Adventures from Computer Reset: Chapter 1
So I had a lot of items to choose from for my first project from my Computer Reset trip. I decided to go with one of the oldest machines I picked up. A Pentium I Micron Millennia from 1996. Now Computer Reset was a computer repair / reselling shop. So there’s a good chance that everything that’s in there is broken, and sure enough this one needs some help right off the bat.
When I opened up the case, I was surprised to find how clean it was inside. The volunteers at Computer Reset have done a lot of work, but it’s still far from the cleanest place on earth. I did see a few cockroaches scatter when I moved certain boxes, and a lot of stuff was covered in a varying degree of what we will just call dust. If you want to get more specific, your imagination is the limit. So when I opened this up, it was honestly cleaner than most of the PCs I work on for people in their homes!
There wasn’t anything too surprising or unexpected in here. It was a decently equipped machine for 1996. Plenty of RAM, CD-ROM, a Diamond Stealth 3d video card and a 10BaseT ethernet card. We didn’t get our first Windows PC until 1997, but even then this machine would have blown it out of the water. The only real problem it has is that the hard drive appears to be dead.
So swapping a hard drive is easy enough, except that over the years most of my IDE hard drives have either died, or been shipped off in old computers as hand me downs to other people. So I picked up about half a dozen IDE drives at Computer Reset, but I went through every one of them and they all appear to be dead. Some more convincingly than others. One actually started transferring files then suddenly started making a violent shrill sound that sounded like it was going to send shards of the platter hurtling into the room at any moment.
The inevitable doom of every spinning hard drive is something that in life, probably makes me contemplate my own mortality more than any other. You see, hard drives dying isn’t a new thing. I’ve had many die on me over the years but when one did, I always just went and got another spinning hard drive to replace it. They were ubiquitous. But now as more and more of them give up, and there aren’t really any to replace them that aren’t themselves already about to die, I can’t help but think about how no matter how normal and mundane every day may seem to be, there will come a day where you can never have a day like that again. It may seem normal, or even frustrating for my kids to leave the table a mess, smear applesauce all over it, and leave their toys around, but someday not only will that not exist anymore, but I won’t even be able to re-experience it again save for some pictures, videos and memories. Eventually, everything comes to pass.
That got pretty deep.
So after trying six hard drives including a 150 Gig one that showed up as an 80 Gig in BIOS here, I didn’t have any luck. The best I could get is that the install disc would create the MSDos partition and then hang on reboot. Once it did that, that drive was hosed (at least on this machine) I’m sure I could format it in a different machine, but I would have to get out ANOTHER PC that has an IDE controller in it and I haven’t been up to that task… yet.
Instead I ordered a compact flash to IDE adapter. I love the sound of spinning hard drives, especially these ones from the mid 90s, and the clicking of the heads. But as much as I love working on these things, I don’t want to wonder if I’m going to have a new project on my hands EVERY time I power a thing on. This should be reliable, and easily swappable to other machines. I can easily back up hard disk images on my server for most of these old machines that don’t require that much space at all.
So that’s coming Tuesday. I look forward to spending some time learning my way around that and getting it up and running with a classy Windows 95 setup and maybe even trying to play games or send a Tweet or two from the Micron Millennia!