Give me your tired, your poor laptops yearning to breathe free.
April 20, 2009 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Help me take a forlorn old gateway laptop and transform it into a sleek new multimedia monster. Or something.

What I have: Gateway solo pro 9300. At least 10 years old. Windows Millennium Edition (sorta). No idea how much RAM or hard drive space or processor or anything like that. Nice big screen, though!

What I want: A media center which I can at very least use to store and play mp3s, possibly vids and web browsing etc.

The problems:

At some point many years ago, a catastrophic problem occurred and I tried to reinstall windows, but it crashed halfway through and I was unable to complete it. In particular, I get the following on bootup:

"WARNING. ERROR. 0271: Check date and time settings"
"Windows has detected a registry/configuration error. Use SCANREG to correct this error."
"The following file is missing or corrupted: IFSHLP.SYS"

And then, sometimes, this blue screen of death: "While initializing device IFSMGR. The Microsoft Installable File System Manager cannot find the helper driver. Please ensure that IFSHLP.SYS has been installed. System halted."

Additional problems: Neither the floopy drive nor the CD drive work, so I can't use a boot disk. There are USB ports, but no up-to-date drivers for them. And Windows Me does not seem to allow me to access DOS on startup. Argh.

My questions:

(1) Is it worth it to try to do something with this? I'd prefer to get some use out of it rather than toss it in the landfill.

(2) If so, how? I'm happy to spend the time putting Ubuntu or some other non-Windows operating system on there, but how do I install a new operating system if I can't access DOS and none of the drives work?

(3) Any other ideas for what to do with this?
posted by googly to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
Best answer: Too old, not worth your time - donate it to a local electronics/computer recycler who may be able to nurse it back to life and pass it onto a charity.

(If it could boot from floppy or CD then I would be with you - I am currently doing something similar with a laptop which got dropped last friday - of course, it was only 4 months old)
posted by jkaczor at 10:59 AM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: This thing is hosed. Using a bootable CD is really your only way back up, and unless you're willing to replace the optical drive or otherwise get it in working order again, you've got no real way of getting data into it.

Even if you were able to get this thing to work, it'd be a piece of junk by modern standards. I seriously doubt there's enough drive space to get Vista even installed, and XP would be pushing things a bunch. You can probably find a flavor of Linux that would fit, but even then it'd be little more than a mail/net toaster. Which is cool, but don't expect robust video playback, as even if you can get the codecs to work, your processor is going to be humbled by much more than mp3 playback.

Laptops are pretty cheap. You can get a new one for less than $500, and a new netbook for less than $400. This thing is probably worth less than the sum of its parts.
posted by valkyryn at 11:00 AM on April 20, 2009

Response by poster: Sigh. That's what I was afraid of. Well, unless anyone else has some brilliant suggestion, looks like its headed to whatever recycler I can find in Montreal. So here's an additional question: is there some way to remove any potentially sensitive data from this before giving it away?
posted by googly at 11:09 AM on April 20, 2009

re: removing data:

If you're talking about recycling, then go ahead and take the drive out and destroy the platters in any number of creative ways.

If you're talking about donating for reuse, probably the easiest way is to stick the hard drive into another laptop, and wipe it from there (boot off a cd, google for lots of methods). Or if you have access to a 2.5" hdd to usb enclosure, you can mount it on another computer that way, and proceed with wiping via live cd that way, too.
posted by ThyroidBob at 11:31 AM on April 20, 2009

I'd check the bios and see if there's a setting that would allow you to boot from the USB port. Your model is right on the cusp of when it became commonplace, and laptops were some of the first to adopt the ability. If you can, you can find/borrow some generic USB CD drive and install linux/winxp from it.

We used to have several machines just like this (should be a ~PIII/600) for playing purposes back in the day, and had each of them loaded with XP, and they all ran pretty well. I bet a light linux distro would do pretty well too. You're not going to get performance, but it should be capable for some light use.
posted by General Malaise at 11:33 AM on April 20, 2009

Remove the hard drive, buy an external enclosure that fits it, attach it to a modern working computer, and overwrite it (not to be mistaken for formatting it.) (Alternatively, remove the hard drive, smash it to pieces, and mutilate the platter.)

The former is similar to your only option for restoring it. If you could find a working same-model laptop, take an image of its hard drive, write that to your hard drive, and put your hard drive back, the laptop might possibly boot it. I agree with the other respondents that it's not worth trying to save it.
posted by Zed at 11:35 AM on April 20, 2009

Response by poster: I did check the BIOS and as far as I can tell there is no USB boot option, unfortunately.
posted by googly at 11:47 AM on April 20, 2009

Response by poster: My laptop is now on its way to the great computer playground in the sky. Thanks for the help everyone!
posted by googly at 2:13 PM on April 21, 2009

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