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!


Mike Barreca said...

Look at how for technology has come. Everything is just upgrading all the more by the day. Anyway, I think you can get a bit more value for your used hard drive. You can sell it to storage dealers who can refurbish it, clean it off of embedded blockages and files, and have them served up, good as new.

Mike Barreca @ Tab Data Systems

LudditeGeek said...

Hi Mike:

Thanks for your suggestion. I wonder what the demand is for a 20GB ISA drive. Hmm, I don't have to wonder. I can find online an entire computer system that's just like mine. These systems seem to be priced at $200, sans monitor. If someone offered me $200 for mine, I'd take the offer.