My Recycled PC

I went to our local recycling center recently to drop off some wood that we couldn’t burn. I always like to stop at the electronics “trailer” where people dispose of TVs, microwaves, printers, and computers. I found a working Power Mac G4 Cube there several years ago so I know it can result in quality finds on occasion.

I popped in and immediately found a very large PC tower, complete with a CD drive, 3.5” floppy, 5.25” floppy, and a tape drive. The case was clean so I “rescued” it and brought it home.

I had no idea if it would work, but it was free and I could always use it for parts. Boy was I lucky! I plugged it in and it booted right up with no issues. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • 133 MHz Pentium (no cache card)
  • 32 MB RAM
  • Sound Blaster CD-ROM drive (not working)
  • 3.5” floppy drive (working)
  • 5.25” floppy drive (also working!)
  • HP Colorado tape backup drive (working)
  • 800 MB hard drive
  • Windows 98 (first edition), Office 2000, and some documents from a business

In terms of expansion, this thing is loaded. The case has eight slots, with all but one filled. It has your standard parallel port, two serial ports, two video cards – a ATI Pro Turbo PCI and a Diamond Monster 3D, a modem, an Ethernet card, and a SoundBlaster card. The only thing it didn’t have were PS/2 ports, making it difficult to find input devices to use.

I didn’t have a keyboard with an AT-style plug or an adapter but I did have a serial Microsoft trackball that let me poke around a bit. I replaced the SoundBlaster CD-ROM drive with an IDE DVD drive from my parts cabinet. I ordered PS/2 to serial adapters and an AT-style keyboard from eBay. The adapters didn’t work with my PS/2 Microsoft mice, apparently due to a voltage issue on my serial port.

Luckily I remembered that I had picked up a new-in-box USB card from Savers about 5 years ago, so I installed that into the only open slot in the machine. After a million driver installs (from the Windows 98 upgrade CD I happened to have) and a few restarts I finally had support for modern USB keyboards and mice. The inside of the machine, by the way, was just as clean as the outside, with only a little dust, a dead ladybug, and a small spider living inside.

I did some more exploring, now with a proper mouse. The installation was very clean with only a few documents and Microsoft Office. Windows 98 plus a full installation of Office took its toll though, and only a little over 100 MB was free on the drive. No movies on this beast!

I’d never used a tape drive before, but I figured out that it had an HP Colorado Jumbo 350 and found two sets of QIC-80 tapes on eBay in 250 and 350 MB sizes. Once they arrived, I popped the tape in as far as it would go and… didn’t know what to do. First, I expected the tape cartridge to get pulled entirely into the drive like a floppy disk or a VHS, but it only went in about partially, like an 8 track in a car. Second, I couldn’t find the drive anywhere – it didn’t show up in My Computer. After some digging I found it in Device Manager. Windows knew it was there but I still didn’t know how to use it.

After some exploration I opened the Microsoft Backup application from the Accessories menu and voila, there was my drive. I made a backup of My Documents, which contained about 8 MB of data. It took 5 minutes and a lot of whining noises to compress that down to 4 MB and write it to the 350 MB tape. It was loud but neat and made me think of how long it would take to do a full backup of a computer… that’s why these things were done overnight.

Otherwise, everything seems to work very well. My USB card didn’t work out as well as I expected though – Windows re-discovers the keyboard and mouse on each reboot and prompts me to reinstall the drivers from the Windows 98 disk. I think I’ll keep the AT keyboard and serial mouse plugged in.

It’s the largest tower in my museum, measuring 18″ tall and 13″ deep, but I’ll find a place for it. I don’t own many Windows machines and this one is the first that is not a laptop. I didn’t own a PS/2 or AT-style keyboard or a real serial mouse prior to this machine either. It’s fun to play with old Windows and fondly remember the days of inserting disk after disk, watching the Windows boot screen for minutes at a time, waiting for autoplay to start on a new CD, and manually shutting the computer off once the “Safe to turn off” message appeared. Not bad for free, and a phenomenal rescue from the garbage bin.

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