Hello and welcome to another AIC video!
Today is a bit of a special day, This month my son is turning 12. And so I decided to get him kinda a special gift.
When I was around his age, my uncle worked for a law firm, and they went through a round of replacing all the computers in their office with new ones, and the old ones were going to be recycled, but anybody who wanted one, could have one of the 486 machines with a 25mhz processor… just minus the hard drive. It was a complete package, computer, screen, keyboard, mouse and even a printer. All I had to do was obtain my own storage! They even gave me the disks to install windows! This first computer was really my awakening into computers and technology in general. The family computer up until that point was an IBM with an 8086, and so this was such a massive leap forward, I felt like I was blazing new ground! Games, graphical interfaces, it didn’t just have windows, it had windows 3.11 with networking! (not that I had any network at home to connect to)
But mainly what it really did was give me a good foundation into how computers actually work. I learned how to write my own programs in dos, how to navigate the OS via command line, keyboard shortcuts, etc. from there I learned to build my own websites, and moved onto programming in Java, and to this day I my career is in computers. My main focus is on infrastructure, but I am still grateful to this day for my background I gained on that old 486.
My son has shown a strong interest in computers. I don’t know if he will follow my footsteps into the IT field, but I thought he would at least appreciate really getting a better understanding of computing, and I felt that going back to some basics would really be a good start.
So I went on the internet and I found this:
A Compaq Armada E500. Now, I will admit I was not looking for a compaq specifically, but what I was looking for was a computer that was already running windows 98, had a floppy AND CD rom drives, was cosmetically complete with power cord, AND came in at around $100 or less, and let me tell you…. That list is very very short. The last few years, as my generation has hit the point where they have disposable income, anything that falls under the “vintage” computing category has skyrocketed in price. Even computers I bought just a few years ago for $25 and $30 now go for well over $100, if not $200 for similar condition models.
Now this laptop is running a Pentium III e at 450mhz, it came with a 12gb hard drive, 128mb of ram, a 14” screen, that floppy drive and CD drive. It has pretty decently loud speakers, and a track point. It does not have a touchpad. Other similar models did, but I couldn’t tell from the description if this did or not, it doesn’t but that’s not the end of the world, the trackpoint is more than useful AND it comes with a single USB 1.1 port! That was another want, but not a requirement. I am glad I was able to find a laptop that met my needs with one, especially as I am transferring files onto this system, and trying to figure out what works and doesn’t with this older version of windows, I burned a few CDs trying to get a few different things to work. USB thumb drives have really spoiled us.But as far as other ports, it does have a PS2, which I picked up a PS2 mouse so the USB port would remain free, a modem jack, Ethernet via a PCMICA card, Composite video out, serial, vga, a proprietary port for a dock of some kind, a parallel port, and Headphone/microphone jacks.
It also has a few features that I really love and miss about older computers, physical dedicated volume up and down buttons, and fold out feet to lift up the rear of the computer! Why did this ever go away? I guess probably because few people use them, and are broken easily but I LOVE them, even my old Toshiba Protege 610CT has them! The CD rom bay, the floppy drive, the battery are all easily removable with just a latch. The hard drive, CPU cooler and ram are all easily accessible as well. With the first two hidden behind covers, and the last under the keyboard.
Why did I specifically go for one with windows already installed and with a power cord, despite it’s higher price? Two reasons, 1) time. My son’s birthday is less than two weeks away, and I didn’t want to chase parts down, or find out that something was seriously wrong with it and not have it ready in time, and 2) while the initial price is higher, if I had gotten one that had a bad system board, or a cracked screen or a malfunctioning keyboard. Buying these parts alone often push the cost of the system well above a fully functioning system.
Since getting it I have done a few things to it. First, I re-pasted the CPU. it is soldered to the system board, and is not upgradeable, but I pulled the cooler to check the fan and it was actually surprisingly dust free but the thermal paste was absolutely every bit of 23 years old, so it got some noctua thermal paste. I also removed the battery. While I have it here, I do not trust batteries this old to not catch on fire or leak, and I do not expect my son to tow this laptop around with him, so I popped it out. I might open it up and dispose of the batteries themselves, so that this just becomes an empty shell, that way it can be inserted back into the laptop so it doesn’t have a gaping hole on the side, but we’ll see. If anybody has any suggestions for that, please let me know. Next I tried the floppy drive and it worked perfectly. I have some old floppies sitting around still, and it was able to read them no issues. Next the CDrom got a test of one of my favorite games from my childhood – Riven. And it installed and loaded the game just fine. I plugged in a USB mouse, which was recognized right away, and lastly I pulled out a USB thumb drive. I have this super old 64mb drive that is my go to for older systems. I’ve had this for years, and i’ve never not had it work… Until now.
This laptop could not find the drivers for it. Yay! Troubleshooting! I went online and found an updated driver, perfect, burned it to a CD and installed… which promptly completely corrupted the USB drivers and I just kept getting a message telling me that “NTKERN.VXD device loader for this device could not load device driver” after more research I finally found instructions to use SFC to extract the required files, and where to put them. I will admit that several hours transpired between the start and finish of this… where I was frustrated that I had broken the thing that I had bought my son. But in the end, all was good.
Until…. I wanted to do my next upgrade. I wanted to change to an IDE ssd. I use these guys, they are just an msata adapter to IDE. They are not perfect, newer versions of windows sometimes see them as removable drives, but typically on older systems like this, they have 0 issues running. Mostly they are silent, when the old drive is so loud, it actually gives me a headache with the noise it makes. So I did created a backup of the old drive using macrium reflect, and restored it to this new drive. Put that drive into the computer and…. Crap. it didn’t work. It would load, but every few seconds it would freeze, and then periodically it would freeze hard, and just stop functioning. Dang it. After hours and hours of troubleshooting, creating multiple backups, changing settings etc. I gave up and did a fresh install. And that fixed it. The problem with that, is that I’m back at ground 0 as far as drivers, software, and documentation. Many many hours of searching and downloading and I’m down to drivers for a non existent game port that is not working. But everything I care about seems to be working just fine, and I got it loaded with all the docs and applications to help him learn.
So what have I put on here for him? First of all, I put on a bunch of documentation. Instructions for DOS, Basic, and Java. It has frontpage already installed, I found a copy of RGPmaker 2003 in english. My goal is to really give him an opportunity to teach himself. To figure out what he wants to do. I will be setting some goals/challenges for him, that I will also work on with him. One of my favorite things about computers is just the ability to be creative and create something from nothing.
I will admit that I’m probably more excited now than he will when he gets it, but I look forward to his reaction and the things he will learn to create.
If you have any suggestions for this system for him, as far as applications, or tools, or anything else you would recommend for him to use on this system, I’ll take those for sure.
Anyways, thanks for watching I hope you have, an amazing day.