to be used with hardware", it is on topic. Can you come up with something that doesn't fit that? – Cfinley Oct 9 '15 at 2:14
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    What about an automatic height adjusting desk? Or a computer desk? These are designed for a computer. – Andy Oct 9 '15 at 14:20
  • My issue with these "furniture" items is that we make our scope very fuzzy. "Why is this accessory on topic but this one isn't?" – Andy Oct 9 '15 at 14:22
  • @Andy That is a good point. So enderland's desk question would be on topic, but a normal writers desk wouldn't be. – Cfinley Oct 9 '15 at 14:25
  • That's the fuzzy line I mentioned. Why can't a writer's desk be on topic then? What's to prevent someone from asking for a desk for their laptop, but they also do "writing" and need the desk to be comfortable for both use cases. – Andy Oct 9 '15 at 14:29
  • @Andy I am fine with cutting off furniture questions from our scope, but I think that we should try to see if it would work first. So far, we have had only one question about a desk. If we get more desk questions, we can have a separate meta thread about it later. It shouldn't be too hard to close old questions with the [desk] tag. – Cfinley Oct 9 '15 at 14:58
  • @Andy I had actually flagged that question as off-topic, and it was outright declined :/ – Zizouz212 Oct 9 '15 at 20:20
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    @Cfinley Honestly, you're just going to introduce such a wide variety of scope that the site will lose people involved in this. I would suggest keeping it to computing devices and strict computer accessories, at most. – Zizouz212 Oct 9 '15 at 20:21
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    @Zizouz212 If you think my proposal hurts the site, then downvote it. I personally think that questions about these things would work here. We have had a few questions here already are currently open. We need to be consistent of what is on and off topic. If we ourselves can't figure it out, how can we expect new users to be able to figure it out? – Cfinley Oct 9 '15 at 21:25
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    I've posted a test question for the "cases" portion of this answer. – Andy Oct 12 '15 at 20:39
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    One more test question. This is related to a laptop carrying case vs the previous tablet protecting case. I feel these are different types of "cases". – Andy Oct 12 '15 at 20:52
  • A question about mouse pads has been created. – Andy Oct 16 '15 at 21:25

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