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BitFIXit General

Why we install Linux on older computers

There is a broad diversity of computers that are continually released to enterprise and the public, ranging from huge workstations that incorporate powerful hardware aimed at intensive, productive tasks, to tiny ultra small form factor PCs with more modest specifications that can be mounted to the back of monitors or TVs for an all-in-one solution, even to laptops that can be carried around in bags for productivity wherever people go.

Unfortunately, computers are typically supported by OEMs only for a few years at most before they are deemed to be “end of life”, where OEMs basically eschew support for those older machines in favour of their most recent range of products. This can lead to situations where drivers for hardware that worked on older operating systems no longer work all of a sudden when users decide to try upgrading to the newest releases of their favoured operating system. These factors in particular can seem to conspire to encourage users to throw away otherwise perfectly useful working computers, simply because OEMs, hardware and software vendors deem it no longer profitable to continue supporting their older hardware and software products.

So here at BitFIXit, where computers that came with versions of Windows that are no longer supported, but can still be serviceable and useful for their users’ needs, we can extend those computers’ useful service life by replacing the obsolete versions of Windows installed on them with Linux distributions. Our Linux distribution of choice is Linux Mint, which is a distribution that is aimed at accommodating novice users by making it easy to install and update software. We chose Linux Mint, because by virtue of being an easy to use operating system, it is ideal for our regular visitors to our community workshops. Recent releases of Linux Mint are based on long-term term releases of Ubuntu, which means that they receive extended support and in turn, means extended useful life of computers.

Where we come across computers that come with CPUs that do not support 64-bit operating systems, we install the most recent 32-bit version of Linux Mint we have available. This way, even computers with legacy CPUs can benefit from receiving software updates and support. Maintainers have started to cease offering 32-bit versions of mainstream Linux distributions so, while we can eventually go only so far in extending the usefulness of these computers, the extra service time offered by opting for a Linux distribution over continuing on with an obsolete and increasingly insecure release of Windows means less electronic wastage in the long term.

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Miscellaneous Articles

BitREPURPOSEit: Using CPU Heatsinks As Stands & Holders

A pair of CPU heatsinks from old desktop PCs used as stands for pens and leaflets respectively

Here is a neat way of repurposing old CPU heatsinks from various broken, tired, or otherwise obsolete desktop PCs; using them as stands and holders for documents, leaflets, business cards, notes, stationery and other small items!

CPU heatsinks are typically designed in a way that maximises the surface area so that as much heat can be drawn away from the heatsink as possible. Due to that design, they come in quite handy for more than just drawing heat away from processors and therefore keeping them nice and cool.

I salvaged a total of three CPU heatsinks from some old desktop PCs that were kept in the store room, and cleaned them up by removing the old thermal compound from underneath the heatsinks and removing as much dust from in between the fins as possible. Two of the heatsinks are seen in the above photo taken during the Sheffield Community Toolbank relaunch event.

As you can see from the photo, the rectangular heatsink makes for quite a nice holder for forms, leaflets, notes, and other small documents, while the circular heatsink has a recess in the centre that makes it useful for holding pencils, pens and other small items of stationery. Chipset heatsinks can also be used for this purpose as well; their diminutive size makes them useful for smaller items like business cards, shopping lists, tags and labels.

So rather than simply discard the old heatsinks along with the rest of the parts inside the computers, why not take them out of the computers, clean them up, and use them as stands and holders? A computer part that gets reused and repurposed for something useful, means one less item meeting its end in landfill!

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BitFIXit Events Community Workshops News

Sheffield Community Toolbank Relaunch Event

BitFIXit is proud to announce that we will participate in the Sheffield Community Toolbank relaunch event, which will be held by Green City Action. The event will take place at Abbeyfield Park on Saturday 23rd March 2019, from 10am to 4pm.

The Toolbank will offer tool swaps and tool sharpening services on a pay-as-you-feel basis during the course of the event, making the relaunch a grand opportunity to bring in any worn and tired tools and gardening equipment and keep them in good working order.

Repair Sheffield will be participating at the relaunch event, and will offer its repair cafe services to the community, where volunteers from Repair Sheffield can fix a wide, diverse range of household items, clothes and fabrics, which means that members of the public can bring with them various kinds of stuff that need fixing, and learn how to repair the items themselves. One item fixed is one less item going into landfill!

People’s Kitchen Pitsmoor will also be at the relaunch event from 2pm to 4pm, where it will showcase a recipe to enable members of the community to try out food and snacks from different cuisines. The community group has ambitious plans to transform Abbeyfield Park into a hub for people all over Sheffield, and convert the currently disused stables into a cafe and kitchen for people to meet up and try out new recipes.

And of course, we at BitFIXit will offer our own IT repair workshops at the relaunch, as well as share creative ideas about reusing and repurposing computer parts and IT equipment with the community.

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Hardware Articles

Music & Media with TVs & External Hard Drives

Here is a reuse-it for the music lovers, film and video buffs, and anyone else who likes to view photos on TV. Most recent TV’s can play files from a USB memory stick or USB hard drive. All that they need is an external hard drive and a spare USB port.

So why an external hard drive, rather than a USB flash drive? Well, an external hard drive generally comes in larger capacities and are cheaper than a USB flash drive with the same storage. And if you already have an old, but still functional external hard drive lying around somewhere, why not use that as a media box and load it up with all kinds of music, videos and movies, instead of going out and buying a brand new external hard drive for the same purpose?

Televisions that support media playback from USB storage devices typically support many common media file formats including mp3, WAV and OGG for music, JPEG GIF and PNG for photos, and mp4, AVI and WebM for videos and movies. This means that you can play most video, music and image files on your television straight from your old external hard drive and save money in the process!

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Miscellaneous Articles

The Successful Laptop Power Socket Transplant

At this weekend’s community IT workshop, we had a successful case of a laptop repair that involved a spare laptop power socket from an old Toshiba laptop in the store room.

We had a client who came into the workshops with a Toshiba laptop that was unable to receive any power from the socket at all, so we decided to open up the laptop, and on opening it up we noticed that the socket was held in place by some form of epoxy glue. So I went into the store room, picked up a similar Toshiba laptop among a pile of old laptops, brought it into the community room, and extracted its power socket so that it can be transplanted into the client’s Toshiba laptop.

We tried plugging a laptop charger into the replacement socket and, hey presto, the laptop began receiving power again! After a short while removing dust accumulated on the heatsink fan after we realised that the laptop began overheating (which meant opening the laptop back up again!), we finally closed up the client’s laptop for good, ready to hand back over too him.

And thus, we have a successful case of a laptop repair carried out using spare parts from other laptops!

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BitFIXit General

Less clutter, more inspiration!

It’s been a while since we last talked out how we are going to resolve the ongoing “junk” problem we have, and we have some good news on that front! We recently managed to free up valuable space in our store room by giving away several old desktop computers and a monitor to a couple of clients who wanted to use them as part of an art project of theirs for a local community group. The room looks a bit less cluttered now, though we still have some ways to go before it is fully decluttered!

During this weekend’s community IT workshops, we had a client for whom we set up and subsequently gave away a Toshiba laptop, and he gave us a pair of artful plates in return.

I have to say that they do look pretty snazzy and can particularly come in useful as coasters for when we get the kettle on more frequently as winter draws near!

Speaking of decluttering the store room, Gareth and I have been thinking of various practical (and wacky) ways of making use of the old computers, spare parts and other bits and bobs lying around in there, as well as our cupboard lately. We tried our hand at turning a very old hard drive into a clock, complete with dedicated clock arms and mechanisms, and one of the original hard drive platters as the face of the clock! That would be something that is worth pursuing, and we do have other ideas in the pipeline for turning old computer parts and IT equipment into more useful things, so please feel free to check back on our website to see what interesting things we have come up with.

Categories
Hardware Articles

What to do with a stash of old RAM…

Over time, we keep hold of various kinds of RAM modules that we harvest from old and broken computers, in the hope that they will come in useful for replacing failed modules or upgrading computers with extra RAM. However, RAM modules inevitability become obsolete as faster and bigger modules  become available to purchase and thus, become mainstream.

So how would we give legacy RAM modules a new lease of life and use them for other purposes besides as temporary data storage? Well, we first explore what can be done with the old RAM modules that we have at hand, and then find ways to turn them into items that serve a useful purpose, or at least as a memento that can be carried around with you.

We will showcase different alternate uses for RAM and other computer hardware components as and when we discover or invent new ideas for re-purposing the computer parts we keep at hand.

Categories
Hardware Articles

Video: Physical Data Wipe In A Nutshell

Sometimes, a short video clip explains more eloquently how we perform a physical data wipe on a hard drive that either;

  • works, but is obsolete and slow to wipe, or
  • damaged and cannot be data wiped with software utilities.

Categories
BitFIXit General

Beginning to fix our “junk” problem

Several weeks ago, I explained how our community clinics workshops at Abbeyfield Park House have developed a “junk” problem, in which we kept a wide range of IT equipment and other random things in the upstairs store room. We have now started in earnest to trawl through the store room during this weekend’s workshop sessions to sort through our stuff to determine what we will retain, and what we will have recycled. To that end, we dedicated a space just by the window for which to place the items that will be destined for recycling.

I myself started to go through the flat screen monitors in the room to check over which of those were in working order; two of the monitors were brought into the community room for a quick test, both of which worked fine but one of them had a dodgy VGA cable attached to it, so we found another working cable for the monitor in question. Later in the session, we determined that it would be quicker to select a few monitors that we find interesting and would be worth keeping, and send out the others for recycling. Another monitor had some tape attached to the screen, which could be an indicator of hardware damage, so that was kept among the pile of items for recycling. We also had two CRT monitors that we earmarked for recycling, as we felt that they would be too old for use

There were two desktop PC chassis that we decided to retain, because with an overhaul of the internal hardware components through replacing the old parts with more modern components, they can be brought back into good use. The other desktop PCs we did look at would not have good enough thermal performance without any scope for installing chassis fans to accommodate a modern system build, or were complete systems that were too old to plausibly use parts from them as spares. For instance, there were several small form factor Dell Optiplex GX240s that were kept in a couple of places within the store room; I opened up one of the Optiplex GX240s and discovered that the installed RAM modules were actually SDRAM modules that preceded the first generation of DDR RAM modules. Of course, a quick look on Wikipedia led to me noticing that the Dell Optiplex GX240 was released back in 2001, and so they were clearly too old even to extract parts from the machines to use for spare parts.

We also opted to earmark a few laptops kept in storage for recycling, including a couple of laptops with faulty parts, a Samsung laptop with a damaged chassis, and a vintage laptop that would have been reliant on PCMCIA cards for the use of USB devices, due to a lack of native USB functionality on the laptop itself.

In the upcoming weekend community clinics workshop sessions, we will continue to sort through the IT equipment, computer parts and other items in order to consider whether to retain or send away for recycling, and also to check if they are still in working order.

Categories
BitFIXit Events Community Workshops News

BitFIXit 2018 Easter Weekend Opening

The BitFIXit community clinics workshops will be opening as normal this Easter Weekend, giving members of the local community the opportunity to bring in their computers for repairs and optimisations. We will certainly endeavour to help with hardware and software issues during the Easter Weekend clinics workshops, just like on any other weekend. So as always, please feel free to bring in your computer that you just can’t seem to get to work, or otherwise just needs some tender loving care, and we will help return it to a good working order.