Linked by Howard Fosdick on Wed 4th Aug 2010 18:19 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems In previous OSNews articles I've claimed that discarded computers up to ten years old can be refurbished and made useful to someone. They shouldn't be discarded. They should be refurbished -- fixed up and reused -- rather than recycled -- destroyed and separated into their constituent materials. So how does one do this? In this and several subsequent articles, I'll describe how to revitalize older computers.
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Thank You
by kaelodest on Wed 4th Aug 2010 18:33 UTC
kaelodest
Member since:
2006-02-12

It is noice (like nice but betterer) to see a return to the fundamentals here. I feel that it is important to explain why we, as a tech community might want to boot a desktop/ laptop into something other than the OS that was shipped with it. I know I have an old thinkpad and wayyy to many old Macintoshes that would love a get refreshed into a basic low fat debian install.
-=- So for real thanks maybe this will get some of the new-blood pumping. Maybe some girl out there will take that 'Old' P4 - P3 and instead of 'just using it' will learn that there is more out there than what you were promised

just my $00.02

Reply Score: 2

Comment by mrAmiga500
by mrAmiga500 on Wed 4th Aug 2010 19:08 UTC
mrAmiga500
Member since:
2009-03-20

BeOS works quite nicely on anything under Pentium 4. It's also super-easy to install - if you've already got it on a hard drive. Just connect another drive, initialize and run the Installer and it'll create a complete bootable copy of the original - including all installed applications. You can even copy the whole OS manually if you don't want to use the installer. I do it all the time and swap drives in and out, from computer to computer without problems. Unlike Linux, you don't have annoying hassles with crap like GRUB.

Technically, BeOS will run with only 32Mb, but for Firefox and VLC to work properly, you should have at least 96Mb.

Reply Score: 5

RE: Comment by mrAmiga500
by AndrewZ on Wed 4th Aug 2010 19:38 UTC in reply to "Comment by mrAmiga500"
AndrewZ Member since:
2005-11-15

I'm posting this from a PC with a Pentium 3 running Haiku. It runs fine and boots very fast. Haiku is very friendly with older PCs.

One trick I use to get extra performance out of older PCs is to use a disk controller card. You can add UIDE 133 or even SATA capabilities to an old PC. Faster disk access = faster PC!

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Comment by mrAmiga500
by mrAmiga500 on Wed 4th Aug 2010 19:46 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by mrAmiga500"
mrAmiga500 Member since:
2009-03-20

I'm posting this from a PC with a Pentium 3 running Haiku. It runs fine and boots very fast. Haiku is very friendly with older PCs.


I've found Haiku to be a bit unstable compared to BeOS - and it doesn't support many of the sound & network cards you'll find in older discarded computers (at least most of the computers I've tried it with). I'm hoping Haiku improves, but I don't expect them to start supporting old cards. They're (rightly) too busy trying to support newer hardware.

I'm posting this with BeOS on Pentium III. I also have Linux on another drive that I plug in occasionally when I want to rip CDs or view embedded flash. BeOS is my main OS though. It's WAY more fun to use on this computer than Linux.


Another great thing about BeOS (and Haiku) - you can create a complete bootable installation (with Firefox, VLC, graphics editor, music player, etc.) using as little as 300Mb disk space.

Edited 2010-08-04 20:00 UTC

Reply Score: 3

RE[3]: Comment by mrAmiga500
by 2501 on Fri 6th Aug 2010 15:27 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by mrAmiga500"
2501 Member since:
2005-07-14

Is it Flash working for you?

Reply Score: 1

RE[4]: Comment by mrAmiga500
by mrAmiga500 on Fri 6th Aug 2010 16:03 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Comment by mrAmiga500"
mrAmiga500 Member since:
2009-03-20

Is it Flash working for you?


Embedded Flash doesn't work, but with addons like VideoDownloadHelper, it was possible to download YouTube videos (flv or mp4 format) and view them in VLC without problems. (don't know why it couldn't help with embedded videos in other pages... not a very helpful "helper")

Unfortunately, just a couple weeks ago, YouTube made some changes and now that doesn't work properly.

"Progress" is constantly screwing the user of older computers.

Edited 2010-08-06 16:04 UTC

Reply Score: 1

Depends on what you want to play!
by renox on Thu 5th Aug 2010 19:17 UTC in reply to "Comment by mrAmiga500"
renox Member since:
2005-07-06

Somehow I doubt that old PCs are able to play H.264 video easily..

Reply Score: 2

My own tips and tricks
by WereCatf on Wed 4th Aug 2010 19:51 UTC
WereCatf
Member since:
2006-02-15

Usually CPU or graphics capabilities aren't the limiting factors if the computer is only used for web browsing, word processing etc. light tasks. A decade old PC can even be used for managing one's own photo albums just fine. The limiting factors are usually memory, connectivity and disk space, but all these three are actually quite easy to overcome.

Old memory can often be salvaged from non-functional computers or found eBay or such, usually pretty cheap.

Connectivity limitations can very easily be remedied by a USB2 add-on card, some of them sport even as many as 10 ports. And they too are really cheap nowadays.

Disk space.. Well, even pretty old motherboards sport ATA133-compatible chips so it should be fairly easy to just replace the old disk, and if there's any snags just go grab again one add-on card, either S-ATA one or a ATA133 one.

If you're installing Linux and happen to have a selection of older graphics cards to choose from then it's best to choose one with open-source drivers and basic 3D rendering capabilities; Compiz can really make the desktop and windows feel pretty snappy even with a low-speed CPU. I myself happen to have 5 or 6 old Radeons with R200 or RV250 chips and those are extremely good for these things, the open-source drivers got full EXA acceleration and Compiz works like a dream with them. It really makes a big difference.

But the most important thing to remember if you furbish an old computer and donate/sell it forth: explain CLEARLY the computer's limitations and that it's not f.ex. suitable for any kind of gaming, video processing etc. You'll save yourself a lot of trouble and the receiving end from a disappointment if you are clear enough as to the capabilities of the computer.

Reply Score: 6

RE: My own tips and tricks
by Dave_K on Thu 5th Aug 2010 14:46 UTC in reply to "My own tips and tricks"
Dave_K Member since:
2005-11-16

Usually CPU or graphics capabilities aren't the limiting factors if the computer is only used for web browsing, word processing etc. light tasks.


I'm not sure web browsing is generally such a light task these days. Sometimes my modern PC bogs down on flash/media heavy sites, and many of them aren't usable with that stuff turned off.

Even if you avoid the worst performing sites, modern web browsers themselves aren't typically lightweight and efficient applications, and using an old browser is a big security risk. Opera's promoted for its speed and efficiency, but recent versions still aren't much fun on a system with less than 1Gb RAM.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: My own tips and tricks
by WereCatf on Thu 5th Aug 2010 15:47 UTC in reply to "RE: My own tips and tricks"
WereCatf Member since:
2006-02-15

I'm not sure web browsing is generally such a light task these days. Sometimes my modern PC bogs down on flash/media heavy sites, and many of them aren't usable with that stuff turned off.

Well, true that. Should have used the wording "light web browsing" instead. There's one good thing brewing regarding Flash: Lightspark ( http://sourceforge.net/apps/trac/lightspark ) is a modern Flash-reimplementation and uses GLSL for all its rendering and as such it should be quite a bit faster than even the official client. A few years from now it'll be really hard to find even old, used graphics cards without GLSL-support and then Lightspark can probably be used to give yet again a small speed-boost.

Reply Score: 2

Great but there are consequences
by orfanum on Wed 4th Aug 2010 21:18 UTC
orfanum
Member since:
2006-06-02

I applaud the sentiment, and do this quite a bit myself; I have rescued many a dumped computer which only required a minimum amount of troubleshooting to make usable again.

I once had the opportunity to take on this sort of role as a voluntary effort/hobby on a permanent basis when I managed to make a deal with a university department; it was cheaper for them to route them through me, and I could supply people on demand, as and when.

However, if you supply a machine, the person receiving it invariably sees you as the LTS person; you get contacted again and again about the least thing. I stopped doing this, not because I had no time to refurbish and make good the older but serviceable kit that came my way but because I was quickly overwhelmed by demands for help once it had been handed over.

It doesn't matter *how* clear you are about expectation: the less things cost, the more people are free with it, weirdly.

Perhaps I was just unlucky, and I do not want to appear overly cynical but supplier beware :-)!

Reply Score: 5

r_a_trip Member since:
2005-07-06

However, if you supply a machine, the person receiving it invariably sees you as the LTS person; you get contacted again and again about the least thing. I stopped doing this, not because I had no time to refurbish and make good the older but serviceable kit that came my way but because I was quickly overwhelmed by demands for help once it had been handed over.

...

Perhaps I was just unlucky, and I do not want to appear overly cynical but supplier beware :-)!


That is not cynical at all. It shadows my experiences pretty well. Be it hardware or an alternative OS. Once you are the one who got the other party to take it, you become the defacto 24/7/365 helpdesk.

When it is second hand hardware, people still treat you as a manufacturer and somehow expect some kind of warranty. When it is an alternative OS, people expect you to hold their hands and practically do every bit of trivial stuff, harder than clicking a button, for them.

If that sort of role isn't your ultimate passion, you're better off not doing it.

Reply Score: 3

Comment by iliks
by iliks on Wed 4th Aug 2010 21:24 UTC
iliks
Member since:
2008-07-08

Old computers are less energy efficient. Probably it's economically wiser in the long term to buy _current_ not very powerful hardware than to resort to old stuff that consumes a lot of power for its mediocre performance...

Reply Score: 6

RE: Comment by iliks
by Morgan on Thu 5th Aug 2010 02:31 UTC in reply to "Comment by iliks"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

This is true, and a similar situation was discussed in a Slashdot post a week or so ago regarding an unused G5 tower. The overwhelming sentiment in the comments was to sell it and use the money to buy a couple of new, energy efficient mini-PCs (or an older Intel Mac mini if OS X was a requirement).

That being said, I've found that some of the PIII/PIV era microATX based systems by Compaq and Acer were fairly conservative in electricity requirements even compared to modern systems. For example, I'm running this Core2Duo system with the smallest possible power supply (400 watts) and it comes close to being too little power. In contrast, a PIII Compaq Deskpro I recently refurbished for a friend uses a power supply rated at 180 watts max, and as she just uses it for writing and light, text-based web browsing (i.e. mostly idle even when in use) it's probably using no more than half of that.

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Comment by iliks
by Dave_K on Thu 5th Aug 2010 14:40 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by iliks"
Dave_K Member since:
2005-11-16

For example, I'm running this Core2Duo system with the smallest possible power supply (400 watts) and it comes close to being too little power.


Have you actually measured its power consumption?

I can't imagine a Core2Duo system drawing that much power unless it has a high end and inefficient graphics card.

In contrast, a PIII Compaq Deskpro I recently refurbished for a friend uses a power supply rated at 180 watts max, and as she just uses it for writing and light, text-based web browsing (i.e. mostly idle even when in use) it's probably using no more than half of that.


My 2.8Ghz Athlon X2 media centre draws under 40W idle and around 65W under full onboard graphics/CPU load. It uses a 130W fanless PSU without any problems.

The PIII might well use a bit less, but not enough to put a dent in an electricity bill.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Comment by iliks
by Morgan on Thu 5th Aug 2010 15:14 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by iliks"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

Sorry, I should have mentioned I am using a fairly inefficient nVidia card (I'd prefer ATI for several reasons but I want to maintain easy Hackintosh compatibility) and several drives. Also keep in mind the 400W rating for the power supply is a max load rating. It actually is meant for no more than about 230-250W steady use, which I estimate (based on my components' stated power requirements) is right about what I'm using.

I'm seriously considering a trade to a friend with a Mac mini as he is wanting an OS X compatible, yet highly expandable system and he can't afford a Mac Pro. Mine doesn't quite have the power and speed of even the early Mac Pros, but it makes up for that with extreme expandability (eight 3.5in drive bays, five optical drive bays, full ATX mobo with SATA-RAID, UDMA and four RAM slots, and a nearly tool-free case). I'm wanting a true Mac, and his Core Duo mini is upgradeable all the way around, minus the video card of course.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Comment by iliks
by r_a_trip on Thu 5th Aug 2010 09:24 UTC in reply to "Comment by iliks"
r_a_trip Member since:
2005-07-06

Old computers are less energy efficient. Probably it's economically wiser in the long term to buy _current_ not very powerful hardware than to resort to old stuff that consumes a lot of power for its mediocre performance...

When looking at it from a "this is my wallet" perspective, that might be true. But is it still true when looking at the energy and resources bill of the overall lifetime of a machine? Is continually scrapping/recycling and using a new machine better than just using a slightly older and less energy efficient machine longer?

Put another way, is the process of rapidly and continuously scrapping/recycling and reproducing a machine equal or less taxing on the environment than using an older less energy efficient machine? Is the waste of energy by using an older machine enough of an offset to justify scrapping/recycling the old one and producing a new machine?

I consciously say scrapping/recycling here, because selling that machine does not prevent energy waste. The buyer most probably won't use it as a doorstop.

Reply Score: 3

seanpk Member since:
2009-11-17

I would like to see the numbers on that ... how long is the "long term" before we start to realize the benefit.
I would be shocked if it was within the typical 1 year warranty period for a new system.

In addition to the simple intersection of when:
refurb cost + power = new cost + power
you have to consider:
1. the time-preference of money (I might prefer to - or have to - spend less money now even if it costs more in the long run)
2. the risk of the new computer failing after the warranty period has elapsed and before it has become a savings

It is true the new computer would offer better performance than the old, but if the old provides what you need ... that's kind of the point here, isn't it, that for some people's computer usage (probably not yours, and definitely not mine), a 5 to 10 year old computer will do the trick.

Reply Score: 1

RE: Comment by iliks
by RavinRay on Fri 6th Aug 2010 14:36 UTC in reply to "Comment by iliks"
RavinRay Member since:
2005-11-26

My impression is that many of today's desktop gaming PCs sport the newer nVidia and ATI video cards that eat up a lot of watts; whereas the old PCI cards are thrifty by comparison.

We have a 1996-era FIC PA-2002 PC with an AMD 90MHz K5. I've since gotten an Asus TUV4X in 2001 with a 1GHz Celeron which I share with my mom. I refurbish the FIC in stages: adding a Kingston Turbochip 400, followed by a AcceleraPCI (both via eBay) that will sport the Celeron once the Pentium III 1.4GHz I ordered for the Asus arrives. I maxed the memory to 128MB. WinXP runs well enough that my mom can use it for her own needs once I'm done. It doesn't need a 300+ watt power supply, and I'd guess the power consumption should be reasonable.

Edited 2010-08-06 14:37 UTC

Reply Score: 1

RE: Comment by iliks
by cemptor on Fri 6th Aug 2010 19:03 UTC in reply to "Comment by iliks"
cemptor Member since:
2010-06-16

Yes older computers are generally less efficient. However on an absolute level, older processors consume less power.

Reply Score: 1

Comment by cb88
by cb88 on Wed 4th Aug 2010 21:51 UTC
cb88
Member since:
2009-04-23

I have a dual PII system with 512mb ram.... based on the 440LX chipset so yeah some PII systems do have the ability to handle more ram I have heard of some with as much as 2Gb

Assuming you have an AGP system some of the radeon R300 cards will work as well you just have to be carefull that it supports the same voltages your motherboard supports.

I have ran both Haiku and BeOS on this system and they both work well BeOS is even capable of playing DVDs well even at 2x300Mhz Haiku should once DVD support has been added.

Noone mentioned DeliLinux... or Slitaz personally I find the latter more intresting DSL comletely lost any respect I had for it with all the drama it has generated in the past few years.

Puppylinux is not stable and support is non existant unless you want to fix things yourself also it runs as root normally.

The reason I find slitaz interesting is they lean heavily on scripted apps like Puppylinux but also have nice repositories and support they also have support for booting on PCs with as little as 16Mb though I doubt X11 would work well unless swap was enabled. Personally I would rather see Slitaz with a rox desktop instead of PCmanfm as it is getting more bloated with "features"

Edited 2010-08-04 21:53 UTC

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by cb88
by Morgan on Thu 5th Aug 2010 02:40 UTC in reply to "Comment by cb88"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

Don't forget Tiny Core Linux; I've found it snappy and useful even on a low-end PII with 128MB. It has a great repository and you can even use it to build software (all basic build dependencies, gcc, make, glibs etc. are available). The ISO is only 10MB and installs easily, and it even has support for wireless chipsets. I used it briefly on my wife's laptop -- a four-year-old Presario with only 512MB -- until the replacement Windows restore discs arrived from HP; she found it to be useful and "cute", though it had to go so she could feed her Windows-only Hidden Object Game addiction. ;)

It's become my new favorite ultra-low-end Linux LiveCD, and has a permanent place in my geek toolbox.

Reply Score: 5

RE[2]: Comment by cb88
by Calipso on Thu 5th Aug 2010 12:16 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by cb88"
Calipso Member since:
2007-03-13

I recently discovered Tiny Core my self and it's great! The boot up speed is fantastic. To install it all you copy over is two files. I'm thinking of making this my own 'Splashtop' type distro for when I just need a browser to quickly check something and don't want to wait for my main OS to boot up.

Reply Score: 2

Gullible Jones
Member since:
2006-05-23

Awesome article, but there's one thing I'm a bit concerned about.

On old versions of Windows, 90% of browser exploits can probably be stopped by Noscript and a bit of knowledge; most remote exploits can be halted by adding a light firewall and disabling stuff like file and printer sharing. That's my understanding anyway.

However, the recent icon loading vulnerability in Windows 2000 and up (exploited by Sality.AT, among other nasties) means that, if you plug in an infected USB stick, you can get infected with no interaction - even if autorun is disabled.

This is patched for XP SP3 and on, but for Windows 2000 there's no update.

What's the best way to deal with this on machines running unsupported operating systems?

(Edit: I'm assuming for Pentium II and early Pentium III era computers, which can run Win2k but not a modern antivirus.)

Edited 2010-08-04 22:53 UTC

Reply Score: 2

Fantastic
by sinnerman on Wed 4th Aug 2010 22:54 UTC
sinnerman
Member since:
2009-03-30

Fantastic article! This is the kind of material we need to see more of, on OSnews, not article after article being recycled from ARS Technica.

Thank you.

Reply Score: 2

heh
by helf on Wed 4th Aug 2010 22:56 UTC
helf
Member since:
2005-07-06

You can go batshit insane like me and start with a dual 1.4ghz PIII tualatin-s motherboard and cpu a friend gives you and add 1.5gb pc133 ram (max board handles), an ati 4650 1gb agp video card, 450w ocz psu, cheap case, pci sata raid card with 256mb cache, four 1tb fujitsu F3 sata drives, ide ssd boot drive, ide dvd burner, pci physx ppu, a good i-forgot-the-make/model pci sound card, and a pci 3com 3c905 NIC.

I JUST recently tore that apart and parted out most of it to a new machine I finally built. Still have base machine up and running. Anyways, in the config I could play a ton of newer games at decent settings without too much problem. It ran windows 7 perfectly fine and dual booted with ubuntu 10.04.

I think I had about $500 tied up in it and that was mostly for the storage system. At the time I needed storage space over raw performance and the tualatins handled everything I wanted just fine. If I hadn't scored a c2q 9550 for dirt I'd still be using it daily.

So that example is a bit extreme, but it still drives a point home. If you try, you can beef up an older machine for very little money ($50-100) and it'll be usable for basic interneting and maybe even light gaming for someone. I still clean up PIII and PIV boxes and give them away all the time. It still amazes me at what people will give me or throw away because it was "old" or "slow". I've started getting core duo era boxes for free. *shakes head*

Reply Score: 2

power
by TechGeek on Wed 4th Aug 2010 23:27 UTC
TechGeek
Member since:
2006-01-14

iliks: While newer hardware may be much more power efficient, buying new means throwing away the old and wasting all the energy used in making the new. That amount of energy and raw materials FAR outweigh any savings you may get from lower power requirements.

Older machines can be used for lots of things. Home automation, development servers, file servers, digital picture frames. Considering the hardware in most electronics is less that a PIII, you can do just about anything with it. Old laptops are especially cool as they are quiet and small.

Reply Score: 4

shadoweva09
Member since:
2008-03-10

I've worked doing volunteer work for a place that gets those computers to people. It has to be at least a pentium 4, otherwise it's being stripped for parts, electrical components, raw metals, etc... They'll only be giving out computers with Windows XP or newer, since these people don't have internet and no training with computers and anything else would extremely limit what they could do (Translation: Linux will never be on these machines). The Macs that get donated are always far too old to do anything with so they'll go to the scrap piles as well.

Summary: If your old computer doesn't have at least a Pentium 4 and a windows OEM sticker, it's going to the scrap piles.

Reply Score: 1

Comment by Gooberslot
by Gooberslot on Thu 5th Aug 2010 04:57 UTC
Gooberslot
Member since:
2006-08-02

The main problem I've run into with older computers is flash. With enough memory almost everything will run fine except that bloated piece of crap.

Reply Score: 1

Disk Drive
by reduz on Thu 5th Aug 2010 05:42 UTC
reduz
Member since:
2006-02-25

Old computers are great as file servers, as they don't consume much electricity.. but they have a really ugly problem: Newer disk driver just don't work..

Try fitting a 40gb (already pretty old by today standards) into a Pentium I. A BIOS for a computer like that won't even recognize it.. ;)

Reply Score: 3

RE: Disk Drive
by evert on Thu 5th Aug 2010 06:58 UTC in reply to "Disk Drive"
evert Member since:
2005-07-06

The BIOS should be no problem if you want to use big disk drives. Create a small boot partition. Install Linux. (Linux bypasses the BIOS to get disk information, while Windows depends on the BIOS.)

Reply Score: 4

RE[2]: Disk Drive
by Morgan on Thu 5th Aug 2010 13:00 UTC in reply to "RE: Disk Drive"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

Exactly, or as others have suggested (including the article itself) use a PCI IDE card and you can have several large drives on a P1.

Reply Score: 2

Android
by evert on Thu 5th Aug 2010 07:56 UTC
evert
Member since:
2005-07-06

Android might be interesting if
- your user already has an andriod phone
- the computer will be used for simple tasks only

check:
http://www.android-x86.org/hardware-list

Otherwise, i think the various small linux distributions and haiku/beos are very interesting.

Windows XP SP3 (stripped down to the bare minimum) might work as well, although "stripping to the minimum" in an higher art, and keeping the system clean even more so. But it will give much compatibility with existing hard- and software, like being able to play Age of Empires :-)

Reply Score: 2

RE: Stripped down XP
by KLU9 on Thu 5th Aug 2010 14:36 UTC in reply to "Android"
KLU9 Member since:
2006-12-06

yes, stripping down XP yourself can be a fine art... which is why I leave to the artist eXPerience, whose oeuvre includes MicroXP & TinyXP.

I know those are pirated, but I use them on computers that came legitimately with XP: using TinyXP just saves me so much trouble compared to stripping legit XP down myself.

And the performance benefits are spectacular: it makes you wonder why the Microsoft didn't do this themselves.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Stripped down XP
by sorpigal on Thu 5th Aug 2010 16:13 UTC in reply to "RE: Stripped down XP"
sorpigal Member since:
2005-11-02

Microsoft is not in the business of making computers faster, quite the opposite. They have a nominally-secret deal with OEMs to keep people buying new hardware and not just new OSes.

Reply Score: 3

Florin.Crisan
Member since:
2008-04-21

Cool article. Which reminds me: some time ago I got for free the computer I wanted as a kid: a 100 MHz Pentium (the original Pentium) :-)

Lately, however, I keep coming across old laptops with hardware problems. I might be able to change the hard disks, but it's usually something completely different. And since there doesn't seem to be a standard for laptop parts, I have no clue what to do with them... Any ideas?

Just to clarify, I'm talking about the "2-3 years out of warranty" kind of old laptops...

Edited 2010-08-05 09:24 UTC

Reply Score: 1

Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

Laptops from that era are generally not too expensive to fix, and offer a decent return on investment. The Presario laptop my wife uses (mentioned in another post here) was rebuilt from scratch by me for about $115 out of pocket. The laptop was given to me by a friend to fix for myself or part out when it developed video issues and would rarely boot. I took it apart and found the main logic board had a burnt out capacitor and the video cable was damaged in the hinge. This was still a useful laptop spec-wise -- Turion64 1.6GHz with ATI 3D graphics -- so I decided to refurbish it for my wife, who had been asking for a laptop so she wouldn't be tied to the desk when gaming or browsing the web.

After scrounging around the 'net, I found a certified used logic board for $80, a new video cable for $15 and the original restore discs from HP for $16. Fortunately for me, HP made this laptop easy to work on; once the parts were in it was a matter of about an hour to put it all back together and test using Tiny Core Linux.

That was about four months ago, and it's happily purring along to this day. Instead of spending $500 on a new basic laptop with underpowered video, my wife now has a nice little computer with a multi-card reader, new enough to easily upgrade RAM and HDD, yet powerful enough to do the light gaming she enjoys.

Reply Score: 4

canadianlinuxnerd
Member since:
2006-06-14

I've been recycling old PCs for years, about half my friends have needed a computer at one point or another and garbage picked PCs, cleaned up with a little extra ram shoved in (if I have the right kind lying around) and Linux installed is a great way to help out folks who have limited funds and need to get online. You've put a lot more thought into it then I ever did, I think I shall book mark this page for future reference.

Reply Score: 1

a few points
by smallmj on Thu 5th Aug 2010 13:47 UTC
smallmj
Member since:
2009-03-16

As a small computer repair shop, I often do similar things on a small scale, for profit. Of course I also help my customers keep their old computers running well enough to do the job. There are a few points I'd like to make.

Test the hard disk. They tend to last 3-8 years. In my experience, disks from 2000-2005 had the shortest lifespans. Some old disks from the 90s are still chugging along just fine.

Look at the motherboard. Check out the capacitors. If any of them are leaking a brown/orange gook, then forget it, or find somebody who is good with a soldering iron. Many old computers, again from 2000-2005, had terrible capacitors. Just ask Dell about their lawsuits.

As for power use, its true that new computers are much more efficient than those of a few years ago, but the older ones aren't so bad. Computers from the Pentium IV era are power pigs, but Pentium III's and II's are much better. Also, if the end user needs to save money and power, get them to turn the stupid box off now and then. Use suspend to disk to reduce the boot time.

Mark

Reply Score: 3

More power than you'll ever need
by sorpigal on Thu 5th Aug 2010 16:17 UTC
sorpigal
Member since:
2005-11-02

For 99% of people a nice PII with a high-ish amount of ram is all the computer they need. The only caveats these days are (1) video playback (web streaming) and (2) other web. Modern browsers chew through ram and cpu at astonishing rates! If you can work around or mitigate these two then most non-enthusiasts and non-professionals, e.g. people who don't render video or use photoshop, will be just fine with a PII-era CPU.

But modern disks help.

Reply Score: 2

Dave_K Member since:
2005-11-16

people who don't render video or use photoshop, will be just fine with a PII-era CPU.


Most of the "normal" computer users I know edit their holiday snaps to put up on Facebook, deal with modern file formats requiring up to date applications, play the odd game, or use their PC for playing music/video.

Even just using the thing as a word processor, they'd have issues if they needed to work with documents created by other people. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to run a recent version of MS Office or OpenOffice on a PII, not even just to fill out an application form.

Most people don't need a quad core monster, but pretty basic and everyday use (with the modern internet and applications) is beyond a computer made in the last century.

Reply Score: 2

sorpigal Member since:
2005-11-02

Recent versions of MS Office--and OpenOffice--are lots of "more" but not lots of "more features people actually want and use." You can be perfectly functional if you're careful about your application selection.

I did mention web-stuff as one area of concern. Camera and photo stuff does not require any significant amount of CPU, even at fairly high resolutions.

Reply Score: 2

Dave_K Member since:
2005-11-16

Recent versions of MS Office--and OpenOffice--are lots of "more" but not lots of "more features people actually want and use." You can be perfectly functional if you're careful about your application selection.


Only if you don't need to work with files from other people. Even things like online job application forms tend to come in a recent MS Word format, and sometimes they won't even open properly in OpenOffice, let alone an old or lightweight application. Forget about taking documents backwards and forwards between work and home if you can't run the same applications at each end.

Of course the old computer is fine if you don't have those issues, but I think for the majority of users sticking with older software and hardware is more trouble than it's worth. I don't know anyone who doesn't have at least one application or favourite website that'd crawl on a 10+ year old PC.

Reply Score: 2

Comment by victorhooi
by victorhooi on Fri 6th Aug 2010 01:29 UTC
victorhooi
Member since:
2005-06-30

heya,

While I applaud the sentiments, and I think it's an awesome showcase of Linux/BeOS/Haiku/QNX's abilities that they can run on older hardware, I'd question whether you'd actually use such a system for any real work, outside of the "cool" factor.

Second the comment by iliks above, many of these older systems have terrible power envelopes. Low-power consumption is a hot topic (sorry, couldn't resist *grins*) these days, and it's not hard to get a inexpensive, low-power system off the shelf.

For example, as this post on Slashdot showed:

http://ask.slashdot.org/story/10/07/23/2314248/What-To-Do-With-an-O...

the general consensus seemed to be to just dump it, and buy a new system.

Heck, if you're not wedded to the x86 platform, something like the Arudino or an ARM system might fit your needs better.

And in response to TechGeek's point above, about the energy in the construction of the old system, that energy's already been expended, and there's nothing you can do to get it back. You may as well donate it to recycling, so that at least the materials don't get wasted.

Manufacturing processes have improved to the point where it's often now worth it to use this old hardware. You simply can't match the experience on newer hardware - low-end hardware by today's standards often blows the top-of-the-line older stuff away, and there's new standards or stuff that you simply can't get working on the old stuff (e.g. USB).

And look, a small form-factor system like the Arduino, is simply going to blow away an old hulking P3 tower - less noise, less heat, less power consumption, and just a smarter system overall.

It's the same reason that I often shake my head at people who drive really old cars (I'm talking carburetor days), in the ignorant belief they're being "better" for the environment. Sure, you need energy/materials for the new car, but you're actually polluting a lot less by using a new, small form-factor car, with EFI, catalytic converters, unleaded petrol etc.

For example, new PCs have to follow things like RoHS regulations.

Second point - if you're on older hardware, while the open-source's community is quite good with maintaining patches for older branches, you're still often more vulnerable to exploits, particularly web-based ones.

So while it's definitely a "cool, it runs" things, e.g.:

http://www.vandenbrande.com/wp/2009/06/breadbox64-a-twitter-client-...

I doubt you'd actually want to use it day to day, or for real work.

Cheers,
Victor

Edited 2010-08-06 01:32 UTC

Reply Score: 1

RE: Comment by victorhooi
by sakeniwefu on Fri 6th Aug 2010 06:50 UTC in reply to "Comment by victorhooi"
sakeniwefu Member since:
2008-02-26

You have a point.

Low end laptops from trusted makers are the prime candidates for reuse as servers or routers because they should consume reasonable amounts of power and have long lives. If you plug them to a monitor and a keyboard, they can live far longer than the crappy LCD and membrane stuff they come with and possibly work well as word processors too. The problem is that laptop parts are hard to come by. So any malfunction in important devices means that you need another laptop.

High end laptops and old desktops, high end or not, are however not worth the bother. They waste power, overheat and die soon.

Reply Score: 2

Thank You
by cemptor on Fri 6th Aug 2010 19:01 UTC
cemptor
Member since:
2010-06-16

Nice to see someone focusing on reducing landfill too. I would love to be involved in any way.

Hardware has become exponentially powerful in the last few years, but software has exceeded in its ability to hog resources to perform the same basic tasks.

granted browsers are more secure, but they're much slower. Word processing is a beast I cannot fathom why it's bloated without adding any new features.

I have tried Zenwalk Linux and Vector Linux in addition to Xubuntu, with some good results on old hardware.

Reply Score: 1

the word "mature"
by boushkash on Sun 8th Aug 2010 15:14 UTC
boushkash
Member since:
2010-07-14

the title made the article seem about mature 40+ vagina actually which is weird.

Reply Score: 1

The 50 lb Suitcase
by westlake on Sun 8th Aug 2010 17:51 UTC
westlake
Member since:
2010-01-07

It hasn't been mentioned here.

But the weight and bulk of an old desktop PC is a problem for the elderly and disabled. You'll be doing them no favors by donating that behemoth 50 lb Dell you've been keeping down in the basement.

Reply Score: 1

What utilities, and in what order?
by mpowell on Mon 9th Aug 2010 18:36 UTC
mpowell
Member since:
2010-08-09

The article mentions that you should run certain utilities, in a certain order, if you're cleaning up an XP machine. It does not appear to give a link to this information. What are the utilities, and what order should they run in?

I have a relative that wants me to "fix" their virus-riddle XP machine. They do not want me to replace XP with linux (what I would do if they were giving it to me).

It is a P4. They've also "lost" the intall/recovery CD, so I can't reinstall it (what I would like to do, since I am not installing linux).

I would like to clean it up, if possible. I know I used to use AVG and Avast, as well as an Avast root-kit package. I was curious to see if the list contains newer utilities I am not aware of. Thanks!

Reply Score: 1