Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Hey, don’t junk that old PC

Buried in too many closets are old PCs that once were the hottest boxes on the block, hooked up to accessories and the Internet and used for all sorts of activities, but now are forgotten relics of an older technological era.

When you buy a new computer, once you transfer your data from the old machine and get all your games and stuff reinstalled, the first question has to be: so what do I do with this old, antique machine?

For some folks, their county’s technology recycling day is the day to unload the old stuff. It’s kind of sad. I was at Manatee County’s recycling day about three years ago and saw pallets of old Macintoshes, PC monitors, PCs, keyboards, mice, cables, printers and more, all in varying states of repair from OK to run but obsolete to busted or burned by lightning strikes, and the place was overwhelmed.

One group of people was dropping off old flat-screen TVs. A few had cracked screens, and the cost of repair was more than the cost of a new one. Tragic. I have a Panasonic 42-incher I bought a number of years ago, and while my changed economic status means I cannot buy a new one, I shudder at the thought. It is a nice, usable TV that offers me everything I need for excellent viewing.

But in my closet is an old 27-inch RCA with a traditional picture tube. It’s not a high-def and it cannot pull digital signals – without a converter – but if I plugged it in, it would work. So I hate to keep it but can’t bear the thought of getting rid of it. Someday, I might need it.

Aside from my laptop, which I bought after my HP laptop bought the farm, I haven’t bought a new PC since 2005, when I went a bit loopy on the Dell configurator and picked up a heck of a machine. It’s given me years of good service, and I have to say that this one’s a longtime keeper.

Behind me, and connected to an electronic keyboard that I keep telling myself I’m going to learn how to play, is a Gateway Pentium 4 machine from the early 2000s. It still works great and runs Windows XP, and can go online, too. It has a 17-inch flat-screen monitor that works beautifully, too. The CDROM drive died several years ago, though, but the DVD drive can read CDs and I have an external CD drive that can read and write CDs.

I also have, from the very late 1990s, another Gateway. This one has an AMD Athlon processor and I have to confess I’ve really given this old machine a workout. For one thing, it has a 19-inch CRT monitor that is bulky and heavy, but still works. Over time, I’ve taken this computer out, set it up, then packed it up again and again. I’ve installed its original Windows operating system, the dreaded Windows Me, a few times, and there were times when it was set up to dual-boot Windows and Linux.

It and the other Gateway are great “scratch” machines for experimentation and learning. When the Gateway attached to the keyboard had a hard drive failure, I simply bought a new and bigger one, then installed it and did a clean install of Windows XP. I’ve used Linux on that machine, too, by the way, sometimes wiping the hard drive and running pure Linux, and other times dual-booting.

Having a machine on which you can screw up and make mistakes is fun because it’s not like you’ve lost everything if you render the hard drive unreadable. Just reformat and start over.

The AMD Gateway this morning got Red Hat Linux 8.0, which I found in an old box marked “Software.” I was trying to find a program I had called Partition Magic to create a partition for Linux for a dual-boot system, but realized that since I rarely if ever booted the computer I might as well go all the way and install Linux.

So now the system only boots Linux, and Windows is gone until I decide to reinstall it.

It was quite an interesting experience putting Linux on that old PC. The computer has 256 MB of RAM and originally came with, I think, a 40 GB hard drive. At some point, I think the original hard drive failed and I replaced it with a 75GB hard drive. It still boots up and I expect to continue to play with it.

The thing about old hardware is that it’s a window into the old world of computers. Using the old stuff is a way to see how much progress we’ve made.

Someday, the Dell I’m using now will be relegated to another desk and a new and way faster machine will be in its place. But it will be honored, though it won’t be in the place of honor on the main desk. Who knows, someday maybe it, too, will be my scratch system and run Linux.

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August 29, 2012 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , ,

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