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.comment: Little-Iron Chef - page 2

Relieving Ennui

  • March 28, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

In my little town there is, as there are in many small towns, a hole-in-the-wall strip-mall computer store that has out front some competent clones in hideous and cheap cases at mediocre prices. And as is true of most such stores, the one here will, with a little prodding, let you in on the good stuff. I'd dropped by a couple of weeks ago to pick up a couple of 128mb PC-100 dimms for my wife's machine. They were $59 a pop. I don't remember having paid less than fifty cents per meg for memory before.

While I was there, I noticed that they had a bunch of 1996-vintage, used, Dell Latitude XPi P133ST notebook machines. These had 24 megs of memory, a 2.1-gig IBM hard drive, 800x600 active matrix screen, a good sized trackball, and good batteries. They came with Windows 95 OSR2 and Office 97, as well as a desktop festooned with every gimme online outfit in the world. They were for sale, $300 each.

It was a Saturday, and I gave myself all day Sunday to think about these machines. I did a little research -- Dell is very good about supporting older hardware, including fairly complete spec sheets and tech notes available online -- and while I was thinking in terms of a machine onto which I could throw my old OS/2 stuff just for the hell of it, I checked to see if there was anything in the machine not supported by Linux. My big concern was the video, a NeoMagic 2070 chip backed up by 896k of video memory. But the README.neo in the documentation for XFree86-4.02 assured me that there would be no problem. (If you're out for a Sunday drive and would like to visit the XFree docs, go to /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/doc/ and when you get there, forget the HTML stuff and read the plain text files.)

So Monday, 10 days ago, I went back to the little computer shop. After some negotiation I was able to get one of the Dells, an added 32 megs of Dell memory (which brought the total to 56 megs, more than the specs said the machine would handle), and a no-name PCMCIA network card later determined to be a KingMax EN10-T2T 10 mbps card, for a total of $350.

The options were vast -- a Pentium-133 with 56 megs ought to able to run Linux -- it certainly would run OS/2, whose last major version came out when such a machine was medium- to high-end.

And after getting it home and taking a really good look, I decided that the old Dell was a nicely made machine. It was good and solid, with a keyboard that had a decent feel, for a notebook, though the Insert and Delete keys are on the bottom row, next to the right Alt key -- a little too easy to accidentally hit, and switching into overtype mode when you don't know it is no fun at all. The hard drive is very easy to remove -- wish I had a second bracket (and a set of the dummy PCMCIA card that shipped with the machine; the gaping hole is a dirt magnet). Though the docs said that the machine would not work with a drive not supplied by Dell, a 4.2-gig IBM notebook drive I had around with most of Caldera OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4 on it booted just fine. As I fiddled with changing the drives, I returned to the tape. I wasn't disappointed, but it was a little puzzling, too.

Some guy -- apparently the rich fellow -- appeared, wearing a shirt that looked like a Gateway carton. He snarled at an orange and angrily took a bite, then turned and leered lasciviously, as if he'd just remembered that he gets to have his way with the loser of the challenge.

Wonder if they let Joey in on that?

The commentators and judges were introduced: Two condemned killers promised a reprieve if they survived the tasting, one of the Baldwin brothers (for whom no reprieve is possible), and a fortune teller who told fund managers last fall that they should put every penny into high-tech and dotcom equities. The expert commentator was an emergency room physician known as ``reviver of the stars.'' On the grounds was a roving reporter who spoke in a thick surfer accent and for no apparent reason would say, ``Squeeze on, dude,'' from time to time.

The theme of the day was announced. This would be the Dumpster Battle.

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