Not everything I keep around the house is an absolute winner. I do feel like I can pick and choose the machines that stay with me, and which ones go on to new owners and new lives. But sometimes there are machines that really test my principles.
Here’s one. This is a lowly Dell Inspiron 4000. And it’s definitely not a model specimen.
Quite to the contrary. This machine is a veritable best-of list for everything that can possibly go wrong with an old laptop. When it came to me,
- It had no memory.
- It had no battery, and no power supply.
- It had a CD player, but the door mechanism is broken, and if you don’t hold it in, it doesn’t read the CD.
- It had a floppy drive, but I shook so much dust out of it that I’m seriously concerned about jeopardizing one of my few remaining floppy disks by testing the drive.
- It has no rubber feet left, and what remains causes it to rock on a flat surface.
- The screen is in good shape, but takes a while to warm up. Until then, the display has a red tint to it.
- It has one — only one — USB port, and that’s a version 1.1 port, so it’s phenomenally slow. To make matters worse, it feels like the port is losing its grip on the motherboard, because the port flexes when you push in a drive. Scary.
- About a fourth of the keys — mostly in the upper right quadrant — don’t work. Either the keyboard is on the fritz, or the signal isn’t being caught by the machine. I guess the former.
- The CMOS battery is dead, so you have to set the date each time the machine boots. Which is tricky, because again, a quarter of the keys don’t work.
- It has no built-in network port, or rather, this particular model has a plastic shield over the ethernet port, which usually was a sign that the board didn’t carry that port.
- It has more than its share of cracks, dings, scrapes, gouges, split seams, broken corners, busted lips, scuffs and scratches.
It looks a great deal cleaner now than it did when I got it. It still needs a complete disassembly and scrubbing — if it stays, of course.
And that’s where the existential crisis comes in. Because in spite of all that damage and all those deficiencies, it still works. Its saving grace is the the fact that it belongs to the Dell C-series, which means that laptops from about five or six years before and five or six years after it all used compatible parts — including this one.
So, after calling in some favors for a 256Mb stick of PC100, then borrowing the battery and a modular DVDRW drive from the 8200, I turned it on, and it came back to life. The Windows 2000 installation was still in place and functional, even if it was hideously slow. The touchpad is in good shape. And the screen is clear and free of flaws.
I gave it an Atheros-based PCMCIA wireless card, and started it up with a PLOP CD and the Arch Linux install ISO on USB. From there I could ssh into it and work up a system, for as long as the battery would last. And as you can see, after some slight delays, it’s functional again.
But from here it becomes a question of worth, because at its core, it’s still a 600Mhz Celeron, with only 256Mb of memory, a lowly 30Gb hard drive … and all-over barely functional. Sure, it has all-Intel guts and an ATI Mobility card. But it’s not something your day-to-day computer user, circa 2014, wants to take home to meet the family.
So the jury is still out on this machine. I still haven’t tried it with a proper power supply, and I need to know for sure that the keyboard issues are just in the keyboard. I have a feeling that it will cost me more than the value of the machine just to find that out, which is why I’m debating disassembly for parts.
I hate doing that, but sometimes you have to make difficult decisions. 😐