Saturday, March 13, 2010

Keeping old computers running

I use to think I'd love to buy a new computer every year. Now I'm not so sure I would, even if money wasn't an issue. A new computer requires plenty of tweaks before it's set up similar to your old one. That's too much hassle for me to do every year.

Now if your work requires the best and fastest computer, by all means get it. A lot of people are like me. They require a computer to get on-line, do word processing, some photo work, music, and maybe a few games. A new computer isn't needed for that.

Even hardware improvements aren't too terrible to do yourself. I've changed laptop batteries, repaired power supply cords, doubled the ram on two computers, replaced hard drives, replaced DVD drives, and other little fixes. Most of the instructions I found on youtube. What the heck, if it's broken anyway, why not pop the cover and tinker with the innards?

The software side of computers can be a real hassle -especially operating systems, Windows to be precise. I drew the line in the sand when Windows Vista came out. I refused to spend time learning an operating system that didn't work well. The time spent learning Vista could be better spent learning Linux. Besides, most Linux operating systems are free downloads. What did I have to lose? Just some download time and and some disks.

I pulled an old desktop computer out of storage. On that old machine over the period of about six months, I tried 5 different distributions of Linux. Puppy Linux worked well on the old machine, but the added features of Ubuntu sold me on that version. It's fun to download different software packages and see what they can do. What the heck, everything I tried was free anyway. Discovered that Open Office could run all my old Word files. There were programs to open up all my different files.

Still, I was hesitant to install Ubuntu on my laptop -my day to day computer. One day my computer caught the virus from Hell. Over the years I'd developed an impressive array of tools and techniques to eliminate viruses. Nothing would touch this monster. Fortunately, I'd backed up all my files two weeks earlier. There wasn't any new work that I couldn't recreate or live without. I formatted the hard drive and installed Linux.

90% of my computer was back and running in about 5 hours. Over the next couple of days I tweaked the remaining 10%. It took a bit of extra effort to get the wifi card working, but I did sort that out. The newer versions of Ubuntu Linux seem to do a better job with wifi drivers. Upgrades to newer versions are pretty smooth.

Now I'm not some code monkey. My knowledge of software is pretty limited. However, I can search the forums and copy solutions that worked for other people. There's a learning curve, but I figure no worse than learning Vista would have been.

Best part is that Linux has few viruses written for it. The basic architecture of the operating system is inherently safer. Not as many people run Linux so a virus would have a hard time spreading. When you figure in all the different versions of Linux, it makes a virus writer's job that much harder.

I'm no expert on hardware and software so if I get something wrong I won't take it personal if corrected.

Another important point here is to do regular backups. I was holding off on backing up computer as I was saving up for an external hard drive. Then it struck me, I had a big pile of CDs bought in bulk and a CD burner on my laptop. Wouldn't' I feel stupid if something happened to my computer and I'd saved nothing? It was two weeks after I burned a pile of CDs that my computer caught that virus. Still hadn't saved up enough for the external hard drive.

Finally did get that drive, and backed up my whole computer too. Now I also put critical information on jump or thumb drives. Their size has gone up and the price has come down. Ease of use makes it more likely that I'll actually back stuff up.

New computers cost money that could be put into other preps. Keeping older computers running keeps electronic junk out of the landfill. I always felt I should know how to keep my tools in good running order. For me, a computer is just another tool.



  1. I've been running Linux since I left windows 3.11.
    The Linux of today is easier to install and operate, Fully functional and versatile as well.
    I keep several live versions around as well. I have run live-run from CD, no hard drive needed for years. Anyone who needs to access critical data at anytime should have a few live CD's in the computer tool kit. The true plug and play features of the newer Linuxes should be a strong motivator to migrate over to the free side.

  2. Forgot to mention the Live-run CD, thanks.

    Linux is one of the few things where the free version is better than the expensive version.