The Inkwell

My first PC... R.I.P.
— 4:53 PM on March 13, 2009

I just couldn't resist.  I suppose I wasn't being honest when I said "I don't have the desire to troubleshoot it."

After initially failing to get a response from my 13-year-old PC, I planned to just disassemble it and give away or dispose of the parts.  But when I found a barely-connected wire on the switch, I thought, "what if that's all it was?"

"What if I could've suffered with that system for another year or two if only I had found and re-connected that one wire?"  Hmmm...

So I put the power supply back together, re-connected all the power cords, the 16GB Fujitsu hard drive, and the speaker so I could listen for that beep at power on.

I was not disappointed.  The PSU fan spun up, the speaker reported a friendly single beep, the monitor displayed the American Megatrends boot screen, components were recognized one at a time, and then...


Oh well.  At least I know that I could recover this system if I really wanted to, right?

So that really is it.  The dismantling had to recommence.  It is now done.  All that is left of this first PC of mine is a pile of parts.  As I mentioned in my last post, there's nothing to swoon over here.  But a couple of you requested that I go ahead and post pics, so here goes.

The first shot is the front of the box.  You just can't beat a golf ball power button or a case badge with three shooting stars that says "Computer" in Gigi font.  Don't pretend you're not impressed.  I'll start taking bids for this case straightaway, starting at $100.

Shots of the Pentium 133 and the Hungtech PSU (which surely makes Doug Dodson facepalm for not trademarking that brand name first) are pictured in my previous post.

Ahhh... the M Technology R533.  She's a beauty, ain't she?  Ahhemm... well, it still boots.  How can you argue with that?

What if your port cluster isn't a cluster at all?  What if it's just one AT (5-pin DIN) port, and the rest of the ports are on the case waiting to be connected to unlabeled headers, connectors and slots on the motherboard?  Ugh, that could turn out to be a cluster after all.

Are those really just 4MB sticks?  Seems like I had more than 8MB of RAM, but I honestly don't remember now.  The retention mechanism that held these puppies in their slots (near the top center of the previous motherboard photo) was quite nifty... release the levers and the little guys lean over and almost ask to be lifted out just as smoothly as can be.  Much more elegant than how today's DIMMS feel like they're going to crack the motherboard's PCB when they're inserted.

I don't think the Union Trident TD9680P would have fared too well in even one of our low-end graphics cards roundups.

I haven't kept up with the Creative hating that persists among many PC enthusiasts... is the Sound Blaster 16 CT2940 worthy of scorn or did it pre-date their evil ways?

The Zoltrix dial-up modem... 33.6 or 56k, I honestly don't remember.  Gotta love the mic in, mic out and speaker ports to make your PC a speaker phone.  If only I had looked at those and been hit with the same epiphany that struck Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis.

No, it's not an IBM Model M, but it does have those oh-so-satisfying buckling springs beneath each key.  And isn't that mouse design just nostalgic?  Not quite ergonomic, but certainly classic—two buttons, one ball, and a cord.

Alright, this post is already long, so I'll just end it with a moment of silence for the PC that was.

Edit: As bhtooefr speculated in the comments, that is not a buckling-spring keyboard. Upon further study, they're probably Alps switches, which have a great tactile feel and that nice clicky sound, but not quite the real deal.


50 comments — Last by Inkling at 6:15 PM on 03/25/09

Spring cleaning
— 1:06 PM on March 10, 2009

My home office is a pit.  It has been for some time.  I have a valid justification for its piggy state, but why waste your time?

It's a 2nd-floor bedroom with a window overlooking the side yard, the neighbor's house, and a decent view of the street in front of our house.  So when it's kept tidy and organized it's really a nice place to work.

One of the categories of junk scattered around this workspace is old computer hardware.  Now remember: I don't test or review hardware for The Tech Report.  So any extra stuff I have is either old personal stuff, or very old review samples... goodies that have zero chance of being needed in the Damage Labs for any follow-up re-testing or assimilation into a test rig.

In an attempt to improve my immediate surroundings I'm cleaning out and throwing away as much as possible.  I came across a PC carcass that was the first computer my wife and I got after we were married.  It was built by an acquaintance and modified a couple times by me in its short and uninspiring existence as our primary system.

It has a Socket 7 Pentium 133 on an M Technology R533 motherboard.  I had barely a clue about anything in it when we specced it.  Then when I began to learn more about PC technology I focused on building a new system myself rather than this old beast.  So I'm having fun now perusing the components and disassembling it.

Before this tear-down, I tried to fire it up, but got nothing at all when hitting the power switch.  The symptoms it exhibited the last time we used it were spontaneous power downs and failure to re-start.  No POST, no beep codes, nothing.  I guess it could just be the switch, but I don't have the desire to troubleshoot it.  

Out of curiosity, I pulled the PSU, and was surprised at how light it is -- 817 grams (about 1.75 lbs.) according to my wife's kitchen scale.  And after removing the cover, it's amazing it weighs even that... must be the copper in the wires and the metal case that accounts for at least 700 of those grams.

Hey, you can't beat a name like Hungtech though.  Anything they might have lacked in performance or longevity was made up for by their marketing acumen.  Believe it or not, it looks like you can still buy one of these beauties.

Well, my collection of old tech isn't nearly as enthralling as Geoff's, but if anyone's interested, I could post more about it as I sort and toss.  Maybe I'll even list some of these components in the Smoky Back Room as giveaways if anyone wants to stock their archive of ancient hardware just to save this stuff from the rubbish bin... though I'll be surprised if I get any takers.

9 comments — Last by bdwilcox at 5:33 PM on 03/11/09

Design hard
— 3:56 PM on February 26, 2009

Every so often one of our sponsors runs a campaign that's unique or fun enough that I'm reminded how these guys are a part of this community. They're PC enthusiasts, gamers, or industry professionals, just like most of us around here.

From now through March 20th XFX is inviting the artists and designers amongst us to create XFX-branded wallpaper for a contest. They're providing some slick assets if you want to start with a look that's already bona fide XFX-ish, but I'm hoping someone creative will turn in an entirely original design that snags an award.

It wouldn't be much fun without prizes, now would it? Each weekday one winner will get a full copy of Far Cry 2. From those daily winners there will be a contest each week for an "Exclusive XFX Poker Set." Hmmm... I'd trade those chips for cash. One of those weekly winners gets the grand prize: a gaming system from ibuypower and a G8-designed hoodie to keep it warm - combined retail of at least $1200. The system is built around a Core 2 Quad Q8300, with a 750i motherboard and a GeForce GTX 285 from XFX. It includes 4GB of RAM, a 500GB HDD, and Vista Home Premium 64-bit, all inside an NZXT Guardian 921 chassis.

Not bad for a little sketchin' and photoshoppin', eh?

Don't forget there are always rules and regs that must be observed to keep from being DQed. And I suspect that by entering you'd be agreeing to let XFX use your design to promote their brand and products. But the bragging rights and prizes, especially that gaming rig, are probably worth it for the average Joe.

If anyone here enters, let me know and I'll give you a plug and a little recognition, especially if you win something.

Good luck!

5 comments — Last by Meadows at 2:16 AM on 03/07/09

Only hours left to enter our netbook giveaway drawing
— 5:33 PM on October 29, 2008

Can it really be the end of October already?  Unbelievable.  Happy Republic Day to our Turkish fans (yes, we do have several).  

And to all our readers who hail from the U.S. and Canada, tomorrow, October 30th, is more than just the birth date of John Adams in 1735.  On the other end of the significance scale, it's the day we stop accepting entries for our contest to give away an Acer Aspire One.  You can go here and enter the drawing until 12:00 pm (noon) CST tomorrow.  As of right now, we have less than 200 qualified entries, so your odds are surprisingly good for a giveaway like this.

Of course, we always have a little test of skill for vetting of geekiness in our giveaways, and this time is no exception.  So the entry form requires you to answer three questions which will be abundantly clear if you listen to the October 19th edition of the TR podcast.  Don't worry, there are no trick questions, or even ambiguous ones.  We're just encouraging those who haven't listened to one of our podcasts to give it a try.  Jordan won't bite.

And what would a blog post by the Biz Guy be without a sponsor plug? has been a big supporter of TR, through their marketing and by supplying our editors with occasional review samples and parts for our test rigs.  Both Canadian and U.S. readers should keep them in mind any time you're shopping for hardware.

10/31/08 Update: The winner has been announced here.

7 comments — Last by bhtooefr at 3:39 PM on 10/31/08

The Tech Share bundle ships out
— 10:52 AM on September 6, 2008

In the cargo hold of a plane bound for east Africa sometime this weekend is a computer lab in a box. Well, five boxes, actually. It's sort of like a bed-in-a-bag, except that it actually matters. The teachers and staff of the Ebenezer Educational Center are getting excited about the bundle of technology goodness en route to their school.

Computer lab in a box: just add water power!

We've said repeatedly that we could not have done this project without you, the readers who have given of your own hard-earned dough for the cause. But I want to acknowledge again some of the companies who have provided goodies and discounts to make such a complex endeavor successful. First of all, Asus provided a stack of Eee PCs at a price that was even more affordable than usual.

Know how long it takes to do all the updates on 13 Eee PCs, even when you have eight of them at a time
downloading via high-speed cable access? Far longer than we expected.

Also, NCIX, the super-reliable e-tailer from the land of Geoff (that also serves us Yanks), stepped up to help in a big way. I wanted to make this more than just a stack of netbooks, but rather a virtually instant computer lab. So NCIX donated, entirely free of charge or complaint, a router, an external DVD R/W and enough mice and cables to give my cats fits.

An impressive wireless router that Scott pre-configured to connect as soon as it and the Eees are powered up

Eee PCs the size of small novels don't have room for optical drives, so this might be nice to have occasionally.

A horde, mischief, or cluster

Even the basics are pricey in Uganda, so these might come in handy.

Given that the 4G model of Eee PC has only 4GB of solid state storage on-board, I asked Corsair, a long-time sponsor of The Tech Report and supporter of the enthusiast community, whether they could help provide additional storage options that will likely be needed once the students start making use of the OpenOffice apps, the built-in web cams, and eventual downloads from the net. Corsair came through with 72GB of flash storage in the form of SD cards and Voyager mini USB drives.

Need more storage? Corsair steps up in a flash.

The teachers and administration at the school currently have no computer to keep records, prepare documents or lesson plans, or carry out any standard administrative tasks. We originally planned to send funds to help cover the cost of a desktop system for this purpose. But after extensive research into what's available and consideration of the total cost and risks involved, we decided to send a used Compaq Presario X1000. Although it's several years old, it's still far more competent that what we could have bought in Kampala for $500 or so. For office- and education-related tasks, it'll be perfect. It was Scott's primary laptop for a couple years, then mine for a couple more. Now it should serve the staff of the Ebenezer Educational Center for a few more years.

Man I'm gonna miss watching movies on this beautiful wide screen.

Along with the equipment, we'll be providing the school with the funds needed to pay for Internet access, as well. After months of work and countless setbacks, I'm a little pumped that the goal is finally in sight. Stay tuned; soon we hope to be announcing that the lab is up and running at the school in Kampala. Then we'd like to get the school involved with The Tech Report in some way. Hmmm... I can hear it now... "From our East Africa bureau on the shores of Lake Victoria, this is Jordan Drake bringing you The Tech Report Podcast... "

28 comments — Last by Inkling at 10:47 PM on 01/07/09

Shout out to Asus
— 5:45 PM on July 25, 2008

Every so often I get to introduce people or features here in the Inkwell, which is always fun.  This post isn't exactly an introduction, as the subject is certainly well known to the majority of our readers.  I guess this would be more of a formal recognition.  Asus is a familiar moniker to most PC enthusiasts for their motherboards.  And now with the success of their Eee line of subnotebooks netbooks, Asus is becoming a recognizable brand to a wider slice of the North American market.  

Just yesterday I was cleaning the dust bunnies out of my main system and pondering how reliable the SK8N "workstation" board has been for me over the past few years... one might even say "rock solid" (though not "heart touching").  I've had to replace an Antec PSU and a Sapphire graphics card in this rig, but no bulging caps or even a hint of a problem from the SK8N.  I've thought about building a new system this year, but unless I decide to splurge and upgrade from GTR FIA Racing to Race Driver GRID, my current setup is still adequate.

Back to my main point, I want to thank Asus for supporting the PC enthusiast community in a variety of ways, from the steady stream of new products for our editors to review, to special events like ROGCon.  Yeah you guessed it, this is a plug for a sponsor by the biz guy.  But it's not difficult to appreciate and thank these guys; props to Asus for all their help.

29 comments — Last by shaq_mobile at 9:32 PM on 08/14/08

Introducing TR apparel
— 2:00 PM on July 21, 2008

We've worked hard to build an informative and reliable publication with the best reviews and latest news from the world of PC hardware. The Tech Report has become a well-known brand among industry insiders and enthusiasts, be they gamers, IT professionals, or hobbyists.

Nevertheless, many readers want more. Either due to the unhealthy level of trust they've placed in TR, or the all-to-common deficiency that some geeks have for fashion sense, we keep getting pleas for clothing. Yeah that's right—shirts, hats, bathrobes, and the like. We're happy to oblige, since it gives us the opportunity to extend the reach of the TR brand a bit.

Preferring to keep our focus on the core components of the PC rather than the peripherals and accessories of the personal computing lifestyle, we've outsourced this project to a local guy we know.

Custom Logo Outfitters has provided us with high-quality and great looking t-shirts and polos that we’ve bought for clients, trade show swag, contest prizes, and even to adorn our own sun-starved bodies. When we went looking for someone to set up the store, the Custom Logo guy said he could handle it, beginning to end. He owns a franchise of a nationwide school and business uniform company, which provides the online storefront.

The process has been slow, but we’re finally ready to launch. Although we’re not personally carrying the inventory, taking orders or payments, or shipping the products, we did select the shirts and hats ourselves and ensured that the logo embroidery is top-notch; you can inspect the logo stitching on close-ups posted in their product pages. Make no mistake: the products are great; these are not cheapie, give-away shirts. They’re heavy-weight, durable, great-fitting threads. Furthermore, I know the company will provide good service, even if their online storefront is… well… somewhat less than elegant.

Head over and check out the goods. There are a couple grades of polo shirts, some t-shirts, ball caps and even a hoodie. If you’re hung up on our former logo and colors, there’s an old-school t-shirt just for you. I’m told that if you need special sizes like tall or petite, Custom Logo will try to accommodate you if you let them know. And please tell us what other products you’d like added to the selection. If we can do enough business with these guys then we’ll re-stock soon with a broader selection of goodies, based on your feedback.

63 comments — Last by shaq_mobile at 1:40 PM on 11/13/09