Do you have an odd US$100 or so lying around? Do you need an in-house server or a torrent client for cheap? I’ve got an idea for parts for you then.
First, split off about US$5 of that, and pick up a leftover RaLink RT61-driven PCMCIA network card. Ordinarily I wouldn’t touch a RaLink card with a three-meter pole, but I came on this one by accident, and thought it broken.
That wasn’t the case though, and with the proper firmware packages installed, and with an operating system smart enough to identify, configure and handle it, it’s a cheap, fast, and easy-to-manage wireless card that will work on machines as old as 1998.
You have US$95 left? Okay, next, scout your local recycle or thrift shops for leftover Pentium laptops. You could even deliberately buy one for a song online, or demand it of your snide IT staffers.
However you get it, it shouldn’t take more than US$10 to find one in decent working order. If you can, get one with about 32Mb or more of memory, and a processor that runs at around 100Mhz or more. Specs of that magnitude are like saying, “Find yourself a car with four wheels on it.”
You should have at least US$85 remaining. Dump the rest of it — all of it — into the largest (but not necessarily fastest, because the surrounding hardware is the bottleneck) 2.5-inch IDE hard drive you can get.
Provided you don’t buy it in a department store electronics section, you should be able to get at least 80Gb for your money, if not 160Gb or even 250Gb. Storage is cheap these days. (Newegg has Western Digital Scorpio Blue hard drives at 250Gb 5400rpm for US$79.99, with US$6 shipping.)
Finally, mix them all up, add a liberal splatter of one of the finest operating systems ever invented, and push the power button. Cross your fingers.
Because with a little luck and with Debian’s ralink-firmware package, you’ll suddenly have a machine that can do 0 to 60 in about two minutes, but with so much space and so terrifically stable that start times won’t matter.
Uptimes on my computer, which is a dread mix of the above ingredients, easily crosses into double-digits, and yes it starts slow, and yes it processes slow, but it barely uses any swap and never needs attending.
Network access will easily crest 1Mbps, provided your wireless and Internet connection can supply that. And 32Mb is more than enough to handle a serious workload if you stick to lightweight CLI-based torrent clients.
Best of all, the power draw is lower than most kitchen light bulbs.
So yeah, don’t be afraid to mix up bizarre combinations of hardware, and see if they work together. You might hit upon a truly unusual trio, or quartet, or quintet, of parts that suddenly become a mighty mongrel machine.