This long and rather rambling observation has its roots in a small, but innocent mistake I made about five years ago. And believe it or not, I documented that mistake here.
I have a lot of favorite machines that stick out in my memory years after they’ve passed on to new owners or the digital afterlife. There is an obligaory parade of forgotten machines, but some are definitely easy to remember.
This was one. And this one, while it was a whipping boy, was not easily forgotten. This one met with an unfortunate end that no one was to blame for. And for my money, there are still not many computers better than this one.
The mistake though, and the domino effect that brings me to this page, was sending this machine on to a new owner.
Like them or hate them, the 8000-series of Dell laptops from the turn of the century were some of the last ones to really tickle my technophile funny bone.
An 8000-labeled machine could handle a mid-market Nvidia GeForce4 440 card at 1600×1200, which in 2006 was more than enough to run Compiz in Ubuntu, or Neverwinter Nights at native resolution in Linux. (Don’t try that with Ubuntu now. 👿 )
The 8000 could hold a Pentium III chip up to 1.4Ghz, if I recall correctly. And the top-of-the-line 8200 machine, with a BIOS upgrade, could wrangle with the manly 2.6Ghz Pentium 4 — and, rumor has it, a 64Mb Nvidia Quadro4 Go GL.
On top of that, removable side and front media bays, support for dual hard drives, and the alternative to connect an external drive by parallel cable. Plus the option for not-just-one-but two batteries, a mini-PCI expansion slot (think: Intel wireless card) … and maybe best of all, the unspoken ability to handle 2Gb of PC2700 memory, although Dell wouldn’t document it.
Even the palmrests could be swapped out for six or seven different colors. 😆
Short of building your own laptop out of a whitebox, the 8200 was probably the best you could expect to get from a mainstream computer company. You’d need to move into desktops to get something more flexible.
Getting into and out of an 8000-era machine was a piece of cake too. Four screws and the keyboard came off, putting you within striking range of the processor and video card. Three more screws and the screen was off. A few more, and the entire business unfolded like a string of paper dolls.
Dell followed the 8200 with a complete redesign — a shift into the silver casings and slimmer, lighter forms of the 8500 and others. The 5150 was released in 2003, the 8600 soon after. I’ve owned an 8600, and while it was smaller and lighter, it wasn’t nearly as much fun to tear down and build back up.
Around five years ago I decided it was time to part with my 8000, for reasons that sounded good at the moment. Many times since then I’ve wondered if I did the right thing. About six months ago I started thinking that the uncanny valley of computer pricing might put an 8000 back in range, and I started watching auctions.
And about a month ago, I came across an 8200 that was seemed clean and complete, without undue wear and tear, and the price was right … all of about US$60. 😯
I did not misplace my investment. The seller claimed the machine was clean, but s/he didn’t say it was museum quality. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect specimen. Impeccable screen, not a scratch anywhere, 1Gb of memory, carrying case included. I’ve even been inside the machine twice, and I can’t find any dust. The only sign of use is a small worn spot on the touchpad. (Well, of course the battery had failed. 🙄 )
It’s like 2002 all over again. 😉
I’ve since done the final BIOS update and dropped in that beastly 2.6Ghz chip, as well as a 64Mb GeForce4 440. It’s got a proper wireless card now (I won’t patronize Broadcom, even in a 12-year-old laptop) and a second hard drive. I’m waiting for a DVDRW and a pair of sparkly green palmrests. 🙄 And ironically, the system drive it is using right now is the same one I bought years ago, for my original 8000. Imagine that.
It’s a good feeling. It’s one part nostalgia and one part having the luxury of rebuilding a machine to its practical summit at a price that isn’t astronomical. I said once a long time ago that technology prices follow a strange curve, bottoming out after about 8 years and then spiking back up when people start to attach the word “vintage” to it. And nowadays, it feels like the 8000s have reached the trough of that curve.
So putting together everything I’ve described — even with a machine that really ought to have been twice as much as what I paid — has barely broken US$150. And yes, that includes the sparkly green palmrests. 🙄
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I too have a Inspiron 8200 and I think the very reason I started reading your blog and added it to my RSS feeds years ago was because I was searching trying to get some chipset or another working for it in Linux and you happened to post the very fix I needed.
You lead me on a journey switching from Ubuntu minimal installs to Arch Linux back around 2009, and I’m very grateful for that and all the great Linux tips you’ve given (which also helped since we had similar hardware and love for old laptops). I even lived in the console exclusively for a good 3 months using screen based on your experiences.
I only just noticed that you started updating this blog again but I’ll just say I was excited to see that. Keep up the good work!