Debating a machine with few merits

My “newfound” philosophy regarding leftover parts is taking a sideways step these days, and making me reassess the less-than-a-month-old-to-me 560e I tinker with. I’m starting to feel like maybe this is one that’s worth releasing back into the wild, to find its own way.

Truth is, after a month of working with it, I can’t help but feel like it has shortcomings — a lot of shortcomings. Probably the biggest and most encumbering is simply the lack of any way to get a system on to it, without yanking out the hard drive or relying on a network connection (which of course, would require an installed system). No CD drive, no floppy that works (I’ve tried four that will connect, but none will read a disk) and short of hunting down a PCMCIA-driven CDROM (there’s an expression about “hen’s teeth” I think I could use here) and then still wondering if it would be compatible, it seems I have only one option for installing or handling hardware.

And this particular machine isn’t exactly flexible in that department either. Getting to the hard drive requires removing 14 screws, or at least about nine of those 14 and peeling back the upper plastic tray. I used to be annoyed to have to pull out a drive, plop it into a modular tray and jack it into my old Inspiron, but that was a dream compared to pulling the hard drive out of this.

I have other complaints besides just technical-unfriendliness and limited inroads for installation. Thus far, I’ve tried three different releases of Debian, one of Ubuntu, one of Slitaz and even put Windows 2000 on the machine (a lot of good that did me … Win2K wouldn’t even start), and not a single operating system has been able to show me a graphical environment. Even the framebuffer, which is usually something that I can handle myself without needing help from well-orchestrated distros like Ubuntu or Debian, or magical ones like Slitaz, can’t get past 80×60, and most crash and burn violently under X.

It’s not only frustrating, it leads me to wonder if there is some sort of minor fault in the hardware, if nobody can get something working. If something works in one distro but not another, I usually put that on my to-do list as a future challenge. But this is something no one can handle, and that has me eyeing the computer itself suspiciously. And honestly this wouldn’t be the first time something didn’t work quite “right” in it.

This isn’t an issue of function — I have a long list of things to do with a computer like this, first choice being to park it near the router, drop in a 120Gb hard drive and a halfway-decent network card, and let it seed distros throughout its remaining life. But again, I feel like a somewhat-useful 12-year-old semi-inconvenient computer isn’t much better than a somewhat-useful 8-year-old semiworking network card.

Especially because there are more options of its calibre on hand. Today at the recycling shop I saw another ten-dollar-wonder … a 133Mhz NEC Pentium, and that one with 32Mb in it and a CDROM as well. What a luxury. I didn’t ask about the model number, but I at that price I can take a chance and maybe pluck a winner from the display case. …

10 thoughts on “Debating a machine with few merits

  1. steve

    Have you considered a PCMCIA USB card and then adding a USB CDROM? Hang on, that would require a running OS first, forget i mentioned it 😉

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