Thursday, January 28, 2010

Where do old computers go to die?

I hate getting a new computer. It isn't just that I'm cheap, though that does have something to do with it. It's just the hassle and amount of time it takes to get all your software installed and set up the way you want it again. Although I will copy all my files to a backup drive so I can transfer them to the new one, inevitably I will end up forgetting (and hence losing) something. And equally inevitably I will find that I've lost the license keys for some programs I've bought, or am unable to find to re-download some useful program I acquired years ago.

But I can't put off the inevitable any longer. My shack computer is over five years old. It is an Acer F1, an entry level system when I bought it. And it is just getting way too slow. When I type a web address into Firefox there can be a visible delay between pressing a key and the character appearing. If I do anything in the web browser or open another program while transmitting in digimodes I hear an interruption to the transmitted audio. And when using a mode like JT65 which waits to the end of a transmit period before decoding, the decoded results do not get printed up until the next period has started, making it impossible to reply to a CQ.

Another reason I don't like buying any new computer equipment is fear of getting another QRN generator. Because of this I always stick with big name brands like HP, Dell, Toshiba or Acer. Their products are better quality and generally electrically quieter because they have to meet tough standards set by some of their big corporate customers. They don't design down to a price.

I'm keeping my existing 19in. flat screen monitor. I'd like a larger one but my shack is so small that I don't have the space. The existing one is a bit of a QRN generator on VHF because my 2m antenna is almost directly above it. But any replacement might be even worse.

My new PC was dispatched by Misco within an hour of ordering it. Unlike my old Acer it doesn't have an RS-232 port so I took the opportunity to order a PCI dual port serial card to install inside. It cost just over £20. Now I will have TWO real serial ports to use for radio control. Why more hams don't do this and end up fighting problems with USB adapters I have no idea.

The other thing I made sure of is that my new computer comes with Windows XP. If it isn't already installed then I'm promised a "downgrade disc" from Vista to XP Professional. I have no need for Microsoft's latest bloatware, which apart from needlessly consuming resources on things that I obviously don't need because I'm managing perfectly well without them right now, has compatibility issues with many ham radio programs. I really would rather run Linux, as I do for work, but every time I hear about some new program I'd like to try out (like JT65-HF yesterday) I'd feel I was missing out. So now I should be able to carry on using Windows XP for another five years.

The last reason I hate buying a new computer is finding a way to get rid of the old one. The days when you could leave it out with the garbage and they would take it are long gone. Now you have to pay the council to dispose of it (silly me, I thought that's what my council tax was for!) Charity shops won't take old computers for fear of ending up with someone's porn collection, plus they say there is no demand for old computers anyway.

So any ideas how I get rid of an old PC without having to pay to have it taken away? (See, I said I was cheap!) I'm sure it could still have a useful life running one of the lighter versions of Linux, or even DOS! Any UK ham willing to collect it can have it for free (I think we even still have the original box, manual and Windows XP disc somewhere.)
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