What do I do with an incredibly old laptop?
April 22, 2011 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I have a Thinkpad 755c, dating from 1995 or so. Is there anything remotely useful/interesting I can do with it?

It's currently running Windows 95. It has no modem, no ethernet port, no built in CD drive. It has assorted parallel ports and two PC card slots. I have a PC card CD drive for it, but, as far as I know, it only works under Windows, so basically, we're talking things you can do with a floppy. Once upon a time, there was a PC card modem and ethernet adaptor, but I don't have them. I suppose I have delusions of leaving it on/in my desk and being able to use it for LaTeX when I'm too lazy to go to a computer lab, but that may be hopeless given no practical way of moving things to/from it and no network connection.
posted by hoyland to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You could buy a couple PCMCIA ethernet cards and use it as a gateway or perhaps a PCMCIA USB adapter which might let you use it as a low-power server for some USB hard drives. But it's not just old, but pretty underpowered by modern standards. I too have wished for a useful end to old laptops, but there isn't much to be done.
posted by GuyZero at 6:14 PM on April 22, 2011

You could always disconnect the display and use it for something else.
posted by JauntyFedora at 6:37 PM on April 22, 2011

In theory, you could:
  • Put GRUB onto a floppy, and boot into it.
  • Use that to boot off something substantial with a super-lightweight Linux on it (either the PCMCIA CD drive (pray that it has a driver) or a flash drive running off some kind of USB adapter (pray that it has a driver)).
  • Get a version of Linux so small it can be installed from a stack of floppies.
  • Remove the hard drive and temporarily put it in a more modern laptop. This is actually your best bet, probably.
And then:
  • Install Linux.
  • Get a Linux-friendly PCMCIA network card (wired or wireless).
  • Install LaTeX.
Here is a list of operating systems for old computers (although some are for computers newer than yours). If you want a blog to read, I recommend KMandla's. Especially "Things to do with an old computer" if you want something other than LaTeX. And his wiki is becoming a good source for information about very lightweight software.
posted by tmacdonald at 6:44 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

plant it in a sandbox vertically, get a bunch of hamsters, and have a tiny 2001 photoshoot! stop them before they beat each other senseless though.
posted by patricking at 7:11 PM on April 22, 2011

posted by brownrd at 7:32 PM on April 22, 2011

Oops I meant to post THIS LINK
posted by brownrd at 7:33 PM on April 22, 2011

You could use it to play Wasteland, in my opinion the best computer game that has ever existed. You can run it from (2) 3.5 floppies, and the hardware you have would be age appropriate. Fair Warning: Don't blame me when it consumes a few weeks of your life.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 8:28 PM on April 22, 2011

There's a great article on Lifehacker with some ideas.
posted by teraspawn at 3:51 AM on April 23, 2011

Give it to a four year old to play with. They love writing people's names in big capital letters, clicking on pictures and generally getting the feel of things on a computer just like big people do. And when the kid spills orange juice all over it, and they will, it doesn't matter.
posted by joannemullen at 4:47 AM on April 23, 2011

I had a Thinkpad 360 that I used as a DOS arcade. I put FreeDOS (and later Windows 95, which you conveniently already have installed) on it, and loaded it up with Commander Keen, Wolfenstein, Doom, Dune, Duke Nukem (I, II, and III) and many other games. It was lots of fun until my hard drive died. YMMV, though--one of the reasons I enjoy the games is because of nostalgia.
posted by tmacdonald at 5:55 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's a boat anchor. There's nothing you can do with it that you couldn't do with one-tenth of a single one of the four cores you'll find in today's CPUs. Without CAT5 it is an island to itself: a very small, slowly sinking island. Donate it to a church or something if you want a small dose of the feel-goods, otherwise throw it away. Don't become a technology pack-rat.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:18 AM on April 23, 2011

A decade ago we used one of these, already obsolete for our field staff, as a 24/7 video terminal for a server rack. Nobody wanted it then.

Donate it to a church

No. You are also donating an enormous support hassle.
posted by dhartung at 12:04 PM on April 23, 2011

I was going to suggest using it as a digital picture frame - often the most useful part of an old laptop is the display - but at 640x480 it may not be worthwhile. This is a good resource in case you decide to go that way. Keep in mind, many of the projects use much newer and more capable hardware: you may need to make accommodations like scaling down your photos on a separate machine.
Using a PC card 802.11g adapter (about $10, unless someone you know has one lying around) will help a lot with connecting to newer machines, provided you can find drivers anywhere.
posted by marakesh at 12:36 PM on April 23, 2011

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