Upcycling old computers

Recently I dug out, and was donated some old computers. I cannot bear letting them hang still doing nothing, so I need to find them a purpose.

I slapped Linux into all of them and made them do something now. Read along to check out.

Old machine #1: an 10+-year-old assembled PC

This old thing came like this:

  • AMD Athlon 64 3000+ processor (early 64-bit model, 1.8GHz)
  • Gigabyte motherboard with nVidia chipset (with onboard 1.5Gbps SATA controller and dual gigabit ethernet)
  • 2GB DDR-400 SDRAM (maximum capacity the chipset would accept)
  • AMD (was ATI) Radeon 9500 video card (AGP)
  • 160GB PATA HDD
  • PATA DVD-RW burner

This machine has the second best of all three performance wise. AMD sure had a more efficient design on their CPU. I pulled out the old (and failing) PATA hard drive and installed a new 60GB Kingston SATA SSD into it. Just to prevent my hardware from standing idle I also put my spare PATA DVD burner into it. Also I added a PCI USB 2.0 card (scrapped from old machine #3) and a PCI Wi-Fi card (spare part.) To resolve a noise issue, I swapped power supply and processor fan with machine #3.

Software wise, I used a 32-bit Ubuntu Desktop 14.04. The latest 64-bit systems uses instructions not available on those initial 64-bit processors, preventing any recent 64-bit operating systems from being used. I am not exactly familiar with those light distributions, so stock Ubuntu with Unity is used. I tried FGLRX but it screwed the system up.

Now the machine is being used as an HTPC in my Mom’s room, hooked to her shiny new 1080p HDTV with 3D support. With the new SSD and turned unusedbuilt-in peripheral off, the machine performs very well, boots in 30 seconds and let my Mom surf the Internet smoothly with Google Chrome. The Radeon 9500 have trouble decoding 1080p in hardware with XBMC but running a framebuffer at 1080p is okay, even with full Unity with hardware acceleration on.

It is now upcycled into:

  • AMD Athlon 64 3000+ processor (kept)
  • Gigabyte motherboard with nVidia chipset (kept)
  • 2GB DDR-400 SDRAM (kept)
  • AMD Radeon 9500 video card (kept)
  • 60GB Kingston SATA SSD (new)
  • D-Link PCI IEEE802.11b/g/n WI-Fi card (spare)
  • PCI USB 2.0 card (from another old computer)
  • 2x PATA DVD-RW burner (kept + spare)

Old machine #2: an 8+-year-old Dell Latitude laptop

This was my first laptop and 3rd computer overall. It never left me but after I bought my MacBook Pro it got stashed to the corner of the room and was collecting dust. It have a hardware like this:

  • Intel Core Duo T2300E processor (32-bit only, dual core, 1.66GHz)
  • Intel 945PM chipset
  • 4GB DDR2-800 SDRAM (chipset maximum)
  • nVidia Quadro NVS 110M (based on GeForce Go 7300)
  • 320GB SATA HDD
  • CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo
  • A problematic display

Thanks to its display problems, I cannot really use it as a laptop any more (or it may be a good idea to pass it on to someone) so it became my dormitory router. Hooked up with two USB Ethernet adapters it makes a decent three-way router, and with an external hard drive it makes a good Time Capsule. Hey now I can have three copies of all my data, separated at two places.

Not much hardware is modified internally then than a through cleanup and new thermal material.

Old machine #3: an 10+-year-old Lenovo (was Legend) Yangtian PC

This was my 2nd computer and came back to me like this

  • Intel Pentium 4 1.6GHz (Socket 478)
  • Gigabyte motherboard with Intel 845 chipset
  • 128MB DDR-400 SDRAM (system maximum 1GB but I cannot find any new modules)
  • nVidia GeForce 200 video card (AGP)
  • 80GB PATA HDD
  • PATA DVD-ROM
  • Broken power button

This machine is the toughest nut to crack. It has a broken power button and I had to make a new interface board with buttons and LEDs to do what the chassis buttons and LEDs should do.

It came with two pieces of funny technology: a PCI USB 2.0 card and a PCI Modem (that is, a modem that dials through POTS.) The former is moved to machine #1 (I don’t know why) and the latter is moved to my current computer (I don’t know why either, but it do have a phone line connection now)

My original plan for this machine was to use it as a router so I ordered quite a number of PCI network cards. It does not have built-in SATA (which SSDs would require) so I added a PCI SATA card too.

I am not really planning to use this machine recently so it became where I dump old hardware to. I swapped its (surprisingly quiet) processor fan and power supply with the obnoxiously noisy ones from box #1 to make the latter a better HTPC. Now it is in an incomplete state and cannot really be used. Any suggestion on how to use this machine? Maybe I should start with a SSD?

It would not make a good HTPC because it cannot decode 1080p at all (even though I will not even try to hook it up to a 1080p TV set) and it does not have a DVI or HDMI plug.

This is its current status:

  • Intel Pentium 4 1.6GHz (kept)
  • Gigabyte motherboard with Intel 845 chipset (kept)
  • 512MB DDR-400 SDRAM (found somewhere in my drawer)
  • nVidia GeForce 200 video card (kept)
  • 2x Gigabit Ethernet cards (spare + new)
  • 100Mbps Ethernet card (new)
  • 1.5Gbps PCI SATA card (new)

Leave a Reply