Thursday, August 07, 2014

Trials with an Old Computer

About six years ago, I mused about what to do with an old computer, a 500MHz Pentium III.  My idea was to reformat the hard drive (20GB) and install one of these operating systems: Windows 2000 (already obsolete); Windows XP (facing obsolescence); and Linux (Ubuntu, although I don't recall why I decided on that flavor).

I tried all three plus Dyne:bolic, a Linux variant specialized for music and video production on under-powered computers.  Here's how I fared....

Dyne:bolic was easy to try out, and I didn't have to reformat the Window NT drive to do it.  So I tried it first.  After downloading version 2, I burned the ISO image to a CD.  It booted up just fine and I ran it from the CD.  It performed well, but it was set up for a single root-level user, and it wouldn't "play" Flash content.

Next was XP.  The first problem I had was that I couldn't activate the OS, even though I had a valid key.  But I played around with it anyway during the evaluation period.  Just twenty minutes was enough to know it would be way too slow.

Then I installed Windows 2000.  This involved a lot of tedious business with multiple CDs for the OS itself, then Service Pack 6 and then more CDs with security software and utilities.  Everything went well until I installed the antivirus program and updated it.  After that, the OS would not start.

Finally I decided to give Linux a try.  Rather than download images files, I decided to search the local public library system for Linux books that had accompanying CDs.  And I limited my search to old books, too, since I really needed the installer to be on CD-ROMs and not a DVD.  There were some Red Hat Linux books, so I got one and tried it.  It installed and ran really well except for the web browser, Mozilla, which had me pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del and longing for Task Manager to come up so I could kill it.

Of these four options, Dyne:bolic was clearly the best.  Unfortunately, by the time I got around to realizing it, Jaromil released version 3.0.0, whose 1.6GB image now must be burned onto DVD, not CD.  (I can't find the CD that had version 2 on it. And booting from USB is not an option in this computer's BIOS.)  This latest Dyne:bolic is totally awesome -- I tried the Live CD on my main home desktop (a P4), and I created a small virtual machine on my work computer, which boots the image file.

In order to run D:B3 on my PIII, I need a DVD drive.  Since I had two on my main desktop, I removed one and installed it on the PIII.  But, alas, it didn't work.  The computer detected the drive, but it won't boot from it, and Linux won't mount it.  So I think the laser is shot.  I've encountered a few non-functioning DVD drives in this manufacturer's computers, so I really do think the drive is defective.  In fact I wasn't able to boot from the drive recently when it was in the P4 that I took it out of.

So this is where I am now.  I need a working IDE DVD drive, which are expensive and/or refurbished.  There are adapters that can convert a SATA drive to IDE, but that's an extra expense I didn't want to pay.  Plus, I'm not sure this small form factor case will have any room for it, although I can put the new SATA drive with IDE adapter into the main desktop and move the working IDE DVD drive from the main desktop to the PIII if I really had to.

If / when I clear this hurdle I'll check in again.  Hopefully D:B3 will still be available!