Category Archives: Hardware

The X60s: One year later

It’s about time for another little anniversary party. About a year ago, I finally broke down, waded through my indecisiveness and plopped down less than US$400 or so for a humdinger of a laptop.

To be perfectly, completely and absolutely honest, I haven’t ever regretted it. This machine has been a happy addition to the family, and given the chance I would not pick any other over this one.

It’s petite, light, speedy and flexible, and does so much work around the house it’s a wonder how I ever got on without it.

I would be hard-pressed to find something to complain about, unless I include battery life (which is not a huge concern for me) or a rather weak video card (which is also not a huge concern for me).

I’ve never had a stitch of trouble from it — either in terms of hardware reliability or Linux compatibility — and I would gladly endorse or recommend this machine to anyone else looking for a computer in the same bracket.

I admit freely that I picked a Thinkpad because I know and enjoy working with them, and that has not failed me. If I’m ever in the market for another computer, I’d definitely go with this brand.

But considering my propensity for milking hardware for every last second of its life … I might not need a new computer for about 15 years or so. … :shock:

Cheers and happy anniversary, X60s. :)

Five generations of junk

I realized something rather odd the other day, and as a result, I think it will lead to a few interesting experiments. That’s what I call these little adventures … “experiments.”

It’s a little bit generous to say it in some places, but I believe I now have at least one machine across five different “generations” and 15 years of PC hardware — from Pentium 1 to multiprocessor machines.

The X60s is a core duo, and the newest machine in the house.

This Celeron, while not a speed demon, is puttering along at 2.5Ghz and part of the Pentium 4 family.

Its little brother, a 700Mhz Coppermine Celeron, is representative of the Pentium III bracket.

And it’s a wee bit of a stretch, but as a high-end K6-2 and a Super Socket 7 machine, this Sotec was meant to stand up to Pentium IIs.

True, it’s not really a 686 and so not exactly in that class, but it’s somewhere in that range. And its inception date is about right.

Last but definitely not least, this machine and this machine and this machine are all holdovers from the first Pentiums, at 150Mhz or below.

Below that? I’m afraid I hardly ever see 486 machines any more. It may just be an aversion to 15-plus-year-old hardware in the mind of Japanese consumers, which keeps them out of the recycling shops.

Or it may be that they’re all just finally wearing down and disappearing, as must happen to us all.

In any case, it’s been a very, very long time since I even saw a 486-based machine, let alone one is good enough condition to put to work.

But I would if I could. :twisted:

So the next question should be obvious: What do you do with an assembly of machines that span a decade and a half of hardware evolution?

Well, the answer should be obvious too: Install the same brand of Linux on all five creatures … and complain about it! :mrgreen:

The worst best torrent client list

I had another one of those proverbial coffee-spitting moments this morning when I got a link to PC Magazine’s list of the best torrent clients for 2011.

Setting aside the fact that 2011 is all of about 25 days old, which makes it tough to pick out the best of the year, the four listed — BitTorrent, Deluge, uTorrent and Vuze — are hardly representative of what’s available.

And the fact that Vuze somehow gets a little yellow and red “EC” as some sort of award as editor’s choice … well, that’s just horrific.

It’s like reviewing four of the best cars available for 2011, and picking a Hummer as the top model. It defies all logic.

But who knows? Me and my rack of outdated computers don’t really understand — and don’t really want to understand — what passes for popular technology in 2011. I’ve been down this road before.

If Joe Shmoe with zero computer knowledge wants to download a movie or something, then maybe point-and-click Vuze, with its plethora of unrelated options (free trial DVD burning! gasp! :shock: ) is the answer for him. I won’t argue the point.

Somehow its sad though, that PC Magazine could only come up with four torrent clients, and picked quite possibly the worst of the lot to highlight and endorse. Stop me before I cringe again.

P.S.: No, I don’t actually drink coffee. Blech.

It never rains, but it pours

It figures. Only days after I am effectively overwhelmed with leftover computers, and after I get them all arranged in some semblance of order, and after I worry about what will happen next … the unbelievable occurs.

Quite nonchalantly and without so much as a by-your-leave, my boss says yesterday, “No one is using that old grey computer. You should take it home.”

Grumble, grumble, grumble.

Two years of surreptitiously using it as a Linux test bed, another year of shelf life, and out of the blue it’s suddenly mine to work with. I need a smiley that smacks itself on the head in disbelief.

Oh well. There’s naught so queer as folk.

So there it is. The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave is back, and it looks like it’s for good this time.

Another mixed blessing, it seems. What in the world am I going to do with this one … ? :shock:

Bring out the rack!

A couple more photos, just to see if I can make my fellow geeks jealous.

 

I am nearing critical mass in terms of the number of homeless computers I’ve taken in. This wheeled shelf and a rather pricey six-slot power strip seem to keep things organized though.

My wiring and strapping isn’t the best, but I wanted something I could keep organized and still pull apart at a moment’s notice.

Clockwise from upper left, the big dog of the rack, the 2.5Ghz Celeron, which is the media center for the house. Right now the palmrests are the only places those speakers will really fit.

Next to it is the scallywag 700Mhz Celeron, which looks a little better after a cleaning.

One odd thing about this machine, if you look close, is that the speakers are actually mounted on the hinge. It means the lid doesn’t block the sound when it’s closed. Ironic, therefore, that they sound awful. :roll:

Below that is the Pentium — the torrent slave and in-house nfs server. That’s what I use to pass stuff between machines, and is also where I keep my collection of ripped DVDs.

Finally, at lower left is the Mebius, which is really just resting there after being a surrogate two or three times over the past week or so.

Oddly enough, it was just as useful (although dreadfully slow) to install Debian for the Celeron on that machine, as it was to install it for the 120Mhz Pentium I’m using now. Of course, that means the Celeron is running i486 Debian. …

Altogether, my desk is pleasantly free of junk right now.

A clean desk is the sign of a disturbed mind. :twisted:

Of course, if things get any more dense in here I’m going to need to free up that bottom rack, and trap some computers there. That, however, could trigger the herd to panic. … :shock:

Catch and release

I have the good luck to babysit a laptop for the weekend. Or maybe I should say, the bad luck to babysit it.

It’s a Toshiba Dynabook V2/470CRC, and while it was loaned to me as a fixer-upper, I get the feeling I’ll be happy to return it to the owner.

It’s another Celeron Coppermine, this one running at 700Mhz and with a roomy 256Mb of PC100 in it. CDRW, 1024×768 screen, etc., etc. Not a bad computer, technically.

But this is one of those machines that looks good on paper — Intel guts, with the exception of the video card. A smattering of peripheral ports, but no built-in wired connection. Easy-to-get-to memory and hard drive bays, but a battered keyboard.

Some of that’s not the fault of the machine or Toshiba, just a sad history with an indifferent owner. On the other hand, that video card is for-certain a dealbreaker.

Arch can’t get a graphical screen on it, in either vesa, fbdev or the trident driver. Neither can Debian. Or Lubuntu. Or Puppy. Or Linux Mint Debian. Or …

Kernel framebuffer modules weren’t working either. Nothing short of the default font with a horrific framed effect … no matter who tried.

Until Slitaz came along. Yep, not only could Slitaz 3.0 push the framebuffer to its native 1024×768, but could get a full desktop working … with a little nudging. +1 for Slitaz, again.

So I wouldn’t call that video card a kiss of death, but this computer has an even bigger quirk I dislike … I can’t seem to get into the BIOS.

I’ve scrounged the Internet in hopes of finding the keypress that brings up the BIOS menu, but it eludes me. F2, F1, Esc, Del, the left shift key … nothing seems to work. It jumps straight to the first hard drive, no matter what.

Infuriating. Infuriating because that means it completely disregards the optical drive as a boot device. And without a floppy drive, there’s naught to be done but preinstall an operating system, and hope it works.

Which it usually doesn’t. Oh well. At least it’s easy to get to the hard drive. :roll:

So, let’s recap: Battered keyboard, tetchy video card, mysterious BIOS, won’t boot from CD, no wired connection, dirty from disuse, no battery … the list goes on.

No, this is definitely not something I’d like to keep. It’s a curiosity, and I’ll admit I like a challenge, but I have the luxury to pick and choose.

I’ll keep it around for a day or two, but then it has to go back to its owner. Thanks, but no thanks. :shock:

When an old laptop is better than a new one

It’s a very odd situation, but occasionally I need to take a laptop to work.

Currently, with one machine making a smooth, albeit extended, transition between distros, I found myself dragging the fastest (but not biggest) one into the office.

That was a huge mistake.

Mostly because that’s the one that has both Warzone 2100 and Wine-plus-Icewind Dale on it.

The hours ticked by like minutes.

Which was a good thing in a way, because that was part of the problem — large periods of time with nothing specific to do.

On the other hand, I know I should be working a little harder either on job issues or minor tasks.

But that is simply an impossibility so long as the burrows of the lizard men need cleared, or there’s another skirmish waiting in Warzone.

Next time, something so underpowered as to be no kind of distraction. :)