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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
During our weekly community clinics workshops, we have collected various items that were donated to us by the local community; these included computers, laptops, IT equipment, hardware components, peripherals and accessories. However, this has the side effect of the equipment we receive taking up valuable storage space and gathering dust in the storage areas we currently use for keeping items and equipment, that could be freed up and put to better use.
For instance, the silver cabinet next to the door going into the community room was getting full with the cables, laptops, peripherals and accessories, computer components and other loose stuff that end up in the cabinet. We generally use it as storage for our most frequently used equipment and computers that are to be worked on, so this would be a good place to begin the housekeeping.
Upstairs in Abbeyfield Park House, one of the rooms is used as additional storage for keeping a wide plethora of items, as well as spare chairs that are kept there among the IT equipment.
As you can see in the above photos, the room is rather cluttered with all kinds of unused IT equipment, hardware components and other stuff that were simply stored in the room. Because more items are stored away in the cupboards, as well as the stuff being laid down on the floor in the room itself, it will take some time to gradually go through all of the items kept here as storage.
Going forward, now would be a good time to get our own house in order by going through all of the stuff in the storage spaces, and test each of the components, equipment, computers and other stuff to check which of those are working, and send out those that don’t work for recycling, alongside the usual computer repair work.