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Portables Hardware

Rehabilitating Damaged Laptops 346

Rollie Hawk writes "It breaks my heart to see a computer in need of a good home. For years, I've driven my wife crazy with all the 'strays' I've brought home with me. After all, the last thing my house needs is a few more cubic feet devoted to kenneling old and abused computers. That being said, laptops present very unique opportunities. No matter what caused you or someone else to ditch that old laptop, there still may be some way to integrate it back into society. For every kind of laptop lemon, I've found that there's plenty of lemonade to be made."
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Rehabilitating Damaged Laptops

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  • Warning (Score:5, Funny)

    by DrMrLordX ( 559371 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:01AM (#10448481)
    Once you have finished making lemonade, be certain not to spill it on your newly-refurbished laptop.
  • ... especially considering that these things decay rather rapidly. The notebook I bought a fortnight ago already stepped down Euro 199 heading rapidly towards the crap heap.

    • Re:Good idea ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Oddly_Drac ( 625066 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:38AM (#10448591)
      "The notebook I bought a fortnight ago already stepped down Euro 199 heading rapidly towards the crap heap."

      And the crap heap thanks you for your quick turnover of modern technology. I haven't paid for any of my laptops.

      • I haven't paid for any of my laptops.

        Actually, I did not own one before and did not really feel the need to have one, but there is some social pressure on the client side which one finally has to adapt to.

  • by Goosey ( 654680 )
    Woe to the players connecting to the resurrected old laptop for a game of UT2k4... Yikes!
  • Once we eliminate all sales men from using laptops they should be a lot safer.
  • Is there a point? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jptechnical ( 644454 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:06AM (#10448494) Homepage
    Is it a question? Is it a statment? I am not sure what to reply.

    That said... I have several old laptops and scoop them up when I get the chance. I have a couple dumb terminals running diskless terminal server clients... a couple playing mp3's. A simple ghostable one for installing *trial versions* of software I can then reghost and install when I need to.

    Lots of good reasons to keep them.
    • Lots of good reasons but for many these idea are nto practical. In the article the author talks about installing a thinclient system on your laptop or using installing windows 3.1 to use word processing. When youg et to this point i have to wonder, do you relaly need a laptop that bad. All the time and effort that would go into instlaling a thin client system would probably take longer just using the main computer to do what your gunna do. Also i find if you really want to write anything long dont do it
      • Re:Is there a point? (Score:3, Informative)

        by bhtooefr ( 649901 )
        Installing the thin client system depends on the server's OS. If it's Windows NT Terminal Server, 2000 Server/Advanced Server/Datacenter, XP Pro, or Server 2003, just install Remote Desktop Connection (or, if the client is running Windows 3.1, Terminal Services Client, and if it's running Linux, rdesktop). If the server is anything else, try Ultr@VNC on Windows (ultravnc.sf.net - a TightVNC mod to add chat and filesharing capabilities - very nice, but there is no server for Linux - at least the client runs
    • by Polkyb ( 732262 )

      ...and I know i may get flamed for this, but, I have about 25 'old' laptops, stacked in a few piles, in the corner of my office... They ARE my Beowulf cluster

      None of them are particularly speedy, and half of them have cracked LCDs, but for what I'm using them for, they're fine

      • by trifakir ( 792534 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @06:39AM (#10448898)
        I have about 25 'old' laptops, stacked in a few piles, in the corner of my office... They ARE my Beowulf cluster

        That's interesting. What kind of computations are you running there? The whole setup sounds like bloody heterogeneous (probably you have all different network, CPU speeds, memory sizes). My feeling is that besides for some pretty coarse-grained parallel jobs it is not good for anything else.

      • None of them are particularly speedy, and half of them have cracked LCDs, but for what I'm using them for, they're fine

        A table?
    • by bitrot42 ( 523887 ) <bitrot42@hotmail.com> on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @10:09AM (#10450033)

      My satellite internet connection needs a Windoze PC. Instead of dealing with this on my main PC, I use a stripped-down HP Pentium-II laptop as a router and small file server.

      The top half with the screen is completely *gone*, and there's no battery, no floppy or CD. It's small, low-power, quiet, and gets the job done perfectly.

      I also have a complete unit of the same kind, which I use with a wireless NIC. Opera and Firefox run great on it, and it's lighter, uses less power, and lasts much longer on its battery than the Toshiba Phatnote I have from work.

      My house is off-grid (solar power and generator backup.) As a result, I tend to watch every KWhr more closely than the average technocrat, but the same concept applies elsewhere...
  • Thin Clients (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:06AM (#10448495)
    Another great use for laptops that are underpowered are as dumb wireless terminals. We have 10 laptops on our site (a public school) which we connect into a terminal server wirelessly and has given new life to laptops which would have just been thrown away.
    • Re:Thin Clients (Score:3, Interesting)

      by loraksus ( 171574 )
      yeah, I second that. I've used a 486 with a wifi card and win95 (linux was a pita to set up on it) with the remote desktop client without any problems.

      Most modern apps wouldn't run worth a damn on it (i.e. firefox, et al)
      • Re:Thin Clients (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
        You might get better performance out of Windows 3.11 (although setting up TCP/IP is a bit less fun). If all you're doing is running a remote desktop client (MS remote desktop client is available for Win32, Win16, Mac and there's even an open implementation for *NIX) then you probably don't need things like protected memory or pre-emptive multitasking (after all, you're only running one program) so you don't need the overhead of these.
  • by Justus ( 18814 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:06AM (#10448496)
    Isn't most of this stuff a bit.. well.. obvious? The gist of the article appears to be "find a laptop with a small hard drive? upgrade it (through some unmentioned means of salvage from your friends who happen to have old laptop hard drives) or use things that don't require a lot of space!" and "have a laptop with a low resolution screen? run things that are low resolution!"

    I mean, the suggestions as to what to run in which situation are helpful, but I like to think that if I were dealing with those problems, I'd be able to figure those solutions out as well.

    Oh well, it killed a few minutes.
    • He's probably patented those ideas.... be careful!
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @06:37AM (#10448891) Homepage
      not only obvious but extremely shallow.

      "if it has a vga port you can use a capture card to put it on the tv."


      and he goes on talking about extremely basic things.

      How about actually rebuilding the laptops? I've snagged dead laptops by the palletfull before and simply take them apart and replace cracked screens with working screens (need a number of the same model, easy to get from corperate auctions)

      upgrading the hard drive can usualy be done, flashing the bios is the first step and there is still copies of the dreaded drive management software out there to force a large drive to work on a old machine.

      Finally, the best thing is to put in a CF card caddy in the hard drive slot and add a CF card as the drive for unitask laptops. I did this with about 10 of them and set them up for the local ham radio group. write protect the CF card (if it has that switch) and use it as an appliance. works great for their packet radio, turn it on and it boots into their software.

      Finally upgrades are possible. the Dell Lattitude Cpi's were very modular for almost 2 years of manufacturing. I upgraded my daughter's laptop from a P-II 266 to a P-II 400 by simply moving the procerssor module from the dead laptop to her's.

      Personally, the only good old laptop to hold onto is the tandy 100 and any of the early toughbooks.
      • How about actually rebuilding the laptops? I've snagged dead laptops by the palletfull before and simply take them apart and replace cracked screens with working screens (need a number of the same model, easy to get from corperate auctions)

        I second that. Years ago, a friend gave me a dead AcerNote Light 370CDX laptop with a broken screen. I repaired it using a spare screen from eBay that cost about $20, then I took it with me when I visited Iran for the first time - just for work, diary, Internet access

  • Useful (Score:4, Interesting)

    by loubrush ( 588838 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:07AM (#10448499)
    I found a great use for an old discarded 486 laptop running DOS. It is now dedicated to writing C64 disks thanks to my X1541 cable :-)
    • I found a great use for an old discarded 486 laptop running DOS. It is now dedicated to writing C64 disks thanks to my X1541 cable :-)

      Funny, I use an old discarded 486 laptop running DOS to write C64 disks too. The only difference is that I use XE1541 cable :-). The only problem is that the display died the other day.. luckily I have an extra monitor.

  • by cyrax777 ( 633996 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:07AM (#10448500) Homepage
    In my case a friend ditched one since it had a broken keyboard. I got it for free simple fix I just got one of those flexable mini keyboards it fits perfectly over the old keylayout. so I can use it without having to lug around a full size keyboard and have it hanging all over the place taking up space. plus its rollable to It doesnt take up a boatload of space in my laptop case.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:07AM (#10448501)
    Give them to some kid.

    I got my interest in computer engineering from taking apart people's old junk. TVs, VCRs, computers, just about anything electro-mechanical.

    If anything, i bet you can find a kid who would like to smash it up, but if you ask around, I am sure you can find a kid who would be interested in disecting it.

    You never know, you could set some eager young mind on the path to a science or engineering career. And we can ALWAYS use more of us, especially as today's children drift farther and farther from science or engineering.
    • by aussie_a ( 778472 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:27AM (#10448554) Journal
      And we can ALWAYS use more of us

      Socially maladjusted elitsts? Oh yes I whole-heartedly agree.
      • by Myself ( 57572 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @08:59AM (#10449430) Journal
        Actually I think times are changing. Being a geek was a bad, bad thing when I was a kid. Computers were rare and nobody even knew what they were good for, much less appreciated the people who made them work.

        I remember when I noticed it starting to change. There was an ad on the radio, and it used a modem negotiation tone as part of the suggestion that the product being hawked was high-tech. I'd never heard that noise outside of my own explorations, and I was well aware that the general public was ignorant of it.

        Within a year, the word "e-mail" started appearing in newspapers, and all hell broke loose. Computers in movies were more than word processors. Pretty soon there were even movies about hackers, not homemade stuff but real hollywood flicks. The romanticism reserved for spies in decades past has shifted to technologists.

        I think that kids growing up now, who we'd identify as fledgling geeks, won't experience the same ostracization we did. Some of the attraction of technology is probably due to Asperger's syndrome in a lot of us, so the social ineptitude is here to stay. Still, these kids will find more acceptance of their talents, and understanding of their interests, than we did.

        Jump-starting a youngster's interest in technology, or furthering their comfort with exploring the inner workings of a machine, is nothing to be ashamed of.

        (Score: 4, Off-Topic)
    • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:31AM (#10448567) Journal
      I used to drive my parents mad taking stuff apart. "He's so destructive," they used to lament. I couldn't work out why they said that - I had no intention of destroying whatever it was I was taking apart, I wanted to see what was inside, and then I would (attempt) to put it back together.

      I'm much better at putting stuff back together these days (which is a good thing), and I still love taking stuff apart. I have a broken hard disk on my desk which is the next candidate...
    • by polecat_redux ( 779887 ) <spamwich.gmail@com> on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:33AM (#10448569)
      you could set some eager young mind on the path to a science or engineering career. And we can ALWAYS use more of us

      Then perhaps we should give our old laptops to kids in India.
    • I am sure you can find a kid who would be interested in disecting it.

      If you do find a kid wanting to disect it, be sure he is knowledgable in the care and feeding of the backlight. The tube has mecurey and uses high voltage. It's not the same as tearing apart an old C64.
      • The tube has mecurey and uses high voltage. It's not the same as tearing apart an old C64.

        Bah. The amount of mercury is negligible (older people here still remember the times when mercury balls from a broken thermometer weren't a reason to evacuate a school and call hazmat team but to go on knees and hunt them together with a piece of paper, and we didn't grow two heads from that), the high voltage in the invertor is at most unpleasant (which, as a bonus, is a nice and quite safe way to teach them how to

  • How interesting. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rincebrain ( 776480 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:08AM (#10448502) Homepage
    I've always been fascinated by the possibilities provided by old laptops...I mean, heck, you don't need a 2 GHz P4 laptop to wardrive, word process [ignoring the huge requirements of certain solutions...*cough* MSWord *cough* KOffice *cough*], code [note that I didn't say COMPILE!], act as an MP3 player [assuming you use a decent MP3 decoder, and not a piece of crap], or any of the lovely uses for laptops that people are now marketing in self-contained devices for several hundred dollars a pop.

    Honestly, though, I'm curious where you're getting yours...neighbors and coworkers? Or is there some online stash somewhere that nobody told me about?
    • Re:How interesting. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Technician ( 215283 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @06:39AM (#10448896)
      or any of the lovely uses for laptops that people are now marketing in self-contained devices for several hundred dollars a pop.

      My main older laptop applications are MIDI piano teacher and GPS Map display.

      Many newer laptops have gone to firewire, USB, & Ethernet and have eliminated older ports such as RS-232 and a Joystick port with MPU-401. Many new laptops have no place to connect a MIDI device.

      Doing piano lessons with the laptop right above the keyboard on a stand puts in in the right place. Seldom will a desktop PC work well in a music setting for lessons. (Voyetra Piano Tutor and The Piano Discovery System)

      A TOPO map on a laptop connected to a GPS receiver sure beats the small display on a hand held GPS for off road adventures. (Natonal Geographic Off-Road Explorer)

      In both of the above applications, the MS security holes in old versions (Win 95) are not a problem. There is no net connection to exploit.
  • by Harald Paulsen ( 621759 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:08AM (#10448504) Homepage
    One of my pet projects now is to turn a laptop, a cuecat and a webcam into a fridge computer that will allow me to inventory my refridgerator as well as take a snapshot whenever I open the door.

    Imagine using a WAP-enabled phone to check what I have in the fridge at home. No more "do I have milk?".
    • Often the problem is not if one has milk, but if the milk one has is sour.

      Also, I am trying to imagine using a WAP-enabled phone in the way you suggest, but in my mind I cannot get past swearing at it for not working.
    • One of my pet projects now is to turn a laptop, a cuecat and a webcam into a fridge computer that will allow me to inventory my refridgerator as well as take a snapshot whenever I open the door. Imagine using a WAP-enabled phone to check what I have in the fridge at home. No more "do I have milk?".

      You know what else works great for that?... a girlfriend. Yeah, I know, I don't have one either. :(
    • by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:40AM (#10448594)
      Internet 'fridges have been for sale in South Korea for two years. They scan for outdated or recalled products, such as expired babyfood, and send email if they suffer an outage that may generate spoiled food.

      The idea is that the kitchen is the new center of the house, and why not use the surface of the refer to house a LCD and internet connection. Anything specific to cooled contents manifest is just a bonus.
    • One of my pet projects now is to turn a laptop, a cuecat and a webcam into a fridge computer that will allow me to inventory my refridgerator as well as take a snapshot whenever I open the door.

      Ah! Now at last we can answer that age old question that has been plaguing mankind! What happens to the light in the fridge when you close the door? You do mankind a great service...

      (On a side note, for the humor impaired; Yes, I know what happens, but don't forget about the light in the equation for your ide
    • Milk is cheap. Just buy milk more often.

      I know this is a typical /.ey 'you dont wanna do thaaaaat you wannba do thiiiiiiiis' but seriously - I never understand the Milk fixation of so many geeks.

      I worry that I dont have parmesan, or the mozerella I bought to make pizza last week might be a bit off - not wether I have milk - I can get milk anywhere and its so cheap!

      I worry more if I dont have beer - but only because if I buy too much beer I drink it and get the shits for a fortnight.
  • plenty of lemonade to be made

    Do what the Germans do, when life gives you lemons - burn them.

    When my TI-99/4A died a few years back my little brother had fun with it for a bit... he destroyed it with a hammer.

    Made me pretty mad but he had fun.
  • Ebay!!! (Score:2, Interesting)

    Exactly how I feel! I've rescued a handful of laptops from my work place and rehabilited them thanks to ebay. $20 motherboard, and I have a working laptop! Missing cover? Where else but... ebay!
  • by imag0 ( 605684 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:10AM (#10448511) Homepage
    Damaged Display
    Install Linux on it and make it into a server!
    Tiny or Dead Hard Drive
    Yep! Boot it from a CD and use it as a server!
    Low Memory
    A low memory server!
    Dead Battery
    plug it into a wall outlet and use it as a server!
    Busted Keyboard or Touch Pad
    Hook up a external keyboard and use it as a server!
    Low Resolution Display
    Servers dont need a display!
    All of The Above?
    Can you see where im going with this?
    With a little imagination, just about any old piece of junk laptop can be a server!
    • What _sort_ of server? RAID? Nup.
      High availability? Nup
      Router? Probably not, unless you're going to use a combo of PCMCIA / USB eth adapters.
      Database server? Nup.
      File server? Check out prices of 120G laptop drives vs. 120G desktop drives. Nup.
      Laptops are laptops, there were never intended to be servers, and run really poorly when tried to be used as such (in my experience, anyway).

      Unless you just want a "server", and that's it. Sure it won't do anything, but you'll have a server!!

      • A laptop is small and quiet. Even if you have to place it in your bedroom or living room, you can keep it running 24/7. If there's any juice left in the battery, it's even got a built-in UPS. I've got no problems imagining how to use my aging laptop, once I can afford replacing it with a Powerbook.
    • And if, say, CPU or motherboard dies you can still *serve* drinks on it!
    • Just because the display is damaged doesn't mean that the laptop can't work just fine with a monitor, often at higher resolution than with the original screen. You _can_ use it as a server with no display, but you're not limited to that.

      One of the three PCs on my desk is a laptop with a dead screen that works just fine with the monitor when I switch the KVM switch over to it, and keeps a couple of old Win95 apps alive; when we're done with them I'll probably turn it into a Linux server of some sort, but i

    • I have an old Toshiba laptop: 256K RAM (yes, that's kilobytes!), 2 floppy drives of (one of them bad). 4.77MHz CPU. 8-level greyscale display of (at most) 640x480, without a backlight, but with many broken pixels. One serial and one parallel port. Heavy lead-acid battery, permanently flat. Missing power supply. No hard disk. No network interfaces. The original DOS diskette (2.0 I think) has gone missing.

      Any idea what kind of server I could possibly make of that???

      • Find the AC adaptor, find a battery (hell, if it's THAT old, just find a lead-acid battery), and play some DOS games with DOS 6.22.
    • by jayhawk88 ( 160512 ) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @07:19AM (#10448978)
      The guy actually advises using a broken laptop as a "local or Internet Quake server".

      "Hey Bob, your Quake server is the envy of none, slow and lag filled. How do you do it?"
      "Well Tom, I host my Quake games from this broken P2-500 Dell Latitude! It's got woefully limited memory, a pathetic system bus, plus it tends to overheat and shutdown at random!"
      "Man, that's some pathetic setup. Whatever possessed you to try and make a game server out of this piece of shit?"
      "My total and complete lack of common sense!"
      • a 500mhz is overkill for a quake server. You can get a good 12-16 person game going on a 166mhz.

        It would work great for lan parties, you could just plug it in and leave it silently running in a corner while all your friends frag away.
  • by thewldisntenuff ( 778302 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:11AM (#10448512) Homepage
    "If your old laptop has a tiny hard drive, and by small I mean under 100 MB of space, you may or may not be able to upgrade it. Even if you can, you are certainly looking at no more than a gigabyte of space and will probably be making use of someone else's used drive."

    I could see using Windows...Hell, I used Win95 0SR2 on a 166mhz ATT Globalyst without much of a hitch.....Slow for mp3s, but ran most of the web and IRC chat well enough for me.

    But Windows aside, he never makes mention of distros like Knoppix or even Damn Small Linux (Isn't DSL like 50mb?)...You could easily run a distro off a Knoppix or Live CD....Wouldn't it be more useful to do this, as one gets a full-fledged OS with software to boot?

    • I still got one of those ATT globalysts running very nice (did cram in a few extra scsi disks) only IIRC mine is a 133mhz version.

      It's happily running debian for file, print, mail, dns, subversion, whatever server.

      The only things that were able to kill it so far were
      - apache
      - the combination of spamfilter/antivirus when there was loads of mail (eg coming back from a power failure i had to shut down the filters until the queue was cleared.
      I suppose that could be fixed with a little more ram (currently 32)
    • by shoemakc ( 448730 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @07:37AM (#10449038) Homepage

      You're assuming that:

      A laptop with a 100MB hard drive came with a cdrom

      The motherboard supprts booting from cdroms

      A laptop with a 100MB hard drive has enough memory to run a modern linux distro.

      Beyond all that, laptop hard drives are not designed to run 24/7...Chances are it'll tank in pretty short order.


  • move along (Score:4, Funny)

    by BoneMarrow ( 577933 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:11AM (#10448515)
    what a crap article. his answer to all the problems is make it into a server - yeah thanks captain obvious. dosshell and edit for a word processor - kill me now!
    • This isn't a crap article, it's the perfect slashdot boast. This guy has:

      • A wife, who he drives crazy
      • A house, which he has filled with computers
      • An apparently endless stream of old laptops to futz with
      • Spare time in which to futz
      • All the lemonade he wants
        • Life is beautiful.

  • I've had great success using an old Toshiba Satellite Pro 410CDS (Pentium) with a half-dead screen & no CD drive as a Linux based, multi-purpose server. I used my "damaged laptop" to run my personal web and SMTP/POP servers for over two years (until I upgraded to a PIII 600Mhz machine). It only had an 800MB hard drive and about 64MB of RAM, but it still hummed along just fine. Of course, I never submitted it to a slashdotting :) ---

    Most of these older Toshibas can gotten for pretty cheap from eBay. The only drawback is that a good battery is quite expensive.

    Here's some helpful links:

    • You suck. How'd you get 64MB of RAM in yours? My 405CS (same family) maxes out at 48MB of RAM, and a 32MB module is about $60, last I checked. (it has 8MB onboard). I thought it was only a few Tecra models that took that format of memory, and could go over 48MB RAM. I only have 16MB, FWIW.

      I have a not-so-sucky battery (considering it's a nine year old battery). It doesn't last long when the laptop's not running (I can fill it, and then unplug it, and a day later, it won't boot, but I never booted it in the
  • by pklong ( 323451 )

    Completely dead. Everything broken:

    Use it as a door stop.
  • by GreatDrok ( 684119 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:18AM (#10448536) Journal
    I did just this when my 18 month old Toshiba Satellite Pro 3000 partially died making it useless for its primary purpose because the LCD backlight failed. I had only just replaced the battery because that had died and the case was made from a brittle plastic that left it prone to cracks and chipping. Basically, Toshiba isn't getting any more of my money, I bought an iBook G4 instead and it is coming up to 12 months old now and is in perfect condition despite the daily use that wrecked the Toshiba in a similar amount of time.

    Anyway, the Tosh does have a few redeeming features, it has built in 10/100 ethernet fully supported under Linux, 1Ghz PIII CPU and a 20GB disc. With a new battery and no backlight it will run for over four hours without power so it made sense to make it a server. Currently it has an HP laserjet 1200 hanging off it, served with Samba to support printing from Windows, Linux and OS X, it has network shares (Samba and NFS), DNS (using dnsmasq, much easier to set up than bind), DHCP, squid web proxy (including wpad.dat configuration for automatic detection by IE and Firefox), IMAPS for serving e-mail with fetchmail to pull it down from my pop accounts, Openwebmail to allow me to send and receive mail from anywhere in the world using ipcheck to update my dyndns records so I don't have to remember my specific IP address, spamassassin to filter all the crap about viagra etc, and clamwin antivirus before mail ever hits a Windows box (yeah yeah, I shouldn't use Windows for e-mail and browsing, but I have thunderbird and firefox as defaults and I only really use Windows for games but it is still nice to feel I can read mail and browse a little with some level of safety).

    Actually, now I feel less bothered about the £1500 the laptop cost me because with all it is now doing as a server I feel like I can get several more years use out of it. Although, compared with the £1000 the iBook cost I still think Toshiba blows.

    In the end, setting up this machine as a server has been great experience, I have got it interacting with my heterogenous environment and it does a lot for such a little machine. Oh, and the lack of fan noise and small size is also a real bonus.
    • Yeah I've been doing the same with my old Toshiba laptops - I seem to keep having the hard drives fail. I'll be doing that will all the old laptops from the business now. I've taken to sticking Fedora on them, using Samba for file sharing, SquirrelMail and DoveCot IMAP for email archives, and eGroupWare.

      As a small business server they are fantastic. Take up little space, have an inbuilt screeen, mouse, keyboard, networking and battery if the power fails. Setup rsync for backups and you're set! Especially n
  • Wouldn't it be healthier to develop the alcohol addiction instead? :)
  • So Close! (Score:5, Funny)

    by teamhasnoi ( 554944 ) <teamhasnoiNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:28AM (#10448558) Journal
    I have a 4 way Xeon server that I've been thinking about turning into a laptop.

    I've got it built into a custom plywood case with a 19" LCD, 4 drive RAID, tape backup and 100 disc CDR changer. I'm working on installing the 3 day battery backup and generator this week.

    Now, could someone come help me? My legs are pinnned and crushed and I can't reach the remote.

  • Slashku (Score:2, Funny)

    by bobdotorg ( 598873 )
    laptop to server
    no need to RTFA
    must be slow news day (or 'article blows goats')
  • "Damaged Display" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    In many cases the LCD-display's backlight just stops working (while the display remains dark the output is still slightly visible). Instead of buying a complete new expensive display you might want to check the SMD-fuse first. On my old laptop it was placed on the inverter board and was labeled "F1". I replaced it with a new fuse (not an SMD one but who cares ...) and the backlight worked again :-)

  • by leereyno ( 32197 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @05:11AM (#10448672) Homepage Journal
    This guy reminds me of an uncle of mine whose back yard is full of junk. Just because you CAN find a use for something doesn't mean that you've found a GOOD use for it. There comes a time when you need to toss stuff. Bending over backwards inventing uses for archaic hardware just so you can have an excuse to hold onto it just isn't rational.

    I do agree that setting up a late model laptop with a cracked display as a server of some sort does make a lot of sense, asssuming of course you have need for such a server. But installing Win3.1 and wordperfect 6.0 on a 386 that's old enough for a bar mitzva is just plain crazy for anyone who has any means of getting anything better. Toss it!

    Human beings are aquisitive. We like to get stuff and keep stuff. Some people don't seem to understand that there comes a point at which holding on to something is a detriment because it eats up resources without providing any genuine return. The resources I'm talking about are things like space, electricity, and the patience of your spouse. It is far, far better to periodically do an inventory and toss out stuff. If you don't have a legitimate use for it and aren't going to have a use for it, then get rid of it. If you can't stand the idea of throwing it into the landfill then take it down to goodwill. Just because its useless to you doesn't mean its useless to everyone. Not only will you have more space for new stuff, but you'll find that your state of mind will improve. Lets face it, having a yard, or a house, or even a room filled up with junk creates a problem. The junk takes up space, gets in the way, and is generally a pain, and yet you don't want to get rid of it for some reason. This creates stress. Get rid of the junk and get rid of the stress.

    I used to collect computers. Not anymore. I ditch anything I can't put to good use. The only exception I've made is for my old Apple IIe that I've had since I was 12, and if it ever dies I'm ditching it too. Today I've got 2 PC's and an Ultra-10. Actually make that 3 PC's if you count my HTPC that's in the living room. I'm a lot happier now than I was back in my hoarding and pack-ratting days.

    I think the author of this piece needs to throw some crap out. If his wife hasn't left him by now then someone need to tell the vatican because she needs to be cannonized as a saint.

    • by Trurl's Machine ( 651488 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @06:22AM (#10448862) Journal
      The resources I'm talking about are things like space, electricity, and the patience of your spouse.

      Marriage, sir, is an art of compromise. I have patience for my spouse - I am a "good boy" when we meet our in-laws, I go to see "chick-flicks" (tonight we're goint to see "The Notebook", oh boy, I'm already scared), I am kind to her friends, even the ones that I actually hate. My spouse has patience to me and agreably she needs a lot. But everyone in a marriage NEEDS some space on his own - you can't jettison all your hobbies or passions just because your spouse doesn't like/understand them.

      You are right poiting that this guy's hobby is economically unfeasible. It's almost always better and cheaper to buy a new laptop rather than refurbish a 10-year old el crappo. But what wrong with having a HOBBY? Hobbies usually consume resources ("The resources I'm talking about are things like space, electricity, and the patience of your spouse") and I don't think that this one is particularly worse in that matter when compared to, say, golfing or slashdotting.
    • I used to suffer from computer packrat bulimia. I would collect a lot of comuter hardware (much of it old/obsolete) then every so often "purge" everything except the newest machines and start over. That is, until I revived an old 286... It dual-booted msdog/windoze 3.0 and minix. The minix install had a web server that I turned into a remote control for an mp3 player (on a different box, of course.)

      So, get this... you had to have a machine with a web browser to see the web page on the 286 minix box so
  • Why reuse it? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ihavnoid ( 749312 )
    Need a simple console emulator machine? run it on your main PC.
    Need a MP3 player? run it on your main PC.
    Need a word processor? run it on your main PC.
    Need a server? run it on your main PC with VMWare or user-mode linux or whatsoever equivalent.

    Don't need any of them? forget about it and throw the old laptop away, or maybe give it to some of your friends who wants it as some other usage.

    That would be cheaper, considering that old laptops eat up your room space, and here in Seoul, every square feet of your
    • I have a pentium 2 400mhz laptop with a dead screen, keyboard, battery and the mouse is flakey. My main hard disk failed ages ago and I now have it sitting beside my TV running geexbox [geexbox.org] booting off a 100mb hard disk.
      My powersupply died too, so I've soldered an old CB Radio supply into the laptop.

      Could I watch movies on my computer? Yes, but I wouldn't have a nice couch to sit on and a large screen. I'm keeping that baby on life support for years to come.

      Also this proves why you don't buy compaq crap.
  • Leave.

    (you can get fortune! just tell the judge how many laptops he has ;) )
  • Old laptops make really nice MP3 players. There's a nice DOS mp3 player called damp [damp-mp3.co.uk] that even has support for alphanumeric LCD's.

    Works great in the car too.
  • I don't know if this has been said, but the best way to get rid of strays is to do the e-bay thing. Seriously, there is always someone out there that is going to need bits of trivial parts, and you might be doing a service and earning a buck or two. For example, I busted a friends cd-rom connector, the person told me specificly that the floppy went in the right bay when it clearly did not. $50 or so odd bucks later I get a replacement with the right part. Ok, now I have a stray, but that's not the point
  • Completely rooted?

    Fix it up with glue and paste.

    Fancy a server?

  • ... Until nobody wants it.

    I've just finished installing minix on my Zenith supersport 286e. I found it under a house. But I now need a new power supply as I let the magic blue smoke out of the old one. The good news is that it is a fairly standard (as laptop PS units go) 16.5 V DC unit.

  • by Artifex ( 18308 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @06:26AM (#10448871) Journal
    I have an old TravelMate in good and even clean condition; the problem is that there are no modern ports on it!

    There's no ether, no pcmcia, the serial is the old slow type of UART (top speed 9600? 19,200? I forgot), no usb, etc. It's got a floppy. The parallel port might be bidirectional; I haven't checked, yet. It's got a 14.4K internal modem.

    It's also got a cute outboard trackball, and was designed to run Win95. My parents probably lost the install floppies a long time ago, though.

    I'm thinking, my best hope for connectivity, without spending a lot for a docking station, is some sort of serial to ether dongle. But I'm not sure it'll even do that well. I don't want to run SLIP or PLIP unless there's an easy way to get a Windows box to do those at the other end, for compatibility reasons.

    Any useful suggestions that don't involve spending real money?
  • 1. Give them to the kids.
    2. Use them as a dedicated DVD player.
    3. Leave them in a drawer.

    (Current count of laptops in the household: 8)
  • my vaio (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BoaZaur ( 451593 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @06:36AM (#10448889) Homepage
    About 2 years ago I found in one of the closets at work an old VAIO PIII 600Mgz.
    I ask around and the boss said it is broken and Sony labs ask for more then a new VAIO to fix it. So I took it home. I work on it at nights before going to sleep.
    The case was all broken and the keyboard popped out. When plugged into the power the light goes on but nothing happens. So I opened it up. I saw the CPU fan was dismantled, probably when it was dropped and the case broke. I changed the fun and connected it. Now the fan turns but still nothing happens. I played around with it for days (nights) by chance I changed the alternate-BIOS dipswitch and the screen comes to life. What? The BIOS was over-written how did that happen? I scraped up from the net some source code for a little program that I ran on a friend VAIO, to copy his BIOS, then to write the one on my machine. OK now I'm at the boot prompt. I see the HD is dead. I order 40g one from compgeeks.com. Mean while I take it all apart, glue up the case real nice. 80% of the screws where missing, so I go downtown to find some. The battery mechanism is broken. Ha, I fix it in place with Masking tape. The HD arrives. Now the VAIO has neither floppy nor CD. Easy, put the HD (with that 2.5 HD kit) in a desktop machine. Hatch a windows XP installation. (Hatch is when you do> winnt32 /syspart:D /tempdrive:D to install a disk that is than removed and put in another machine. Just do winnt32 /? to read all about it).
    That's it the VAIO is working. And it is so nice it is half the weight from my wife's 700Mg Celeron Thinkpad. Feels faster and lasts x3 on a full battery.
    Well not so good, my boss comes one day and ask where is that old laptop. I tell him I have it. He says he wants it back. Now, there is no way I'm going to give it back after all the work I put into it. We have a big fight about it. Finally he admits that he needs the power-supply so he can have one at home and one at work so he doesn't have to carry the power supply three meters to the elevator and back. I Juice up the VAIO for the last time. And bring him the PWSP.
    It is sitting there with power for one go. It took me 14 month and I'm at a dead end. A new PWSP is $200 and it has to be specially ordered since they don't carry them any more. Well 2 month ago, I go to NY (a sad occasion I'm afraid) and I find on 14th st an Original VAIO PWSP for $40 . I now have Mandrake on my VAIO and I'm excited every time I use it. We have a special bond we're war-bodies. The only thing short of perfect is three keys missing on the keyboard: VBN. I can still press that little nipple below the key. One day I will carve these keys from wood.

    Free life Boaz
    • Re:my vaio (Score:3, Funny)

      by Minwee ( 522556 )
      And it is so nice it is half the weight from my wife's 700Mg Celeron Thinkpad.

      So the VAIO _only_ weighs 350 megagrams?

      That's more than three hundred Volkswagens!

    • Re:my vaio (Score:4, Funny)

      by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @11:07AM (#10450604)
      "I tell him I have it"

      Oooohh - rookie mistake.

      Proper response:"Laptop? Oh yeah; I played with it a lot but it never really got working properly, so I disposed of it."

      Please note that, in the Clintonesque sense, you haven't told a lie: "Working properly" means 100%, and it's still missing keys; "Disposed of" literally means "to make a disposition," and its disposition is that it is good enough for you.
  • backlights are cool (Score:4, Interesting)

    by loraksus ( 171574 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @06:51AM (#10448923) Homepage
    I've been tearing apart old laptops (a bunch of stylistic 486 tablets without anything) for their backlights.
    I left the backlights attached to the "plastic light diffusing thingys" that are behind the actual lcd.

    I had a couple of (neon case lights) inverters (think it was for 6" tubes) that now power them pretty well. These things are bright, 1 is a bit overkill for a nightlight, you can read a book by the light of 2 panels from about 4'.

    svc.com sells a bunch of case modding stuff, and their prices are good, although you will buy 10x more stuff than you intended.

    Everything runs on 12V DC and is attached to a molex connector right now, but I'll be switching it to a wall wart eventually

    Thinking of making a "backlight wall" or a "backlight lamp" once I have an enough (8?).

    I'm sure there is some use for something like this in photography (i.e. even lighting), although the white is a bit harsh, though I could get some filters for that.

    Sadly no pics, my dig cam is out of service for the next couple of weeks.

    Anyone else doing something like this?

    /I'm doped up on nyquil and sick as shit, so if something above doesn't make sense. . .
  • by IntelliTubbie ( 29947 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @07:09AM (#10448963)
    It's relatively easy to figure out what to do with a laptop that has a busted display or a too-small hard drive. It's tougher coming up with a quick workaround for the following, all of which I've experienced at one point or another:
    1. Broken or missing part that is no longer made, nearly impossible to find, and/or "unsupported". Many laptop parts and accessories are non-standard and proprietary, e.g. AC adapters and external drives.
    2. Busted motherboard or other vitals. Basically the same as the above, only worse -- unlike a shiny display or gobs of RAM, even a server or dumb terminal needs a working board. Or, even worse...
    3. Problem unknown. The damn thing just doesn't work, and I have no idea why. Mysterious crashes and hardware errors abound.

    I had a Dell sub-laptop give up the ghost a year ago, and it was nearly impossible to troubleshoot -- I basically gave up, replaced it, and have been trying to rehabilitate it as a hobby, but even that has been fruitless. Anything I did would result in bizarre hardware errors, even running Knoppix. I finally figured out that files in memory had errors -- and important config files were strewn with random characters (well, even more than usual) -- so I finally chalked it up to either bad RAM or a bad mobo. After all the time and money, it makes more sense just to junk it.

    Conclusion: the toughest part about rehabilitating a (non-superficially) damaged laptop is determining if it's just damaged or completely dead.

  • by zakezuke ( 229119 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @07:45AM (#10449059)
    Laptop battery, about $100 (depending)

    144-pin sodimms [crucial.com] $113.99/256 (costs may be higher for EDO or propriority memory)

    16bit PC card ethernet adapter $30 [newegg.com]

    WIFI to Ethernet Bridge $93 (in case you can't do cardbus) [newegg.com]

    Laptop DVD rom drive $50 on ebay.

    Cost to make that laptop modern $386.99

    Knowing you can from Walmart [walmart.com] for $598 + tax with all that crap already, priceless.

    Sure you can frankentop, just so long as you don't cross the bottom line.

  • by notthepainter ( 759494 ) <{oblique} {at} {alum.mit.edu}> on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @08:08AM (#10449140) Homepage
    Seems counter intuitive, right?

    About 5 years ago I sold an old 68030 based Macintosh Powerbook on ebay. Before I did, I cleaned up the hard drive etc...

    When I tested it, I was shocked. From OFF, not sleep, from off, it would boot and lauch Microsoft Word in 7 seconds.

    Now that is impressive performance.

    It was running MacOS 7.6.1 and Word 5.1. Both from the good old lean days.

    We have certainly lost something since then.

  • by redune45 ( 194113 ) <slashdot@[ ]une.com ['red' in gap]> on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @08:52AM (#10449393) Homepage
    I just tore apart an old 100 Mhz Pentium laptop and installed Slackware on it.
    I've got it set to run a slideshow using svgalib, so I don't even have X installed on the machine.
    It pulls the photos off of my webserver and works great. It was an easy project and the results are great.
    All that is left for me is to find a nice frame to put it in.
  • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @09:31AM (#10449660)
    (Assuming you have an old laptop that most of the parts are working.)

    Get copies of:
    1. all the hardware manuals for all your more modern systems. Particularly, get your mainboard manual, schematics for jumpering and cabling your hard drives and CD/DVD drives, and info on your network, video and sound cards.
    2. lists of your bios beep codes, and other startup info if needed.
    3. selected software documentation. (mostly for essential parts, such as the OS).
    4. If you have any windows boxen, copies of system configuration info, particularly how Windows has assigned IRQs and DMAs, particularly on older systems, and a known good backup or two of the registry.
    5. a list of URLs for your hardware and software manufacturers (optional - only really useful if you can get to the internet by some other means without having to lug this laptop to the public library or something just to connect)

    These files, with an older OS, will typically come to a few hundred Mb or less. Set up the laptop with the aprropriate software to read them all (you'll probably just need a general text reader and maybe Adobe Acrobat reader for PDFs, not usually much else). Voila! Now when you lose LAN or internet connectivity, or the machine won't even boot right, you have a portable tech support library.
  • Data Recovery (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MattGWU ( 86623 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @09:59AM (#10449935)
    I work at a library, where we have fairly comprehensive tech support availible to students. One thing we see a lot of is dead floppy disks. Over the summer, a student came to me with a dead disk containing his thesis. I put it in my laptop, a PI 166 running Slackware (Which is now damaged, and will be rehabilitated, because I love that thing, but that's not the point of the story!) and got most of his document back.

    At the end of the summer, that student (I'll call him Mel, because that was his name*) gave an old 486-based Toshiba to my boss for some reason. So we were like, "You know...this thing is running Windows 95. The Win95 version of scandisk.exe will often fix floppy disks that Windows XP and the like won't read..." So now that laptop lives on, as the "The Mel's Thesis Memorial Laptop", in honor of the pseudo-irony of its provenance, whose sole purpose in life is to run scandisk on students 'dead' floppy disks, and actually fix them most of the time!

    * Ok, it wasn't.

egrep -n '^[a-z].*\(' $ | sort -t':' +2.0