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How to Revive an Old PC – Part 1

How to Revive an Old PC – Getting Started with the Basics

Welcome to a five-part blog series, all about reviving an old PC! We’re going to take you through all the steps, from inspecting the inside and outside of the machine, installing diagnostic apps, running Windows Update and Driver Reviver, purchasing upgrades, installing them, and an optional last step: installing an alternative operating system.

The first part will take us through inspection and cleaning of the old system.

Inspecting the Machine

First, we’re going to take a look at the outside of the machine and see what clues it gives us. This is a Pentium III, and it has a Western Digital hard drive in it. Pentium-III would put it at around 2001, so it’s a ten-year-old PC.

The CD drive says on it that it can write to CD-Rs and CD-RWs. That means we can burn compact discs with it, but it won’t work with DVDs.

Looking on the back of the machine, we can see that it has space for two USB ports, two serial ports (one for the keyboard, one for the mouse), an audio jack, and some other miscellaneous ports that probably won’t be used.

A little further down, you can see that it’s got an Ethernet port for wired networking, a standard VGA graphics card, and even a modem. Remember modems? Dial-up Internet?

Opening it Up

A single screw holds the side panel on. It helps to have a screwdriver with multiple Phillips heads on it, as when we get inside, we’ll see many different varieties.

Before opening up the PC, make sure you unplug all cables from the back of the machine. Also, it’s a good idea to touch a metal surface to ground yourself, and stay away from carpeting for the duration. Static electricity can ruin your PC very quickly.

Inspecting the Inside

The biggest board in your PC is called the motherboard. The thing with the black fan on it is the CPU, or central processing unit. It’s the brains of your computer. That multicolored cable in the lower left connects the power supply to the motherboard.

Over here, we have the computer’s RAM, or memory. Later, we’ll learn that this is a single 256K memory module, which is completely inadequate for all but the most basic tasks. The modern-day Web barely functions with that little memory.

Cleaning it Out

While you’re inside the machine, it’s a good idea to spray all the dust out with an air compressor. These cans can be purchased at any electronics store. Keep the can far enough away from the PC and spray out all the dust, being sure not to breathe any of the fumes. A clean interior means your fans will run smoother, the PC will be cooler, and all the parts will last longer.

Putting it Back Together

Now that we’ve looked at the inside and cleaned it out, put the side panel back on and screw it back in. Next, take a look at the cables you previously disconnected (if you ever connected them at all). This one is the VGA video cable, which comes from the monitor.

This cable plugs into the video card toward the bottom of the case. Be sure that you have the cable oriented correctly. Tighten the cable with the screw devices on either side after you connect it.

This is the monitor’s power cable, which plugs into the back of the monitor. It’s distinguished from the PC’s power cable by being white instead of black, but they’re otherwise identical.

And here’s the PC’s power cable, which plugs into the power supply on the back of the PC. Don’t plug it into an outlet just yet.

This is an old serial mouse, which doesn’t have the scroll wheel in the center. If you’re used to that, you may want to pick up a newer USB mouse.

And here’s what the serial cable on the tail of the mouse looks like. Click on the picture for a bigger view, so you can see that the serial cable has a post inside of it, and can therefore only plug in one direction.

Usually, the post faces to the right. Also, the symbols for the keyboard and mouse are superfluous, as you can plug them in either order.

Here’s a serial keyboard. Unlike the mouse, the keyboard hasn’t changed much at all in the last ten years. As long as you have a Windows button toward the lower left, you’re all set.

Now, plug the monitor and PC into a power strip, otherwise known as a surge protector, and then plug the surge protector into the wall. It’s important to avoid plugging in any electronics directly into an outlet without the benefit of surge protection. The reason is simple: a power surge (from, say, a lightning storm) is stopped by a surge protector, but without one, your PC or monitor will be ruined.

Check back soon for Part 2, where we’ll turn on the old PC, install some diagnostic applications, hook it up to the Internet, and run Driver Reviver.

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