Thinking From the Box

This $5 PC Is a Keeper

Jeff Garrison - 2002.03.04

I recently acquired several interesting PCs in a buy-it-all-and-haul-it-off bargain.

Two of them were giant towers containing spots for two fans and eight different slots for peripherals. They both had 1.2 GB hard drives and 120 MHz 486 chips on boards having two IDE connectors, one floppy connector, and a SCSI pin-set. Different, but certainly not quick.

The surprisingly fine discoveries came from the two machines I completely ignored at first.

Two Hewlett Packard Vectras, running Evergreen OverDrive processors at 100 MHz - one of which I put a 1 GB hard drive into (they came with no drives), the other took a forlorn but workable 430 MB Maxtor. They both have extra fans pointed over the processor for cooling. The original 486SX/33 is still surface-mounted inboard.

Machine one would give me only 256 colors; number two gets 16-bit True Color.

I placed a 33.6 modem into the first and went online to play. Shockingly, it has fairly impressive performance for a 1996 model desktop. (I gauge the speed by absolutely, unabashedly subjective, personal measures.)

The test, for me, is the speed at which the eBay start page forms on the screen.

I could go on. I use a freeware utility called Wubench to bench the relative speed as compared to 386, 486SX and 486DX machines. This HP Vectra, the 48625 NI, scored off the page with an overall finish some four times higher measuring DOS access, Windows usability, graphics, memory access (at small, medium and large file transfers), and hard disk access.

This machine is a delight. It surfs pretty well. I call it quick. It's quicker than any other 486DX I've fooled with. It's actually a capable machine that'll do most all modern day tasks. Wilder still, considering it's price tag was a paltry $5 without hard drive (with 12 MB of RAM, which I "upped" to 40 MB, two 16's and an 8, as it has only three 72 pin RAM slots).

I upgraded to Win95 from the 3.1 that lived on it while it sat in that giant server box described above.

I'm impressed with the machines - their startup BIOS display flexibility and current-day usefulness. Proof that some of these older "boxes" can provide remarkable performance. Even more remarkable considering the low-end price.LEPC

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