Friday, June 12, 2015

geeky diversion

The 5-dollar price tag on this old Dell laptop caught my eye while I was browsing in the back room of the local thrift shop.  

The computer, a Dell Latitude CSx, had a power supply with it, so I plugged it into a wall outlet and was surprised to see the screen light up with Windows 2000.  At that price I just couldn't pass it up.

A few problems presented when I got my find home.  The first being that there was a log-in screen demanding an unknown password.  I figured I could get by that via the set-up utility accessed by pressing the F-8 function key as the computer is in the bootup stage.  Except that there was a diagonal row of keys that did not work, including the F-8 key.  So, another trip to another thrift store where I picked up a 2-dollar keyboard with a PS2 connector.  That let me get at the setup screen and I was able to set a new Administrator password and get myself into Windows 2000.

So far, so good, but it's awkward to carry around a full-size desktop keyboard along with a laptop.  I opened up the case to get at the keyboard and found that the keys were a very simple mechanical type which did not appear to have anything wrong with them.  In fact, I found that just lifting the keyboard slightly restored the full functioning of all the keys, so it was clear that the problem was with the ribbon cable connecting the keyboard to the main board.  A small paper shim tightened the connector on the keyboard-end of the cable and I was back in business with Windows 2000 running on a Pentium III.  Wow!

Dell's approach was to market a basic machine with peripherals and accessories that attached via external connectors.  Luckily, mine came with a card with a pop-out ethernet connector.  I am also able to attach a wifi adapter with the single usb port on the back.

A Pentium III processor and 256K of RAM is a pretty minimal machine these days for any kind of on-line work.  The current version of Google's Chrome browser will not run on such a set-up, but Firefox works ok and an older version of Opera is even a little quicker.  Looking back fifteen years, however, this was a pretty nice little machine at the time.  The Microsoft Office applications including Word all work fine and would have been perfectly adequate in a transitional business environment in which producing end-user paper copy was still the dominant paradigm. Windows 2000 was a product of Microsoft's NT system which was really a revolutionary step forward, providing the basis for much of what we can do today with personal computers.  I doubt I'll actually get a lot of use from this old laptop, but I got at least five bucks of fun from restoring it, and it provided a good opportunity to look back fifteen years to near the beginnings of the digital revolution.

The Dell Latitude just has one slot for RAM and I believe that the max it could take was 512K.  I'll keep my eyes open for the 512 replacement for my 256K so I can see how much of a difference that would yield in performance.  I have an old Compaq Evo N600c with similar specs and it does very well on the web with a gig of RAM and running Windows XP.

No comments: