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.

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.

BitFIXit General

Resolving our own “junk” problem…

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.

Community Workshops News

BitFIXit Community Clinics Christmas & New Year Break

The BiFIXit Community Clinics based at Abbeyfield Park House will be closed for the Christmas and the beginning of the New Year. The following Saturdays that we will be closed on, are as follows;

  • 23rd December 2017
  • 30th December 2017
  • 6th January 2018

The community clinics sessions will subsequently resume on Saturday 13th January 2018. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

BitFIXit Events

BitFIXit 2018 Repair Sheffield sessions at Heeley City Farm

We are pleased to inform that we will continue to participate in Repair Sheffield’s repair cafe sessions at Heeley City Farm in 2018. The following Saturdays that we will be participating in these sessions are;

  • 20th January
  • 17th March
  • 19th May
  • 21st July
  • 15th September
  • 17th November

The community clinics will be closed on the above dates, as we will be present at the repair cafe sessions at Heeley City Farm. See you there!

Hardware Articles

BitEXPERIMENTALits: #1 – Android on Old Netbooks

Here at BitFIXit, we are proud to introduce a new series of articles that we would like to call “BitEXPERIMENTALits”, where we try out various different ways to get the most out of a variety of computers and ensure that they remain in good working order for as long as possible.

One such BitEXPERIMENTALit we recently decided to try our hand at, was running Android on a group of three Asus EeePC 901 netbooks, and see how much better they perform in Android than they did when they were originally running Windows. The laptops were donated to us by the local community, and were very basic machines by today’s standards, with a mere single core Intel Atom N270 CPU, just 1GB of RAM and a pair of what could be considered as essentially internal USB storage drives that are very slow, compared to the latest available SSD drives. We have included pictures throughout this article, of one of the Asus EeePC 901 netbooks that we used for installing Android at this weekend’s community clinics.

The Asus EeePC 901 was originally released here in the UK back in 2008, as a revision of the EeePC 900 that was released earlier that year. The netbooks that were donated to us originally came with Windows XP, which is a legacy operating system that many software developers have been moving away from, in favour of recent Windows releases. We attempted to run different GNU/Linux distros on the netbooks to see if they perform better than in Windows, but it turned out that they didn’t perform much better either, even in Lubuntu. Hence, we decided to try our hand at installing and running Android on the netbooks instead.

There are projects that aim to port Android, which is ordinarily commonplace on smartphones and tablets, onto the Asus EeePC 901 netbooks. The Android builds that are and were made available for the netbooks range from recent releases of CyanogenMod/Lineage OS to builds based on legacy releases of Android. Here, we will install a build that is based on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but is specifically designed for these netbooks.

In order to install Android on the Asus EeePC 901 netbook, we first downloaded the aforementioned build from the website and created a bootable USB drive containing the build. After booting into the drive, we initiated the installation process by choosing the installation option in the boot menu. We then selected the 8GB internal drive (shown as ‘sdb’), which was the larger of the two internal drives, proceeded to have GRUB installed with the /system directory installed as read-only. After the Android build has been installed, we simply followed the instructions in Android for the initial setup.

After a number of issues with trying to install the Android build onto the Asus EeePC 901 netbook, we eventually managed to install and run the build successfully by using a live Xubuntu session to create ext3 partitions on both internal storage drives. Once we configured the settings and enabled the use of Google Play on the netbook, the laptop is ready to use!

We did a quick play test on the netbook once everything was set up; we were able to connect to the wireless network in the community room smoothly. The animations concerning switching between desktop and app windows were quite jerky, and apps took a long time to fully load; both of these issues seem to indicate performance limitations with the single core Intel Atom N270 CPU and the internal storage.

That concludes this BitEXPERIMENTALit, which turns out to be an interesting way to prolong the lifespan of old PCs and laptops, as long as one knows the limitations of the internal hardware, and we hope to bring you more BitEXPERIMENTALits soon.