Hardware

I have owned more computers than I can remember, and I’m always on the lookout for talented team members. The roster changes from day to day, but I’ll try to keep this page updated to reflect what’s in the stable at any given moment. ;)

A word about names: I just give each computer the serial number off the bottom of the case. I know, it’s boring, but it helps me distinguish between similar models. :|

Dell Inspiron 8200: 6m47421

    2014-04-22-6m47421-portrait
  • 2.60GHz Mobile Intel Pentium 4M CPU SL6WZ
  • 2Gb PC2100 memory
  • 64Mb Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 Go NV18
  • Intel Corporation PRO/Wireless 2200BG [Calexico2] MiniPCI network adapter
  • 60Gb 7200rpm Hitachi Travelstar 7K100 HTS721060G9AT00 hard drive
  • 120Gb 5400rpm Western Digital Scorpio Blue SATA WD1200BEVS hard drive in modular SATA adapter caddy
  • 2x USB1.1 ports, two right and one left
  • Adaptec AUA-1422 DuoConnect USB2.0/1394 CardBus adapter ;)
  • 1600×1200 UXGA LCD
  • Cirrus Logic CS4205 rev 3 audio

We all make mistakes in life, and one of my smaller ones was sending this machine on to a new owner. It would be a while before I could reclaim an 8000-series machine, and afford to outfit it properly.

The 8000s were some of the most flexible, customizable machines Dell ever made (in my unprofessional opinion) and a top-of-the-line refit will run you less than the cost of a department store ultralight — and you might even get similar performance from it.

A few caveats, if you wander down this road:

  1. The 8200 is the only one that can run the 2.6Ghz P4, and only after the last BIOS update is applied.
  2. The NV18 is a decent video card, but is actually just a glorified Geforce 2. Count yourself lucky if you can get your hands on a working Nvidia Geforce4 700 GL Go. I see some online in overstock stores, but they’re nearly US$100.
  3. Dell never documented the 2Gb memory limit for this machine, and given the weight of the web these days, you’ll probably want it. Even just typing a document in Google Docs can thow you into a fit of paging.
  4. The mini-PCI bay will hold an abg wireless card, but most of the 8200s I’ve seen come stock with Broadcom 4318 cards. Dump that garbage and get yourself a proper Intel PRO/2200.
  5. While you’re at it, get yourself a modular bay for a second hard drive, a modular DVD+-RW, a 250Mb zip drive, and multicolor palmrest inserts! :D

Tackle all that, and congratulations: You’ve built your own Precision M60. ;)

I wouldn’t have invested in a machine like this if I didn’t have some sort of serious attachment to it. The 8200s in particular seem to hold their value, and while parts are not expensive, they’re definitely sitting in the low end of that price curve that I’ve talked about. If you can see your way to spending about $150 on all the upgrades, gadgets and gizmos, you’ll be terrifically pleased. It’s a rare bird that is this customizable and not horrifically expensive. ;)

96 thoughts on “Hardware

  1. Matthew

    My machines live in the LoTR universe… they are named for characters… my main machine is frodo, laptop is gimli, server is strider… etc!

    Reply
    1. John

      @Matthew’s post – I too use LOTR theme for my network, server is gandalf, wife’s laptop is Legolas and mine is merryweather, even the SSID of my router is Gondor! Bring it on!

      Reply
  2. K.Mandla Post author

    Some is OEM info — I still have a lot of the original packaging for the Inspiron, for example. Otherwise it’s just lspci -vvv and dmesg output, coupled with a quick Scroogle search. I know Windows can give the same information, but for some reason I always find it easier to detect the guts of a machine with the Linux CLI. :)

    Reply
  3. johnraff

    Can’t see any RAM info.
    I thought that was more important than CPU or anything, really…

    Reply
  4. K.Mandla Post author

    ACK! :shock: How could I have overlooked that?! :oops: Thanks for the catch.

    As far as the importance of RAM to system performance, I leave it to you to decide. I’ve done my own tests, and I don’t have much faith in the common conception that more RAM makes a system faster.

    Reply
  5. johnraff

    Yes I wonder if most people really need 1 or 2GB…
    Not enough RAM is definitely bad news though, and because it’s generally cheap these days you can see why it’s one of the first things people recommend for a slow machine.
    With 128MB on Xubuntu after a couple of hours of use I get plenty of this:
    “Switch between programs. Is there a lag? Is it stuttering? Can you tell it’s struggling? Is the hard drive access light flickering like a madman?” …yes it is! (my box’s RAM just happens to be an expensive kind, so no upgrade coming :( )

    btw, another hardware profiler you might not have tried is lshw (in the repos). It might offer a different slant from lspci

    Reply
  6. Matthias

    Well, i understand your concern about people who think they need 2gb of ram and x ghz cpu, but
    – some of them play games (this is also why they don’t use linux) which consume a lot of memory
    – some (try to) use Windows V**** which needs 1gb ram for booting properly…

    My Scenario:
    I use Ubuntu 7.10 with Gnome on a Compaq Evo N610C (2 ghz P4; 768mb ram)
    – Gnome + Amarok 150mb
    – Firefox with some tabs + 120mb
    – sometimes Eclipse for C++ + 90mb
    – sometimes Virtual Box + 450mb (depends on OS)

    Normal usage means about 350mb of ram consumption which I think is ok for a “full featured” desktop, but in worst case it means a lot more.

    But I remember other times, where I used Slackware with EvilWM and did almost everything on the commandline.

    I think i’ll dig out my old Notebook and try to “keep it simple” again ;-)

    Thanks for your great blog.
    Matthias from Germany

    Reply
  7. K.Mandla Post author

    You’re right Matthias. And that was always my capitulation: If you need the memory because your workload calls for it, then it’s important. Too little memory is a hindrance if you’re doing everything you mention.

    But does adding memory arbitrarily make your computer faster? Not in my experience it doesn’t.

    Reply
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  60. zmjjmz

    I have a slightly better specced laptop (40MB RAM, 233MHz PII) but the motherboard doesn’t support hard drives of size >8GB (found out the hard way).
    I’m just surprised that you managed to get a PI to use a 40GB HDD.

    Reply
  61. kludge

    typing this on an eight-year-old a21m. ram up’d to 512, hdd up’d to 160 gb. arch linux. this baby screams, even after dropping it three feet while the hard drive was spun up. yeah, thinkpad’s are freaking indestructible. except for the slightly flaky acpi, this is the perfect laptop.

    Reply
  62. JoshMiller

    Holy crap, I’m totally ripping off this page with my hardware. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner.

    PS, nice collection of fun varied equipment. Reminds me of my mess of almost but not really worthwhile hardware.

    Reply
  63. mrreality13

    im not suprised .
    I’ve walked a few puppys my self and 90% of the time it just works,only on towers(no lappys like you) from a older hp with a
    p2 @333mhz/128 up to a ibm net vista with a 2.0 ghz 1 gig /ati 9250.
    And a fair share of amd’s as well,
    taking puppy’s for a walk continue to impress so far one of my favourite breed’s is this one

    Puppy Ferrary 4.1

    http://puppylinux.org/downloads/puplets/puppy-ferrary-41

    I have been reading your blog for a long time now and have picked up quite a few useful things here and really think you would like this one.

    Reply
  64. Tundro Walker

    Hey K,

    I’d like to know what Linux distro you’re using on your 100mhz. From the screen shot, I see icons and a pop-up, but not sure from there. I’m trying to get an old Omnibook 800CT 166mhz/32mb running Linux. I tried DSL, but it’s not cutting it (distorted X desktop & PCMCIA wireless card not working even though it’s on DSL’s “just works” list.)

    Reply
    1. K.Mandla Post author

      These days it runs console-based software on Crux, without X. It can’t handle the “standard” framebuffer support that Linux has, so everything is running boxed at 640×480 on an 800×600 screen. But it zooms along with only about 8MB of its 12MB taken up, so I don’t complain.

      Crux was the only thing I could strip down enough to boot, and still be usable. Nothing else would even start, with perhaps the exception of Slitaz. I’d use that over DSL any day of the week. … ;)

      Reply
  65. h4mx0r

    I christen each one with the serial number off the bottom. – Genious idea! I must try that, hate thinking of names.

    Also I must add in some situations adding memory does indeed boost the speed of a system. multi core systems usually have a memory bank per processor or in order to utilize certain faster memory transport standards, like I think ddr2 you need least 2 sticks for some sort of system. And then theres those old rdrims I think they’re called and they need blank ram sticks to terminate the empty connectors so minds well just get a regular stick of ram.

    It’s not the “amount” of memory but the “quality” of memory that makes the difference. Got to reach that insane front side bus speed. Same goes for the cpu its not about x ghz here but how many transistors the cpu has to utilize. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law)

    Reply
  66. h4mx0r

    hmm that 100mhz laptop has about the same specs as what someone reported using to run a game called “tremulous”. They recompiled the source stripping most graphics and optimizing it. Actually I think it was 32mb requirement and they had an actual graphics card perhaps :/ Still not bad.

    Reply
    1. Mulenmar

      Well K.Mandla, you’ve inspired me. 8~) And when it comes to crazy computer projects, that is a VERY bad thing to do. X~D :twisted:

      I got a stripped-down IBM Thinkpad 600E off eBay — no battery, no hard drive (yet) and no CD-ROM drive (very unfortunate, will correct soon) — and an AC adapter to go with it.

      366mHz Pentium 2, 32MB soldered to the motherboard, and a whopping 1024×768 TFT 13″ LCD screen. This thing doesn’t even have an Ethernet port (PCMCIA adapter in the mail.)

      I’m going to try and set up a fully functional Crux system, with the PCMCIA ethernet working (and optionally a USB Belkin Wireless adapter) and everything. Probably not going to bother with a battery, at least for now, even though I need one to update the BIOS.

      And then…onward, to the crazy home network! 8~D

      Reply
      1. K.Mandla Post author

        Cool! Send up a flare if you run into problems. Worse comes to worst, you can always pull out the hard drive and install in another machine. I, unfortunately, have a lot of experience doing that. … :|

        Reply
        1. mulenmar

          Thanks, I’ll be sure to ask. Unfortunately, swapping out the hard drive I managed to lay my hands on isn’t an
          option, as my other laptop is a Dell Latitude and uses ATA drives of some kind, whereas the Thinkpad uses
          the IDE interface…in this case, they don’t seem to be equivalent. 8~(

          So, until I can get this thing a CD-ROM drive, I’ll probably just continue playing with my trusty ol’ Dell.

          Or the 75mHz Pentium, 8MB ram Packard Bell a computer repairman gave me free, and I’ve affectionately(?) dubbed
          “The Snail”… :twisted: I’ll be shocked if even DSL will boot on that beast, let alone a decent Debian system.

          *goes back to “working” on crazy projects*

          Reply
          1. lo0m

            hey, i have Pentium 133mHz/48MB RAM and it runs debian (lenny without X of course) at a decent speed… i see you have only 8MB but i think you could give it a try … i used the minimal netinstall cd

            Reply
            1. K.Mandla Post author

              I tried that actually, but the installer wouldn’t run on such low memory. I used the floppy installation method but the boot sequence failed. :( I might try it again sometime.

              Reply
          2. mulenmar

            After a great deal of hair-pulling, and about four or five installations (and, I think by this point, six kernels) I’ve gotten most, if not all, of the computer working. I’m having some major problems with the Xircom adapter…at least, that’s what it says it is in lspci and on the little dongle…thing. The part that goes in the PCMCIA slot says “IBM 10/100 Etherjet”. Confusing.

            I’m trying to recompile the kernel (again) with module support, and yenta-socket and xircom enabled as modules, based off of your “NFS file transfers from the Crux live CD” entry. Will let you know if that works…not having much luck so far on that stupid adapter.

            Reply
            1. mulenmar

              Well, that didn’t work, even though the Xircom adapter worked in the installation enviroment. ??? But Arch is running like a dream…now that I got the issue with a horrible near-ultrasonic squeal when the wireless adapter was plugged in. Disabling ACPI took care of that, btw, if you’ve (K.Mandla) have ever had that problem on your Thinkpad. Anyway, this computer has been quite an experience, and I won’t fill up your comments with it when I can go creat yet another linux blog. Oh wait, that name’s taken. :P May the source be with you!

              Reply
  67. kainah

    Well, I have such problem with my mother’s notebook (broken screen too, but it just stopped working one day. Everything else works fine). I think I will leave it as a home server, connecting to it with SSH or VNC… What do you think of the idea?

    Reply
  68. Golden Denis 4000+ (AMD Golden Denis 3000+, the slick man Deven Gallo 3000+, Deven Denis)

    More RAM does actually make a system faster – at least when you’re talking about a system with such a small amount of RAM. With 16 or 32 MB of RAM, it’ll be using a lot of swap, which slows things down a lot. And with more RAM, there’ll be a larger disk cache, which probably helps make things faster.

    I’ve definitely noticed a difference in speed when I’ve added more memory to low memory systems in the past.

    Reply
  69. demonicmaniac

    Using a 600E myself since about 7 years.came with 128mb, then maxxed it out to 512mb RAM and the difference is certainly noticeable. my desktop only uses about 60mb usually, then 60mb buffers and 400mb filesystem cache which speeds up any hdd activity greatly as the old 8gb ibm drive has a max throughput of 15mb/s >.> and don’t forget, making a 128mb ramdisk with the extra ram helps a lot for small compilations or, my favourite: fbgs, which in standard config converts the pdf to images and saves those in /tmp. cheers

    Reply
  70. mulenmar

    Hey K. Mandla, I remember you mentioning several different wireless adapters over the years. Any possibility you could add them to this page, perhaps with a note of what kernel module they use, firmware, your opinion of them, etc?

    Reply
    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Yes, all of them can. Unfortunately, some of the low-speed machines suffer with higher quality audio files. It appears that I would have to resample a lot of my music collection to a lower quality, if I was serious about dedicating one of the Pentiums to music playback.

      Reply
  71. PeterStJ

    I have one big question for you, so if you please can take the time to advise, it would be great.

    I simply do not understand how one can manage to start anything on 80MB of RAM. I have my test machine with 512MB of ram) and I ‘init’ it in level 3 (means no X), I have disabled all services, like automatic update managers, bluetooth, dhcp, apache, nfs, anything that I am not using. I am logged in only one TTY, so only one bash instance is running, I make sure no process I know of is running and yet, after all this preparation htop shows that I am using 129 MB or RAM!
    I see processes I am not sure of, like ‘console-kit-daemon’,’auditd’,lots of hal* things, ‘sedispatch’ and some more, tat indicate very low memory usage and yet I hit 128+ of ram usage.
    Then how can one use anything more on a computer with 128 of ram.
    But then again I remember times when I had Pentium 130Mhz with 32MB of ram and it was working, I ued it with lynx and bitchx a lot, as well as mc. Those were some ancient distros, like slackware 5 or something. How can I achieve workable system when only the system takes the whole memory, no place for user applications?

    I am asking those questions as I found a very nice, very preserved Pentium MMX PC from 90s and I want it. But I want it to work! Not just boot and display login message. I want to be able to do stuff, like you are doing, like hbn, newsbeuter/myrss, links….

    Thanks so much.

    Reply
      1. PeterStJ

        Ok, sounds like Science fiction, honestly.
        What I did so far was – set init level to 3, disabled ALL service, except dbus (which is needed to allow communication from finch (console chat application) to skype) and hald (which as of my understanding is needed for X. I run i3 as window manager, which is only 6MB. When I am on TTY (i.e. just rebooted, only 2 TTYs are activated, just logged in (i.e. one bash instance)) I get 32 MB usage. How is this even possible. Is it because of the RHGB? I will try and disable that too. Also the ttys are using KMS, maybe it takes too much? Anyways, X take another 15 MB, so once I ‘startx’ it goes to 64-70MB. Skype – another 35, so this is pretty much the limit of the system. Too bad everyone in Europe is using skype exclusively, I would much better be off with XMPP/GTalk but no one is even ever heard of it.

        No graphical browser is usable after this initialization, not even surf (which is minimal, but still demands at least 20MB + the shared stuff like gtk, everyone is relying these days on toolkit even for such simple simple things like menus (actually surf uses gtk ONLY for the menus and to implement the native controls like input, button and scroll). Te obvious sacrifice is Skype, however this would mean no real time communication, and this seems mandatory.

        So here is my question (again, sorry:)) – is there a way to use skype (text only at least, no voice/video calls) from the console without actually running the Skype executable for linux locally (it can be started remotely I guess, on another computer, but I would prefer not to if possible). And no, using finch on the remote machine where skype is running is not possible as the DBUS sessions will never match.

        Thanks

        Reply
  72. anon

    I’m curious.

    Anyways I’m planning to get a ThinkPad. An old one, the a22m. It’s got a Pentium III. (800 mhz – 1Ghz, could any of those)

    So anyways, wi-fi, USB, ATI card, (no wrestling with trident/chips/omgwtfbbq drivers :D) all sorts of goodies. Shall I get it? It’s looking nice…

    Reply
    1. K.Mandla Post author

      I would. It’s hard to beat a late-model Thinkpad for a combination of Linux compatibility and all-around ruggedness. I’ve only ever had one I didn’t like, and it predated the general reputation that Thinkpads enjoy.

      I say go for it! :D

      Reply
  73. Timmy

    Hey K.Mandla!

    I love stuff like this! I’ve got a couple of ‘older’ machines myself, but my pride and joy is the Dell Latitude C610 (not that old, but still…) which runs like a charm with Bodhi Linux.

    Reply
  74. Taffin

    Seems like I’m not the only one who still likes “old” hardware, I’ve still got a 100MHz IBM Thinkpad stashed away in my cupboard. =D

    Reply

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