Friday, April 15, 2011

The Laptop Graveyard

In one of the dark corners of the warehouse is (what I call) the Laptop Graveyard. This is where laptops go to die -- well, maybe.

Free Geek Vancouver limits the amount of work it does on laptops for some practical reasons. Screens, for example, are one of the oft-broken parts of laptops, and it's often too expensive to be worth buying a new replacement. A shop that works with a lot of laptops will often stock spare screens from donor laptops that died of other causes, but there is such a huge variety of them that it's simply not in the cards for us.

We do the simple stuff -- hard drives, RAM, power supplies, and a few other things -- and will occasionally swap out a keyboard if we have a replacement hanging around and the machine is worth the trouble. But there's a lot to be done with laptops that we don't have the time or space for. Laptops that need this kind of attention end up in the graveyard, along with any machines that are too old to re-use.

A lot of these parts can be re-used, so we wholesale them to people who dedicate more time to laptops than ourselves. (We keep and process the hard drives, of course, to ensure that no potentially private data leaves the building. And anything that's definitely broken, like a smashed screen, needs to get processed through our recycling and processing channels.)

Sometimes a customer will wander in looking for a part for an atrociously old but deeply loved laptop, and if we're able to keep one of those oldsters on the road for a while longer, it makes me very happy.

Just for giggles, here's a look at some of the corpses:
Toshiba Satellite 200CDS
For some reason I like these guys. They were among the first reliable and popular multimedia laptops, with good (at the time) colour screens. Usually an original Pentium chip (90-133Mhz). Info from the horse's mouth here, if you can forgive some awful stylistic cheese. This is what $1999 USD bought you in 1997, according to InfoWorld. These come into Free Geek all the time and after almost 15 years of getting kicked around they almost always work just fine.

IBM Thinkpad 755CE
I've already made my love affair with Thinkpads clear. This is a few years older than the Toshiba above -- generally a 486 chip -- and didn't yet have a CD-ROM. You can see the floppy drive's blue eject button on the lower left. These were also rock-solid (and rock-heavy). There were a few quirky features -- including of course IBM's famous red TrackPoint button in the middle of the keyboard, affectionately called "the nipple" or various things less repeatable. Other companies tried to steal this idea but nobody did it quite as well.

More strangely, the black plastic on the back of the screen contains a removable panel that makes the LCD transparent so that it can be placed on an overhead projector -- remember those?

The only downside to this machine was the execrable MWave combined modem/audio controller; I remember fighting endlessly with the drivers for these.

You could also pop the floppy drive out and replace it with an ARDIS wireless modem -- this was the great-great-grandfather of the current 3G cellular network. Now it's easy to forget the distinction between the cellular data network and the Internet at large, but at that time, they were completely different. I'd hate to think what the data rates must've been.

This was a pretty expensive machine -- an MSRP of $7499 USD in around 1994!

Acer blah blah blah
Well, I was going to include a newer machine just to prove that I'm not favouring old gear -- but I'm going to shoot myself directly in the foot. This is an Acer Aspire 3610 and there's honestly nothing interesting I can write about it. It's here because it's broken (surprise) and it's about as pedestrian as you can get. Even my camera was more interested in photographing the yellow milk crate beside it. I think there was something of a golden era in portable computing between 1980 and 1997 or so -- and then things got pretty boring until the smartphone revolution.

Acer is one of a thousand me-too companies that followed in the wake of the extremely hard pioneering work done by Toshiba and IBM and a few others and while these guys made things a lot cheaper, they also made things -- well, a lot cheaper. Nothing against you, Acer, but you're not interesting! MSRP of ... bah, who cares.

1 comment:

  1. Poor laptops.
    From personal experience - they make great tables !
    At one point in time I had 40+ screens, and 16 laptops sitting around.


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