uses for an unstable PC
October 27, 2004 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Uses for an unstable PC? A department manager purchased a laptop, I won't say what brand, about a year and a half ago. It's had new RAM and two new hard drives. The power socket is coming off the motherboard. It wasn't cheap and is more powerful than some of the other laptops currently in use. However, you can't be sure it's going to start up on any given morning. We would normally add old laptops to a pool of portable equipment used by our 70+ lecturing staff, but they have enough problems with working equipment. There are several interesting hobbyist projects I could pursue (a digital picture frame springs to mind), but I'd like to at least attempt some sort of work-related deployment when he breaks down and buys a new laptop. Any ideas?
posted by krisjohn to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
you could find someone to resolder the power socket (if possible).
posted by angry modem at 6:56 PM on October 27, 2004

Yeah, the power socket isn't the only problem. The BIOS screwed itself up a over the weekend for no apparent reason (might have been related to the power socket) and whenever you open or close it the hinge sounds (and feels) like it's going to break apart.

I left these details out because I didn't want the post to be any longer...

And as it happens, my old Sharp Actius had the same power socket problem and soldering the little bugger back onto a motherboard is not easy, even when you know what you're doing. A local laptop specialist did okay but they said tracks were starting to lift by the time they'd finished.
posted by krisjohn at 7:09 PM on October 27, 2004

I also have a Sharp Actius. It is now useless as a portable machine since the battery died and must be plugged in at all times.

So it now performs the very task you are seeking for your unnamed PC. It runs a web cam. That's it. Its only purpose in life is to switch between two cameras and take a picture every few minutes.

If your machine is unreliable, you wouldn't want it to run a security cam. But I hear tell of people who take pictures of their coffee machines or goldfish bowls and put them on the interweb. It could watch for rats or roaches or lunch thieves.

But, just out of curiosity, if you won't name the brand of the lemon, could you at least mention what it is not? Like, "It's not a Toshiba....or a might be a brand that was taken over by HP........." Purely conjecture there...
posted by sageleaf at 4:06 AM on October 28, 2004

You can still get batteries for the Sharp Actius. I don't think they're cheap, but you can get them. I got an external pack with mine when I bought it, so it doesn't matter so much that the internal battery is a bit sick.

Meanwhile, the laptop that prompted this question is NOT a:


It's not any of the major names. But if you know your cheap knock-off brands it's probably one you've heard of. I'll confirm it if it's one of this thread's first one or two guesses -- but I'm not going to encourage people to just keep firing brands at me until they fluke it.

I think the limited functionality is the answer. It's a bit of a waste, but I think my original plan of a glorified digital photo frame would probably look cool as a promotional slide-show thing at reception. A program called Maxivista could also be used to turn it into an extra monitor, but I've already got one extra laptop doing that (it boots reliaby, it's just that the right-mouse button is dead and the CD drive got broken -- not useful when someone wants to do a presentation off CD. Also, it only runs 98.).

I'll see what other seriously trivial tasks I can think of in a corporate environment.
posted by krisjohn at 4:49 AM on October 28, 2004

This is one reason why I always suggest to people who ask (and I know this isn't an answer to your question, but thought I would toss it in anyway) that you should NEVER buy a laptop unless you can afford the upgraded warranty. Three years or forget it. Hell, the big major PC folks out of Texas even offer a version of their warranty on notebooks that covers you for spilling your coffee in the keyboard, or dropping it. It isn't cheap, but is it ever worth it when you need to change a system board at 14 months.
posted by Richat at 5:10 AM on October 28, 2004

I say get an extended warranty on any electronic goods. I think I got three years on my PS2. Thought there was a damn good chance it'd screw up by then. Still going strong, but if the next time I go to turn it on nothing happens, I've got it covered. I think I did the same for a little portable CD burner/MP3 player. I mean, seriously, how long is something like that going to last if you toss it in a bag every day.

As it happens the lemon has a warrany. However, it was bought outside of Australia and exercising the warranty is neither easy nor cheap. I replaced the hard drive the second time because it was just easier. That and when it got replaced the first time they swapped it with a smaller drive.
posted by krisjohn at 5:30 AM on October 28, 2004

If the issue is that it doesn't always start up, try not turning it off--i.e. make it into a server. Obviously if there exists any current need for production servers of any sort in your office, someone will have filled it with a real desktop or server machine.

But, if the alternative is chucking the thing, laptops make superb low-energy space-saving servers, and the whole point of a server is to never or rarely turn it off, thus sidestepping the machine's lemony freshness.

You could probably turn it into a backup/fallback server for an existing machine (in the event that the existing one needs to go down for patches or repairs), or just make it an auxiliary fileserver if the hard drives are large enough.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 6:18 AM on October 28, 2004

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