Home > Geeky, hardware > Her “new” $170 computer

Her “new” $170 computer

June 24, 2007

Operation “swap-out MrsDoF’s computer” went very well yesterday as I decomissioned her 4-year-old generibox running Windows 2000 Professional and put in an IBM ThinkCentre mini tower running Windows XP professional.

Her computer desperately needed rebuilt which presented me with a couple options:  scrounge up an XP license, or install Ubuntu.  Having used the Uuu on my laptop for a while now (and less than enamored of it) I was pretty sure I didn’t want to have her navigating that learning curve.  And the time required for a reasonably secure XP rebuild meant she’d be computerless for several days at least – no thanks.

eBay to the rescue!  For $145 and $25 shipping, I got an off-lease IBM ThinkCentre P4 2.4ghz with 512 ram… including an XP license.  So I could take my sweet time and make a sweet build with all her favorite, familiar software.  I may pop some more ram into it later, though she says it is very fast and smooth already.

Her software includes OpenOffice, Firefox, Filezilla, Notepad++, and XnView, plus McAfee antivirus. I do lots of little tweaks and customizations to the OS and apps.

The ThinkCentre is a very well-built computer – it runs Windows with a solidity that you only get from a motherboard that is engineered several notches above average. It has so many USB-2 ports one would never need to purchase a hub. The power supply is excellent and the case is as solid as they come.  The case can be opened and serviced without tools and has a carry handle on the top front.  The front panel is securely mounted but there’s a latch to release it for vacuuming.  But I do have a few criticisms.

The plastic front of the computer slants backward a little.  I suppose this is intended to be stylish but it necessitates the CD/floppy drive cage is mounted in the case at a nonlevel angle.  This means you can’t install an extra hard drive in that cage – hard drive spindles need to be horizontal or vertical.  The hard drive is mounted vertically in the metal front of the case, which is fine, but there’s nowhere to mount a second hard drive, so we have a mini tower that can only hold one hard drive.  That’s just dumb.

Most of the USB ports are on the rear, but there are 2 on the front of the case.  OK, fine, except they’re recessed three quarters of an inch into a the channel at lower-right Still accessible, not as bad as the insane, downward-pointing USB ports on some Dell computers, but what’s so damn hard about making the USB ports flush with the front of the case?  Compaq, Dell, and IBM all try to hide them, which is just dumb.

The power button is flush with the front panel – sort of hard to find by touch alone, and when you push it in, you are in contact with very small-radius plastic corners.  I made this same criticism of an Apple notebook – what’s so damn hard about smoothing parts that come into contact with human fingers?  Style over ergonomics, which is dumb.

The keyboard and mouse were excellent but MrsDoF uses a Microsoft Natural Keyboard which worked fine with this box.  I will probably install some Linux distro on her old computer, stuff a giant hard drive into it, and put it downstairs as a backup server. 

All in all, the ThinkCentre is a very good computer for < $200.

Categories: Geeky, hardware
  1. EdK
    June 24, 2007 at 22:27 | #1

    That’s a pretty good deal, even if it’s an Intel P4 (I prefer AMD CPUs). What’s the HDD size?

  2. June 24, 2007 at 22:46 | #2

    40 gb.  I have it partitioned in halves, with her “My Documents” folder on the second partition.  I scheduled defrag.exe to run on both partitions every night.

    Some of the newer ones have AMD processors. There’s one up right now with an Athlon 64 and 80gb HD for for $512.  They all seem to come with 512 ram, but that’s easily fixed.

  3. June 25, 2007 at 13:19 | #3

    I think these Ebay business are pulling out ram to make more working computers.  Which is smart, but a pain in the ass when I try to find a good system for a relative that doesn’t have time to let me work on it.  But at the same time I really appreciate the recycling effort.

    The only thing that makes sense to me about the slight upward angle is that the system is meant to sit on the floor.  In which case it’s a great idea in theory.  But with only being able to have one HD in the system, in practice it’s pretty dumb.

  4. Lucas
    June 26, 2007 at 18:36 | #4

    Webs:  That doesn’t make very much sense—then the other HD wouldn’t work right because it would be at an angle.

  5. June 26, 2007 at 19:57 | #5

    Not trying to argue with you again but I think in theory it’s not a bad idea, but with only being able to have one hard drive, in practice the idea is pretty dumb.  I am sure that as long as you keep one drive in the system that slight upward angle might be a nice feature.

    The other thing you have to remember is that this system is meant to be used as an office system not a home system.  I have never worked on or seen an office system in use that had more than one hard drive in it.  You want users to save files to a network store, not locally.  So my guess is that the system was never designed to be used with more than one hard drive.

  6. June 26, 2007 at 21:04 | #6

    Webs, you’re right those companies are pulling the extra ram and selling it separately.  They make more money that way.  I may oblige them by purchasing some of it if the need becomes apparent.

    I can think of at least three desktop computers in our building that have more than one hard drive, and none of them is in our support office.  And there are four desktop systems at your other office that I know of, with two hard drives.  Power users often request extra drives for various reasons.  Silly to build a big computer that can’t accommodate.

  7. EdK
    June 27, 2007 at 06:14 | #7

    The best part of this deal is the OEM/Corporate Windows XP Pro.  While you can’t move it to another computer, as long as this computer functions it’s an extra $130 you don’t have to lay out.  I just bought 2 GB of PC3200 DDR RAM for $112, quality DDR2 can now be bought even cheaper.

  8. June 27, 2007 at 16:31 | #8

    I can think of at least three desktop computers in our building that have more than one hard drive, and none of them is in our support office.  And there are four desktop systems at your other office that I know of, with two hard drives.

    So three computers out of 500 have a second hard drive where we work…

    The point is this system is made for the corporate office environment, not for the geeks that need multiple drives like myself.  Yes there are exceptions to the rule and I am sure you could find many, but companies like Dell and IBM sell office, home office, and home systems separately and give you different options within each for a reason.

    As I already said I agree with you I think it is a stupid idea, but for the application they built it for, and the time they built it (when hard drives and local storage were more expensive) I am sure it made sense.  Nowadays it is pretty stupid for a company to build a system that can only house one hard drive… on second thought Dell still does that. ;-P

  9. June 27, 2007 at 17:08 | #9

    So three computers out of 500 have a second hard drive where we work…

    Webs, are you part bulldog?  Once you get something stuck in your teeth…

    Yes, three out of 500 in our building, and four out of about a dozen in your other office.

    BTW I think you may be confusing small-footprint machines with minitowers.  Dell minitowers have always been able to hold at least two drives.  The IBM ThinkCentre is the first minitower I’ve ever seen that couldn’t.  There is no reason for a small-footprint machine to have more than one drive.

  10. June 27, 2007 at 17:27 | #10

    I was just referring to the fact that Dell still makes systems that can only hold one hard drive.  I just looked at the Optiplex 745 and three out of four types can only hold one hard drive.

  11. June 27, 2007 at 19:42 | #11

    Sigh… yes.  :-/  The three 745 models smaller than minitower are incapable of holding more than one hard drive, and the minitower, like all Dell minitowers, can.  Is there a point in there somewhere?  No, please, don’t get up…

    (… hoping against hope that there can’t possibly be anything left to say about the fact that small computers usually only hold one drive, and that minitowers usually can hold more, except this one…)

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