Computer advice for the technologically challenged.

So the BBC featured on their website an interview with ‘LJ Rich’ (I wonder what LJ might stand for), a technology reporter for the BBC’s technology show ‘Click‘. Click has always been to technology what the ‘People’s Friend‘ has been to contemporary literature, so I didn’t expect much.  A jolly man asked ‘LJ’ (I wonder whether this was themed after ‘AJ’ from that ground breaking eighties show ‘Simon and Simon”) what the best thing would be to refresh that old Laptop/Desktop that takes ages to boot and slow to run. Cue the age old litany about how to defragment and clear up your HD, reinstall XP (‘but don’t forget to backup, otherwise everything is lost!’) and other Windows centric tips (apparently Mac user don’t have to worry, everything takes care of itsself).

That this is not geared towards the technophiles in this world is self evident, but if you advise to reinstall your terrible OS, why not then quickly mention the possibility of installing a DIFFERENT OS that would turn your computer into something usable again. Xubuntu, Ubuntu Netbook Remix or Slax (not to mention Damn Small Linux, which I confess is more for advanced users) will turn your old banger into a veritable hive of activity, makes you forget about viruses and gives you the same quality applications that you are using on your lame Windows desktop anyway (apart from Office, but OO is more than a replacement these days).

On the other hand, what can you expect from the makers of ‘Click’.


A Pentium II as a multimedia machine.

Last week one of my coworkers – let’s call him Ainsley – asked whether I had a small stereo in my large collection of electro junk that I was able to sell him. Unfortunately, apart from a cheap chinese clock radio there was nothing I was able to offer. Knowing that the only PC in the house just left with one of the kids to university, I suggested a small form factor pc as multimedia centre and source for music and to keep in touch with the kids.

Cost was a big issue, so as I had a boot full of recycleables anyway, I dropped by the Waitaki Resource Recovery Park and chose from a large heap of old and dusty PC a small little number that still sported a motherboard and a Pentium II. From a heap of PCI cards an D-Link ethernet card and an ISA sound card was quickly chosen. Cost: 7 NZ dollars (ca 5 US dollars/ 4 Euros).

I took the little dusty thing home, de-dusted it, plugged it in: nothing. Not a beep. So I exchanged the Power Supply Unit with one of the old ones that were lying around my own pile of electro rubbish and was rewarded with an angry beep by the mobo. Fortunately the friendly proprietor of Small Bytes Computing in Oamaru had his own pile of elector junk and 2 168 pin DRams were found and these 192 megabytes stopped the motherboard from making shrieking noises. An old keyboard and an old serial mouse were found as well, and I even had a nice NVIDIA AGP card from what must have been 2000 lying around.

The motherboard is an ‘Atrend’ ATC-6130. I presume Atrend doesn’t exist anymore, as I couldn’t find any evidence of it on the web, but there was a large amount of drivers and bios updates floating around, so the old thing was updated in no time. The bios was set to 1998, so that had to be changed, and USB support is rather patchy. Nevertheless: an old 5 Gigabyte seagate HD and an even older optical drive was found in that big pile of old hardware, and surprisingly the little computer booted easily into Damn Small Linux.

The question is of course, which operating system to run. Even with 192 MB of Ram, Ubuntu is a bit heft. Geubuntu is (while certainly a technical marvel) plain ugly with its golden theme and eye candy. Damn Small Linux is too geeky to use for a user who can barely find the start button on a windows machine, and as I wanted a Debian based distro (I’m not particularly good with the other distros) I went for Xubuntu. Thanks to Envy (doesn’t Alberto Milone look smouldering on that picture) and Automatix the little thing was set up in no time and is now able to play MP3s and CDs (unless you distract it with other hard disk activity) and it even attempts some frames of a flash movie on MP3. A flawed machine, no question, but able to email, play music and surf the web.

All for 17 dollars.