Saturday, January 23, 2016

From The Cheap Computing Department UPDATE

Every now and again you find something that's just so good you have to sort of...well....gush about it a little.

Let me explain.

This is another chapter in the saga of cheap computing. If you're just a little bit obsolete you can do a lot of computing for very little money. If this appeals to your inner cheapskate read on.

I have a standby computer underneath my workbench that I use for occasional net surfing but mostly to display schematic diagrams for the stuff I'm working on. It's an old Dell P360 workstation that sports a Pentium IV-2.8 processor, and it came from the Iowa State surplus store for fifty bucks which got me a cabinet, a power supply, a motherboard, and a floppy disk drive. Remember them? This was built in 2004 so it is about ready to become a teenager.

When I got it home I installed a trio of hard drives. one I got from Newegg on the cheap, one that came out of a defunct Tivo recorder and one that I looted from my IBM desktop that I scrapped out in 2000, and all the memory modules I had that would fit. I also had two DVD drives from Newegg and a 17" CRT monitor. Getting the operating system working was pretty simple as the nice folks at ISU had left the product code for Windows sticker on the box. As far as Microsoft knew it was a desktop at the University.

I named it Iron Gertrude.

As you can see there's room for four standalone cards and four memory modules which can accommodate up to 4 gb (I think) of RAM, and what's out there is primitive and cheap. Did I say cheap?

If you're afraid of buying used, buy it anyway and test it using the handy dandy memory diagnostic tool Microsoft provides. It's so easy to find that it will take you no time at all. Then you set it to run and go have a cup of coffee.

It's been through a few iterations but recently I decided it was time to upgrade or dump it. A 21 inch flat panel monitor was had for about $100 on sale at Staples. Microsoft decided it didn't want to support XP any more, so rather than continue that struggle I ordered up Windows 7, and I got a legit copy for about sixty dollars.

The install went well, but I spent a day or so screwing around trying to install my Linksys WUSB54GS (with speed booster no less) wireless adapter. The piece o' shit just wouldn't get with the program. It had worked just OK with XP but with frequent dropoffs and panic attacks.

After some thought I figured that a wireless card would be just the ticket. The one you see here was bought on ebay for a total of about fifteen bucks including shipping from a seller called "marketplace 360". It came yesterday with the antennas and a disk with the drivers.

So figuring I had a day's work ahead of me, I disconnected the Dell, opened it up and gave it a good dusting and cleaning, and installed the card in the bay formerly occupied by the LAN card.

I powered it up with some trepidation, but hell's bells, it connected itself to my wireless router upstairs and is now happily checking for Windows 7 updates.

It's rare that something so inexpensive works so well. I tried Linksys. It didn't work. It went in the trash.  I tried a Belkin adapter and that never worked and ended up in the  trash.

It was literally do or go shopping at ISU next Wednesday. Depending on how this antiquated processor works I'll probably get an audio card and get that running as well.

And, not to brag or anything I managed to save a rather large chunk of e-waste from the dumpster.

UPDATE: Because the processor is a little slow and the memory's marginal it took a longish time to download and install the necessary updates and clean out the accumulated detritus.  I also took the liberty of purchasing 4 gb of memory-about all this machine can use-and a sound card with drivers as I think mine conked out for good. I've made it a point of keeping the installed base of applications down to a minimum so as to not overwork things here. I'll update this again after the memory and the sound card arrive.

UPDATE 2: The memory showed up here and I now have installed all this thing can hold, 4gb of RAM. The price with postage was about $15 shipped, and I noticed an appreciable increase in performance. I did install the minimum necessary viewing and maintenance tools: CrapCleaner, an antivirus program, Adobe Acrobat,  Office 2003, and I'm likely to install IrfanView. Right now, I'm hunting around to see if anyone ever has installed more than 4gb of RAM because I think that would be a workable proposition.

The secret here is to keep the processor doing only one thing at a time because it is a single core dealio although at the time I bought my Dell 4600 in 2004 I thought it was tits on a Ritz.  Keeping the bloatware load down helps this simple minded processor and it's got to be spare, lean and efficient. Windows 7, the 32 bit variety, is working well and I've got a functional library box that is good for a few more years. We're up to date and after several sessions the updates are in good order. The only thing I'm a little apprehensive about is that support for Office 2003 ended in 2014, and I will probably install Office 2007 or whatever the latest version that I own is.

The total I have invested in this rig is $50 for the CPU, $20 for the memory modules, $15 for the wireless card which works flawlessly by the way, $100 for the 21 inch flat panel display, the two DVD drives were about $20 each, and the 450gb hard drive was some kinda cheap, maybe $30 a few years ago and the operating system was about sixty dollars. I'm right around $300 paid out over a period of seven or eight years which suits me fine.
Stay tuned.


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