New workshop PC

While it’s probably nothing special to many, I’m very glad when I can aquire replacement computer hardware. Especially when it’s free and in a better state than my existing stuff.

For a little while now, the workshop PC had been running on it’s secondary IDE channels only. It was a 1.8Ghz  P4, but with USB 1.0 and PC133 RAM. It crawled at most things and took a few minutes to start with little to load. It also didn’t cooperate well with the PS3 Eye camera I picked up a few months ago. The memory bus was slow enough it choked even once I got a dedicated USB 2.0 card for it.

Some kind soul donated a bunch of used machines to the London Hackspace a fortnight ago. Mostly older Dell machines and a few oddities. Nothing that could be expanded much (except the 5000 which got re-purposed by the space itself). After examining a few I selected to re-home a Dell Dimension 4550 with an 80Gb HDD.

Dell Dimension 4550


The case was marked as having a 31Gb drive, but I don’t know where that number came from.

I got it home and pulled it apart. Got it cleaned of dust and fluff and found some leaky caps on the mainboard, hidden under a cowling. They got replaced with some caps I pulled from some obsolete server gear some time back.

Bad bad caps, no motherboard for you!

After running it for a few hours on the original RAM, I started upgrading. I’d already replaced the epoxy(???) thermal pad with some good thermal grease. I had some 400Mhz DDR sticks around, which fortunately worked (though underclocked) even though the machine is spec’d for 266Mhz. That got the RAM up to 756Mb.

The official spec says the machine can take 1Gb of RAM, but it can actually take 2Gb. There’s just only two RAM slots.

All clear after the transplant

I swapped in the best AGP x4 card I had (which came from the former workshop machine; a GeForce MX4000 128Mb),  put in a better optical drive (which was capable of opening when the case was on it’s side, unlike the original), the USB 2.0 PCI card (because the PS3 Eye apparently needs an entire USB controller to itself) and added an extra hard-disk.

I spent a few hours transferring files around to get all the data from the previous two workshop machines onto this one, then juggled some more while I formatted one drive to do a clean install, then transfer data across and format the other. The 80Gb disk that was already in it was reporting some bad sectors in SMART, so it’s been relegated to the D-drive/storage-disk where I’ll stuff music and video capture files. Non-critical stuff.

(Yes, I’ll be annoyed if I loose a long capture, but I’ll probably just get some corruption rather than losing a file outright.)

The machine’s primary 80Gb was partitioned in two again for dual-booting. I got XP Home installed on one since I couldn’t find the old machine’s XP Pro key certificate and the Dell case already had a Home key sticker. I’ll get round to installing Ubuntu on the other partition once I decide which version to go with. 10.10 I didn’t like much.

It’s now in the workshop, running fine on the extra workbench I built last week. The PS3 Eye works fine with it and I’ve managed to successful do a test Livestream with it and record video to disk (though still need to find some on-the-fly compression that’ll work with the camera format).

Installed in place

It’s also whisper-quiet! :D

Only annoyance is the front-panel lights are barely visible. They’re so dim you have to kneel in front of it and concentrate to tell they’re on. If I get a free moment I *may* try to replace them with better LEDs, but for such a minor thing it’s really not worth it. If I really need to know if the HDD is running, I’ll be willing to bend over to see.

An additional bonus has been realising the old PC’s case is perfect for another project! My hope to build a desk from all that mahogany I have was also one to have a PC installed directly within the desk’s structure. The old case was riveted together with a motherboard tray held in with screws! A few minutes with the drill and I have the rear of the case with all the needed mounts and the tray to mount a motherboard on! I can plan more about the future desk around these parts. :)