Tech-tut: week of January 24, 2012

I have an apparent abundance of computer parts in my home, but the problem is that hardly any of them go together to make a whole. I wonder how many small-time hoarders such as myself have this problem. I occasionally get broken computers given to me, and most times I have to chop shop them and save what seems salvageable. Last night may have been one of those opportunities that was glorious and annoying at the same time.

I had two missions last night. My first mission was to make a laptop to use for ham radio and APRS. I plan on using Xastir in Ubuntu 10.04 on a Dell Inspiron 8100. The second mission was to take an unknown scrap computer and make it into a Windows machine for my wife to use with her personal cutting machine.

The APRS computer turned out to have only 256mB ram. I thought I would take the ram from my Inspiron 2200, but no way. That would have been too easy for Dell to pull off. The ram sticks just were not the same. Some days I wish standards were created for RAM. The desktop computer turned out to be just as bad! Two sticks of 128mB resided in the sockets, but the amazing thing is that Windows runs like the wind with it!? It was a Pentium 4 @ 1.4GHz with RDRAM. Amazingly, that stuff is super expensive even on eBay. I suppose if it runs okay on what little ram it has, I’ll upgrade it to 1 gig later on.

The sad story of the night was the Dell laptop. Usually, Ubuntu runs very well, but I chose to put a later version on it, and I guess that it is too much for the 256mB RAM. I think I will live with the sluggishness for now, but later on I may want to attempt an earlier version of Ubuntu.

I was also working on my Garmin eTrex GPS, and I remembered that I bought a data/power cable many years ago that stopped working as it should. I took it apart and couldn’t find why it wasn’t working properly. I think I’ll attempt to dump some solder into the contacts to take some of the spring out of them.

And on the final note, buying cheap USB to serial adapters on eBay is hit or miss. If I recall correctly, FTDI is about the best you can do for that task, and spending $3.50 on an adapter does not get you FTDI. With some things the cheap adapter seems to work, but then other things just print crazy characters on the screen. This is why I need the Dell lappy to work. It has one serial com port on it already that I know will work with the GPS. The KAM TNC that I own works fine with the cheap USB to serial adapter.

That’s the story of my journey this week. Share your computer story in the comments. Playing with GPS or APRS? Tell me about it. Whatever you do, have fun with it.

About robbie

I am an electronics enthusiest and a ham radio operator (W1RCP). I like to play with electronics. It's fun and educational. I looked forward to working in the engineering field in the future. I have a BS in Electronics Engineering Technology from DeVry University. I also have an Associate's degree in Marketing Management from Moultrie Tech, and a diploma in Electronics from MTC.