Getting Misty Over Old Machines

By Deane Barker on August 19, 2004

You ever get sentimental over an old computer? One that you just can’t throw away?

Back in 1998, I worked part-time at Best Buy so Annie and I could pay cash for our wedding the next summer. That Christmas season was the year a complete PC system (computer, monitor, printer) broke the $1,000 barrier.

I still remember the doors opening on Sunday mornings to a throng people nearly drooling at the prospect of a system for $999. You used to have to hold up the weekly flier, point to a package, and say, “Everyone who wants this, go over there, and, ” — pointing at a different one — “everyone who wants this, come over here.” It was crazy.

Anyway, sometime during that job, someone returned a Compaq Presario 4508 mini-tower, and I persuaded the inventory guy to let me buy it as-is for $200. The box said it was 200 MHz, but BIOS told me 233. It had 24MB of RAM, but only 1MB of video memory, so I dropped $20 on a used 4MB video card, taking up one of the two PCI slots in the process. The hard drive was a monstrous 4.3GB.

That computer served me well for almost four years. I managed to cram 48MB of memory in it — the most it would take (the case design was so poor that adding memory was a 30-minute operation). It ran Windows 95 for all those years until I got a new machine (a 1 GHz Athlon, which I still use today) and I put Linux on it briefly. I remember installing Office 2000, then having to uninstall it because it was just too slow.

About three years ago, I passed the computer on to my mother-in-law. She’s one of those folks who does two things: surfs the Web and sends email. In that capacity, the little machine has worked great, until now.

I think it’s finally started to die. The hard drive cycles endlessly, and every once in a while it reboots to Safe Mode, a phenomenon I can only attribute to some obscure bit of hardware going to pieces so that it doesn’t respond correctly on reboot. I have it running Windows 98 SE, stripped down to virtually nothing. Everything that can be removed has been, but it’s still using 10MB more memory than it has immediately after rebooting.

I’m going to start looking for another machine for my mother-in-law, but I just can’t bear to throw the old Presario away. It’s chugged along for seven years now, and enabled the sending and receiving of countless baby pictures. I’m a little sentimental about the old bird, and I think I’ll just store it away in the basement for a while in the hopes that my wife never finds it and sells it at a garage sale one day.

Gadgetopia

Comments

  1. This reaction seems to me to be like regretting abandoning a small old bundle of copper just after switching to fiber. It’s the data that is the memories. You’ve just associated the data with the box. You could, I suppose, rebuild into the same case. That way you’d get to keep your warm fuzzies and have a reliable machine for mummy-in-law.

    But what do I know. I just pulled an old IBM Model M keyboard out of the trash can becuase it ‘s identical to my first computer’s (IBM Tower, 286) keyboard.

  2. I have A Compaq 4508 nd i’m trying to uprade the memory wanna sell that chip? or tell me where i could get one? Thanks Tedd

  3. thats probably the hard drive starting to go you should switch it from another system that will probably do the trick, the seagate hard drives they used in these things were good for the time but they were also very noisy.

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