Reviving a Dead Computer

Posted By BrokenClaw on June 8, 2009

The other day I was going through some stuff, and I came across my old IBM Thinkpad 600E. The 600E is a relatively small 1999-era laptop, which was considered a solid and reliable business machine in its day. I had purchased it on eBay around 2003 as a second computer and as my first laptop. I had always been satisfied with desktop computers, and at the time I think I was using my fifth one, upgrading about every 3 years or so since my first computer. My main computer was a high-end Compaq running Windows XP, but I thought it was time to jump into the laptop fray.

I did some research and found this Thinkpad being sold by a reputable seller at a reasonable price, so I bought it. To this day it is the only thing I’ve ever purchased on eBay. Anyway, the seller had done a good job of wiping the hard drive and installing a clean copy of Windows 2000 SP4. He had also upgraded the RAM to 92 MB. It didn’t come with a boot installation disk, but he did send a CD with the Windows 2000 SP4 self-extracting file.

The only complaint I had about the Thinkpad was its long boot time. But since I was using it as a truly mobile computer, and not my main machine, it wasn’t a big deal. As I recall, what had prompted me to buy a laptop was a family project I was working on, to scan old family photos, and I wanted to be able to take my scanner on the road. It was fun at home, too, to be able to sit on the front porch and surf the ‘net, or even VPN into my office network.

So the Thinkpad served its purpose until it was demoted to the shelf when I bought a shiny new Dell XPS in 2008.

Then with all the talk lately about netbooks, it occurred to me that maybe I could turn that old Thinkpad into a functional netbook. To my disappointment, when I turned it on, it refused to boot. There was some error which indicated a case of bitrot… some missing file or damaged hard drive. The first thing I tried was to re-install the OS from the CD, but that didn’t help. I could have tried a hard drive recovery utility, but I decided to go a different route. I decided to try Linux.

After doing some research online about my 10 year old computer with limited RAM, I decided to try Fluxbuntu, a stripped-down derivative of Ubuntu. So I went through all the steps of downloading the distro file and burning the install disk. I put it into the CD drive and turned on the Thinkpad. Everything went as expected. It re-formatted the drive and installed the new OS. I rebooted, and ta-da! I had a Linux box.

The next step was getting my Linux box online. I had previously been using a Linksys Wireless-G PCMCIA card, so naturally I wanted to use the same thing. Again, I went online and researched the possibilities. I found a blog which described the steps for using the Windows drivers for this model of wireless card with Ubuntu. Now, my experience with Linux is extremely limited. I had previously converted an old Windows ME computer to Ubuntu, which I had connected via Ethernet to my broadband router, but I never really did anything with it, other than to show myself, “Hey, it works.”

So here I was trying to follow the directions for installing a non-Linux driver on Linux. With virtually no Linux experience, even the simplest task was a roadblock. For instance, “Copy the files from the install disk.” It took me awhile to figure out that I couldn’t access the CD until I first mounted the CD. “Change all the file names to lower case.” Okay, I know how to rename a file in DOS, but what is the command line for renaming a Linux file? Eventually I got to the point where I realized that the directions I had did not apply to the version of my model of wireless card, and probably not to Fluxbuntu either. So I gave up.

Next I popped in my PCMCIA Ethernet card. I still have the installation disk, which said it was compatible with Linux, so I was fairly confident I would be able to install it. To my amazement, Fluxbuntu immediately recognized the card and installed the drivers itself. I plugged in an Ethernet cable and ta-da! I was online. But that really wasn’t a solution. There’s no sense in having a little netbook if you have to keep it tethered to the cable. So I reconsidered my Windows options.

In my box of stuff I have an OEM copy of Windows 98 SE, so I decided to try it. I thought that if I could get the Thinkpad working with Windows 98, maybe I could then upgrade it with my Windows 2000 disk. It turned out to be a series of dead ends and frustration. I got Windows 98 up and running, albeit with low graphics, but I still couldn’t get it to run the Windows 2000 installation. When I tried to run it, I immediately got an error message that it was missing a particular dll file. Of course, experience teaches that fixing one missing file often just leads to another missing file, and then another…

So I decided to try to get it online. It recognized the Ethernet card, it installed the driver, it said it was working, and when I plugged in the cable, all the lights on the card lit up, and the connection light on the router lit up. But I couldn’t get online. I went over and over every setting and advanced setting I could find, but still couldn’t get a connection to the router.

So then I decided to try the long shot of using the wireless card. I ran the install disk and immediately got an error message: “Internet Explorer 5.5 or later required.” Are you kidding me? I checked, and the active version was 5.0. Okay, so I’ll install a later version. Wrong. I had no way to copy data to the computer! The Thinkpad has a USB port, but when I plugged in a thumb drive, it said it needed a driver! The Thinkpad obviously has a CD drive, but I couldn’t get it to read any of my CD-R disks… probably a conflict between the old standard format and the new higher capacity CDs. The Thinkpad has an external floppy drive, and I found a floppy disk in my box of stuff, but none of the other five computers in our house has a floppy drive or floppy drive connection port!

Eventually I was able to figure out how to burn a CD using the legacy “mastered” format that the Thinkpad could read. So I went through the steps of downloading the complete IE 5.5 package, burning it to a CD, and installing it on the Thinkpad. This time I was able to install the Linksys wireless card drivers and software. Next I went through the steps of configuring the settings for my home network. It all went well until I clicked on “Save” configuration. I got an error message, “Unable to save configuration.”

That was it. I was done. I wiped the hard drive. The Thinkpad goes back on the shelf. Maybe I should just send it to the recycle bin.


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