This Old PC

Why have new computer equipment when you can have … old computer equipment?

Our friend Bruce gifted us some years ago with a Pentium II MMX 333 mHz PC, 64 MB RAM, 8 GB hard drive, CD-ROM.

A few years back, I added a TDK CD-RW drive, which did OK for data writes, less than OK for music (lots o’ pops, clicks, dropouts, etc.). Got a USB Zip drive connected (not USB powered, the one with the wall wart, bought “refurbished” at Fry’s for $20).

A more recent addition was the stuffing it with as much memory as it will recognize — currently 262 MB (why that number?), even though I’ve had as much as 384 MB in the slots.
Basically, anything free or cheap, I try to stuff it in there.

Got a 10/100 Ethernet card from Fry’s for 99 cents (yep, new and 99 cents), put that in. Got a 802.11G wireless card, put that in (it didn’t work until I upgraded from Windows 98 to 2000), and now I’m almost ready to hook up the DSL modem to a free Netgear 802.11B router, which I will still probably use wirelessly with this PC, because even though router and PC are 3 feet apart, it’s WIRELESS, goddammit.

What gave this old computer new life was Windows 2000. I was worried about upgrading from Windows 98SE. Would it slow the computer to a crawl? Would nothing work when plugged in? Would software cease to run?

Well, the OS upgrade made EVERYTHING faster, better, and yes, stronger. As I mentioned above, the Fry’s wireless card (cost $9) worked, so did the Zip drive, the network card and almost all of the software. I was instructed during the lengthy install process to delete Norton, which I did. Windows has its own disk defragmenter, and that’s all I really need anyway.

I couldn’t install Symantic antivirus — something about needing a service pack. Well, maybe when I finally get this thing hooked up to the Internet and go to Windows Update, I will have more success. Bruce says there’s a free antivirus program called Avast that’s better and … freer.

The big test will be if the router right next to this PC will be able to make a wireless connection with the iBook that’s about 50 feet and about four walls away. If that works, we’re golden as far as the wireless network goes. There’s something about a wireless router right next to the iBook — and mere feet from our sometimes sleeping heads — kicking out 2.4 gHz RF 24-7 that makes me feel unsettled. That can’t be good for you. I did a test a few weeks back with the aformentioned router next to the aforementioned hed, and it wouldn’t connect going the other way — to this PC through the four walls and 40 feet. Hopefully the iBook will fare better when I get the wireless card in it (at the time we got the iBook, wireless was optional, and this one doesn’t have it factory-installed). After stuffing my Powerbook 1400 with memory, I’m ready to open up another laptop with little fear.

So my quest has been to make a heard of old computers, both PC and Macintosh, useful for Web browsing (love the phrase “light” Web browsing — there’s really no such thing), especially using Yahoo! Mail, posting to Blogger and Google Groups, and using Microsoft Office.

Nothing too heavy, but having a satisfactory Web browsing experience is easier said than done on an older computer. At least an old PC can run a more modern browser. Hell, I’ll even load Firefox on this Pentium II MMX at some point to see if it will work. At least Internet Explorer is in no danger of being totally ignored anytime soon. As for the Powerbook 1400, which does not, nor will it ever, run OS X, the door to new Web browser technology is pretty much closed. No Firefox, no updated IE. The best for that is IE 5.0 (5.2 runs on OS X, but Safari and Firefox do way better). I don’t know how advanced I’ll get with the IE on this PC — and since it’s not connected to the Web right now, I don’t know how the browsing experience will be.

That all said, it’s nice to get a new PC every couple of years, I guess, but wouldn’t know because I’ve never been close to doing it. And at this point in my life, especially with our nearly 3-year-old girl ruling this roost, I’ve fallen into old computer resuscitation as a hobby that can be done in fits, starts, stops and whatnot. Gotta get back to guitar playing, but that’s another blog for another day