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.)


S.o.a.I said...

I have yet to find a ham club that isn't on the market for a free computer. They make great logging machines and there are many ham apps that don't take much CPU power to run.

Just my two cents,
Jay aka KD8EUR

g4ilo said...

That's a good thought! Though I'm not tossing the monitor, only the CPU and keyboard, so they'd still need to find a screen from somewhere.

PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hello Julian, if you don't want to use the computer for test purposes (I have my old one testing various linux distributions) I guess you can do 2 things to get rid of it. 1st one, dump it into the canal (very rude) at night. 2nd take a hammer or a axe and try to cut it in small pieces and dump it in your normal waste. You probabely don't agree, but that is how most people do this...and no it is not good for the environment.
(Do you really think all computers are recycled?)
73, Bas

S.o.a.I said...

Google to the rescue:

Don't know if any of that will really help, but it's someplace to start.


g4ilo said...

Your suggestion to try the local club has come up trumps. Keith G0EMM is going to come and take it tomorrow and use it for his Echolink node. Nice to know it will have a useful second life. All arranged using APRS messaging, too!

Maurice.G4DVM said...

I read your blog too late to suggest asolution, but am glad you found one.
A ham friend of mine had the same problem with an even older model PC. He contacted RAIBC and they were most pleased to acceept his computer. Many disabled hams only have modest requirements for a PC such as word processing. log keeping or even PSK31 !
So maybe other readers of your blog could find this solution worthwhile also.
Regards. Maurice G4DVM.

henry said...

don't know if you use your shack computer for non-ham stuff, but if you do then you'll want to make sure the hard disk has been completely erased. you can use a tool like d-ban to erase the disk securely ...

g4ilo said...

Yes I did use DBAN to wipe the hard drive. Unfortunately I don't know how to use the Acer recovery disc to put Windows back on it. It doesn't seem to be bootable. Possibly you need to boot from a floppy disk that I have long since lost. I loaded Ubuntu as I had a disk for that. I don't know what OS Keith will need but hopefully he can find out how to use the Acer recovery disc if he needs Windows XP.