Linked by Howard Fosdick on Mon 11th Jul 2011 21:50 UTC
Linux I've described how to refurbish mature computers in several articles. The emphasis has been on machines in the four to ten year old range -- Pentium IV's, D's, M's, III's and Celerons. But what if you have a really old computer, like a Pentium II, I, or even a 486? Can you use it for anything worthwhile? A vintage distro named Damn Small Linux answers "yes." This article describes DSL and tells how to make 1990's computers useful again. Screenshots follow the article.
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Repurposing Old Hardware
by danger_nakamura on Tue 12th Jul 2011 04:51 UTC
danger_nakamura
Member since:
2011-06-21

Not a flame... I am fascinated by the subject and a hobby-tinkerer myself.

Every time an article of this sort is printed, one of the issues raised in the flames that you sought to preempt is power consumption. Is it cost effective or "green" (man, I have come to hate that word) to run an older unit with all of the advances in power technology?

There is also the question how much of a demand is there for such a computer (a power guzzler with a DSL desktop and no horsepower) outside of the hobby field? I don't think very much, although feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

As it stands, I recycle much of what I come across, retaining only the newer stuff to tinker with. I have tried offering older systems for free (with Puppy, DSL, etc...) with no takers. While it kills me to take a perfectly working computer (which if you think about it, is a really amazing and sophisticated device) and turn it into scrap, the lack of a more compelling option makes it so.

Even if the prognosis was more positive, it seems like a stronger case would be made for a unit to be repruposed for use outside of the paradigm of desktop computer. Certainly the obvious is understood - print/file/media server, internet router, home automation server, etc...

But what else? I've had some ideas, mainly surrounding reducing the footprint of the case by eliminated hardware from the scanario. One idea was to build a motherboard (with integrated everything) and a compact power supply into a desk. now only a monitor, mouse and keyboard would need to be visible. In this scenario, a thin-client solution would be probable, so it ultimaltely would still be a "desktop" in one sense. The value-add here would be no visible computer in the room.

I'd love to see an article reviewing some of the things that people have accomplished using older PC hardware, with a focus on thinking outside the box. Maybe if I get some time I'll research it myself.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Repurposing Old Hardware
by WereCatf on Tue 12th Jul 2011 08:22 in reply to "Repurposing Old Hardware"
WereCatf Member since:
2006-02-15

Every time an article of this sort is printed, one of the issues raised in the flames that you sought to preempt is power consumption. Is it cost effective or "green" (man, I have come to hate that word) to run an older unit with all of the advances in power technology?


Actually, you're not the only one who keeps wondering about that. Very old PCs might not support ACPI at all, and even if they did there is a high likelyhood that it's very barebones. And these old PCs eat huge amounts of energy even without any extra devices connected to them whereas you can get a light modern PC running fine with as little as 120W PSU.

So, if the old PC is actually used a lot wouldn't it be more cost-efficient to get a light, modern PC instead and save on the electricity bill itself?

Reply Parent Score: 3

Thom_Holwerda Member since:
2005-06-29

So, if the old PC is actually used a lot wouldn't it be more cost-efficient to get a light, modern PC instead and save on the electricity bill itself?


What? I couldn't hear you over the whirr of the fans of my workstation, HTPC, server, and Xbox, while my car is running outside to get the airco going before I drive off to do some groceries down the street.

Reply Parent Score: 4

Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

Good point, but this remains a true question. Even if an old computer consumes 3x as much power as a new computer, it may still cost more to recycle it and buy a new one than to make it run for a few more years.

If we count in energy, let's assume that a computer costs 1 GJ* to produce and 2 GJ to recycle. During its service, its average power consumption is 30W (counting the time during the year where it's shut down in the average). Now, 3 years after, we have a new computer, which has same production and recycling costs, but this time consumes 10W.

Keeping the old computer for 6 years : 9GJ
Changing computer after 3 years : 10GJ

The computer which consumes three times less power (which is pretty nice for three years of hardware evolution) loses, given sufficiently high production and recycling costs.

I'd love to see someone do this calculation with actual numbers from computer manufacturers.

---

* 1 GJ = 300 kWh, for those who prefer these units

Edited 2011-07-12 08:50 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: Repurposing Old Hardware
by renox on Tue 12th Jul 2011 08:49 in reply to "RE: Repurposing Old Hardware"
renox Member since:
2005-07-06

So, if the old PC is actually used a lot wouldn't it be more cost-efficient to get a light, modern PC instead and save on the electricity bill itself?


Depends on how long: you forget to take into account the energy spent to make the new PC.

Reply Parent Score: 2

danger_nakamura Member since:
2011-06-21

The only problem with that last bit is that, for some people, amortization of cost is not a realistic option. For many, to keep a computer that they have already or can acquire cheaply and not spending, at minimum, several hundred dollars on a new computer makes a BIG difference to their bottom line.

Even in cases that are not so dire it may not be so attractive to spend a chunk of money today to save comparatively trivial amounts on the electric bill. Especially if they don't use the computer for much and the productivity gains to be expected are minimal.

In these cases, where productivity gains and long term financial savings are not a suitable carrot, what would be the motivator? We're back to the "green" arguments again, and as your discussion with Neolander is revealing, those are murky waters.

Finally, from the tinkerer perspective, it seems natural to make use of what you can find. Older, power hungry desktops are easily obtained. New, power efficient hardware, not so much. If I had to fork out bucks for every experimental idea that I wanted to mess around with I would give up the idea altogether. There is also a satisfaction (and dare I say beauty) that comes with taking something that already exists and repurposing it rather than destroying it.

Reply Parent Score: 2