Friday, December 23, 2005

Used Computers, Pt. 1

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A few weeks ago, a good friend was talking about buying a PC for her spouse. Her problem was that funds were extremely tight and she did not have the funds to buy a new computer. At least, nothing that was current. This posting is about the things done and the tasks completed to get a system into her hands for Christmas.

This saga starts with a phone call describing the desire to purchase a computer for her husband. He was sharing her system that was normally used for business purposes and it was difficult at times for him to have the use of it. Therefore, the need was real. The Handicapped Computerist got busy and started looking around to see what might be available.

Buying a new system was ruled out because of the prices being out of reach. “I only have $100 to spend, what can we do for that?” With prices starting in the $400 range, it was obvious that was not going to work. So, it became a hunting expedition to find a $100 computer that was reasonable in capability.

Here, where I live, we have a thriving used computer marketplace. There is any number of computer manufacturing companies and other companies around that recycle older computers. What I had to find was something available in her price range. Fortunately, there was. One store had a consignment of Dell GX1 tower computers that were built around 1998! Now, the GX1 is NOT a speedy machine. 350 MHz compared to the 3 GHz systems available new. Nevertheless, the GX1 was a nice stable system that should provide several years of solid performance. The price? $19! Yes, I said $19! What did we get for that? 128 Mb of memory and a 3 Gb drive. If you do not know the system, it can run with 3 each 256 Mb SDRAMs which makes for 768 Mb. Quite a respectable amount of memory! The 350 MHz processor, a Pentium II, could be replaced with a 500 MHz processor, so the whole system is a solid performer for a home PC. Since the system was going to be used for writing, playing old Win 95/98 games, and some web browsing, the older system would be fine.

With that decision being made, where to find the funds to purchase the system? In today’s job market, at least around here, jobs are hard to come by. If you do get a job, it is short term and does not pay very well. Therefore, she had a problem. Her husband had been looking unsuccessfully for a job. My friend was working, but her income was taken up by household needs and what bills she had. The solution was rather surprising and, as it ended up, rather annoying. The husband found work delivering telephone books. Several hundred telephone books, and corresponding Yellow page volumes later, my friend had lost her temper because of the mess and high traffic in her home, along with a very sore body due to having to handle the phone books. Stuffing one copy of both White pages and Yellow pages into a plastic bag, stacking them where they could be picked up for delivery and then stuffing them into their car was a lot of work. To top it off, my friend is disabled! The final end result, after working 7 delivery routes, was enough cash to have a nice Christmas for the whole family, including the computer.

She bundled what funds she had for the computer and sent it to the Computerist, who then went shopping. After a short trip, the store was entered and looking around at all the treasures, I got to work. The Dell GX1 was stacked with several dozen others, so I picked one from the stack. The salesperson was extremely helpful since I too am disabled. (I cannot lift and carry) He grabbed the system I pointed out and we started picking out the additional parts needed. A 20 Gb hard drive, additional memory, and we were well on the way of getting everything we needed. Since the system was to be connected to the same cable modem she was already using, we needed some networking equipment and cables. We needed a router to connect the new network to the cable modem. We also needed a small 4-port hub to distribute the network. Cabling was also needed to connect everything together. Fortunately, the store had a single unit that combined the hub and router in the same device. A keyboard and mouse completed the list and so,it was done. How much did we spend for all that ‘stuff’? $99 was the total including tax. Not a bad deal to be sure. Now all that needed to be done was the final assembly and software load. The Computerist’s favorite task!

Installing the hard drive was simple. Remove a single screw and the drive cage lifts out. A few screws later and all that was needed were to replace the drive cage, connect the power and data cables and that was done. . A final check of all the various cables and cards and we were ready to start testing the system. It was ready to be powered up and havesoftware installed.

In Part 2, Oh oh! Troubles!