Hanging onto old computers

A little over a year and a half ago, I rebuilt my first laptop computer to occupy me during the 30 minute bus ride to work. It was small and light and since it wasn’t my primary computer, I didn’t care if I broke it. After that, two surprising things happened. I’d use it to start editing photos for a blog post on the bus, then I’d continue working on it once I got home. Then a few months later I bought a Vespa and stopped riding the bus altogether.

What’s funny is that I continued to use my 5+ year old ThinkPad X23 exclusively. Meanwhile my newer, faster, bigger T42 (that was only 2 years old at the time) sat unused under my nightstand. And it pretty much stayed there for the last year and a half. It turns out that my old laptop running Ubuntu was “good enough” for what I needed it to do, namely web browse and edit photos. And at just under 3.5 pounds, it’s the kind of laptop you can really snuggle up to.

Things were fine until last December, when I got a new 10 megapixel camera. Whereas my old 5 megapixel Canon would produce manageable 1.5 megabyte image files, the Ricoh was churning out 3.5 megabyte JPEGs. And that’s really the first time I noticed the X23’s 866MHz processor and 640MB of RAM start to drag. Previewing photos at 5 seconds a pop is not much fun.

Even so, I endured. I managed to hold on to my money (barely) when Lenovo released the fabulous X300 (a PC version of the MacBook Air). The truth is I didn’t have the spare three grand to plunk down. I started thinking about it again recently when their midsummer sale brought the price out of the stratosphere. But I couldn’t help thinking that I had a perfectly fine (albeit heavier) laptop sitting under my nightstand. Rather than spend $2500, I could buy a new hard drive (for all those photos) and max out its RAM for less than $150.

So that’s what I did. The only problem I’ve run into is that I can’t connect USB devices (like my camera) to the laptop at USB 2.0 speeds. What I thought was an uber-annoying Ubuntu/Linux kernel bug in all likelihood might actually be a hardware problem. I specifically remember getting these weird “This device can perform faster” messages back when I had Windows XP on the machine. And of course in Ubuntu if my camera even manages to connect, it will immediately disconnect. So it looks like my new old computer will have to settle for USB 1.1 speeds:

sudo modprobe -r ehci_hcd

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