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EDITOR'S NOTE: Certain items like embedded web links and documented costs/prices for certain wares discussed below may be out-of-date by the time you read this. This is Real World Usage rather than a syrupy evangelistic exercise, so you'll find both Good and Bad things about PCs here.
Now here it is almost mid-2005 and I've even been forced to relegate the HP too to a files archive machine. But the HP still retains its networking capability, although Internet Explorer refuses to work on it anymore, and so it uses Mozilla.
But now I'm back on a Compaq again! A Presario S4020WM desktop. With another Compaq (only a laptop) for backup and contingency purposes.
I'm still occasionally having to go back to both the older HP and still older 5151 for ancient files, for various reasons. For instance, not all downloaded research files successfully transferred en mass from the 5151 and later the HP to my newer machines. So sometimes I must search for a single old file there. Too, I couldn't export my old email out of Outlook Express on the HP because of some sort of corruption problem. I can still check it out manually on the HP: I just couldn't take the archives of them with me to the new platform.
I'm hoping to set up these machines for greater use by the kids here at WebFLUX Central too, when I get the chance. But of course such use would put their file archives in jeopardy from various possibilities...and these days you need an up to date anti-virus program for every PC you run on the net...
Compaq 5151 User's Log Contents
After hours of attempts failed to get the Compaq back online again, I dug up the CDs and docs and began a full restore of the PC back to its original configuration. This didn't help either.
Some weeks later Roger happened to stop by and he tried to to enable the port too, to no effect. So apparently both the built-in slow ethernet port and the fast ethernet card we installed have failed on this machine. Of course, we bought the Compaq as a refurb, and maybe the only hardware I didn't test at the time we got it was the ethernet port (I don't think I had a LAN to which to connect it). So a faulty built-in port may be what put this PC in the refurb channel to begin with.
If the Compaq could go online I might update its OS and Internet Explorer app here and there. But maybe it's good I can't. Because now I have an old Win98 PC with IE 4.x with which to test/preview my site.
Plus I can still download some items and add to the 5151. I just download them to my HP PC first, copy to a ZIP disk, transfer to the 5151, and install it there. I've done this with HTML-Kit, a free HTML editor for Windows, which I've been using now for months on the 5151 to edit the site. I also used this method to install Apache, PHP, and MySQL for some high end web authoring experiments and learning. I encountered some glitches in the Apache, etc., install, and so had to also get some OS database-related enhancements from Microsoft to spiff up the 5151 too (hopefully I can better document that later).
There's been some inconvenience and surprises in the switchover from the iMac to the 5151-- but not as many as I would have expected. Indeed, in some things I've actually experienced an upgrade! For example, it turned out Windows98 had its own version of the iMac's Sherlock capable of searching file contents-- only better! Windows doesn't require you to set aside an entire day or night for disk indexing like the iMac, for instance.
Switching also seems to be ridding me of a maddening run-together text problem iMac-edited HTML files would show once posted on the web. For example, where I'd type "...and then the...", sometimes all the words would run together online as "...andthenthe...". However, they'd never show up this way in my pre-posting previews of the pages on the iMac. And so long as I continued editing on the iMac I could not get rid of the problem. AGH!
Note too the 5151 boasts a 17 inch monitor as opposed to the iMac's 15 incher, which helps out these old eyes. Not long after the switchover the iMac's PRAM battery went dead, so now the time and date on the iMac must be manually reset everytime it's turned on, else the datestamps on files will be screwed up. I was surprised by the iMac's internal battery going dead before the 5151's, since I believe the 5151 may be the older computer (I'd have to check my logs to be sure). And in any case, the 5151 suffered much lengthier bouts of being shut down and unused than the iMac over past years, which is supposed to cause battery life to run out that much faster (the previous owner was a Mac enthusiast).
I dearly wish I could find a low cost, easy-to-use integrated drawing and paint program for the PC. Something like the old ClarisWorks 4 was on Mac OS 7.5.3. So far all I can find are super expensive, super hard-to-use drawing OR paint programs (not integrated), or lots of low end paint programs (with little or no drawing capabilities, and sometimes iffy or incomplete paint features too).
And no, using the updated version of ClarisWorks (AppleWorks) on a newer Mac is NOT a viable solution. Last time I tried that on a Mac OS 9 iMac DV it crashed so often it took me days to make some simple graphics the older Mac combo could have done in minutes. I will NOT go through that agony again.
Real Draw Pro is a low cost but impressive paint program with some drawing features, but has a steep learning curve, doesn't offer things like alignment and distribution of draw objects (in the version I tried), and is primarily a whiz at creating font-related special effects-- a nice feature but not really what I want and need. Lots of folks would love RDP and its surprisingly large stable of special effects, textures, backgrounds, etc., for its font power alone. For you could really spiff up a web site with it. It also seemed as rock solid and bug free as software from a company like Adobe-- only RDP is from a much smaller developer.
But I need something different. Any suggestions, anyone?
Compaq 5151 User's Log Contents
Roger, who is a much more proficient PC geek than I, checked it out and declared the Ethernet card to have died for apparently no good reason. He said he's seen Ethernet cards do this a lot.
Compaq 5151 User's Log Contents
Remember I left the scanner disconnected, at the CD manual's urging? Well, my brother Scotty re-connected it. I don't recall how the system performed before re-connecting the scanner, but now the drive letters get switched between the CD and CD-R when you use the CD-R, causing much confusion and inconvenience. It seems the Compaq sometimes gets confused now and won't see a disk in either drive at times. But it's turned out the Compaq is used more by little kids now than grownups anyway, much like the Mac Performa 6400. Most of the time the kid's game CDs work fine.
We now have a CD-RW on an iMac DV, plus a built-in CD-RW on a new Hewlett-Packard PC. The DV's CD-RW is the most heavily used at WebFLUX Central right now, but the HP's will be used much more soon than it is now (that's another subject).
Scotty occasionally uses the 5151 to remotely log into his network at work and tweak some server software. He changes something about the 5151's dial up config when he does this. Ever since the first time he did this, the Compaq seems to drop its 56k connection again, just like it did when new. Apparently Scotty has inadvertantly nuked my slowdown settings for the modem. The prefix appears to still be in the relevant control panel, but the computer seems to always ignore it now. I've not had the time or inclination to try fixing the problem again, since the 5151 is now used only for brief checks of my AOL email account, which I am gradually cutting back on the use of (I'm now on Earthlink). I rarely use it to update my web site either, since I can do so on my iMac now.
We're attempting to set up an Ethernet LAN at WebFLUX Central, so I've installed a fast Ethernet PCI card in the 5151. An SMC Networks EZ Card 10/100 to be exact. I assume everybody here knows about static electricity dangers to computer internals here? How a grounding wrist strap should be used, and constant touching of a plain metal portion of the computer while working inside it, to minimize damage risk?
The 5151 already had a slow Ethernet port built-in, but as the fast card turned out to be handy I installed it. PCI cards and memory cards are often troublesome to get seated, and this was no exception. But I finally got it in.
I put the 5151 back together and booted up. I used the Windows New Hardware Wizard to search the floppy which came with the card for a driver. It found one. It next reported a version conflict-- a file copied from the Win98 CD was older than the current file, so it recommended I keep the current file-- so I did.
I was asked about a couple DLL possibilities, and answered as best I could, choosing newer files over old ones. The install finished, and I restarted the 5151.
Now on boot up the 5151 asks for entry of a MS Networking password, with ACNTV as the domain (Scotty's work domain). I just click cancel.
I'll have to return and configure the net card later, after we have the LAN up and running.
Compaq 5151 User's Log Contents
Compaq 5151 User's Log Contents
Another user has tried to use the drive without reading the manual, and naturally got nowhere with it (PC peripherals/software you can successfully install and/or use without significant manual consultation get rarer with each passing day).
But anyway, here's how the install went...(at least as best I can remember, based on my incomplete notes of the time; it's been months since the install, as I write this)...
For the first time ever I was forced to contemplate hardware interrupts for PCs. And it was not a pretty thing.
I ended up with IRQ 7, I/O address 0378-037F, by following the manual's instructions as best I could. In the Read Me file there was something about IDE controllers and setting master and slave assignments for disks-- IF your PC happens to have a Sony brand CD ROM drive. This was something to check if the user ran into problems with usage, so I didn't act on it at that time.
The manual had dire warnings about not allowing a scanner to share the printer port with the drive, so I took the scanner out of the loop. The manual also gives the impression the world might end if you dare use the drive and the printer simultaneously.
Next I noted something about "Winbond brand parallel port chips restricting CD-W functions to 1x speed"-- likely as a note for later reference if needed.
I clicked the button to install the software. I let the installer put in everything it wanted-- (1) because I had little idea what components would or would not be needed, (2), the Compaq's owner likes to have full installs of software dumped onto their machines, and (3), I was tired and annoyed and didn't feel like trying to filter the install.
If I'd realized just what a huge wad of stuff the installer would dump on us I'd have forced myself to try filtering anyway. I've never in my life seen an install this huge before. It turned out to be several CDs worth, if memory serves.
This install is my first real experience with the various problems/shortcomings of CD-RW drives these days. At first glimpse there seems an awful lot of rules to remember about different disk formats and usage.
After the software install the Compaq was practically paralyzed. It was like it was dragging itself through molasses, plus would crash at the blink of an eye.
I encountered several errors. Among them was this one: I clicked closed some windows and got 'program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down'
Explorer caused an invalid page fault in module MFC42.DLL at 017F:5F404803
The 5151 also crashed when I clicked on the start button in Windows. Control-alt-delete didn't work. I had to switch off all power to the system.
Powered back up, and Scandisk began scanning C drive....
After lots of restarts, shutdowns, and swearing I decided I had to un-install some Norton anti-virus or auto-protect stuff that had been in the dump. However, Windows confused the hell out of me by forcing me to pick and choose among weird-named files I had no idea about for deletion. It said not to delete them if I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know, so I didn't delete. Then Windows told me to manually remove them(!?)
Somehow I muddled through all this and the Compaq finally began to halfway work again.
In conclusion, I'm worried about how much drag this installation put on the Compaq. It now takes as long or longer to boot than our Mac OS 7.5.3 Performa 6400, and sometimes leaves visible garbage on the monitor screen after a boot up-- such as a temporary icon that's supposed to disappear, or merely a piece of a progress window or icon. The whole PC seems sluggish in other ways too, compared to before.
I had to place the drive onto a separate switchable outlet strip. One reason was I didn't want it to stay on all the time since we hardly use it, compared to the rest of the system. But it may have turned out that we must switch it on too whenever we want to use the printer-- since it is daisy-chained to the same port. Yet another Gotcha!
For the record, this drive was a Christmas present to me from a great fellow named Roger. He knows much more about PCs than I do, and so may be able to rectify all the untoward matters described above next time he's in town, simply by resetting some checkboxes somewhere in the software. Unfortunately, he's only here around twice a year, and usually pretty busy even then, so I'm unsure when or if the Compaq will get the benefit of his expertise anytime soon.
Unfortunately, at the time I possessed no PC of my own to add the drive to (only an incompatible Mac), so I had to install it on the nearest PC whose owner would volunteer to host the device-- risks and all. That turned out to be the Compaq Presario 5151.
Compaq 5151 User's Log Contents
I fixed the iMac in this regard by slowing its modem down to 33.6. But I really miss the 56k speed we lost this way.
Fortunately, there was a better option available for the Compaq. Rather than knock it all the way down to 33.6, I was able to set it down to just 44 to 52 instead-- much faster than the 33.6 the iMac must poke along at these days. So far as I could tell in my research to fix the iMac, such an option simply wasn't available for it.
It turns out the 5151 uses a Rockwell HCF 56k data fax PCI modem-- apparently a 56k flex with an option to update to v90. According to the modem tracking websites I discovered, this isn't an especially great modem; it tends to suffer problems like the disconnects and possibly others, especially with old firmware. Using info from the websites I was able to determine much about the modem and re-set it by digging around in the 5151's control panels (note I had to be very careful about all this-- even for a pseudo geek like me the information provided didn't seem clear cut here).
Apparently the 5151 was using firmware 126.96.36.199.1 while 188.8.131.52 was the latest. I didn't want to update the firmware unless absolutely necessary-- as that process can be very problem-prone for some (even so far as ruining the modem).
After crafting and typing in the init string I wanted, I tested the 5151 by going online at 9:23 PM. At 11:18 PM I logged off, satisfied that it seemed to be working OK.
Since then, the 5151 has been rapidly getting more important around here. I've been using it to move the bulk of my web site off AOL to Tripod; probably hundreds of files have been moved by now.
Unfortunately, just as on a Mac, using AOL 4's built-in Internet Explorer browser makes for slower surfing and uploading than a standalone browser would allow. But I don't want to deal with the hassle of installing and setting up a standalone at this time-- I've already done it on several Macs around here in past years and it's not much fun.
Being more accustomed to the Mac, I'd prefer to use one of those for uploading chores-- but there's problems with that. The iMac simply can't upload files without appending garbage to them first. This seems to be a bug in the iMac's Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.x browser, both standalone and AOL embedded I believe. I have a standalone Netscape Navigator 4.x on my Quadra 650 that could upload at last try, but that set up uses Mac OS 8.1 on my Quadra and is a royal pain to use, as well as molasses slow. I tend to stay anxious in 8.1 too as it seems to crash at the drop of a hat-- and I don't like anxiety. Too, I've never used the 650's modem since the lightning strike here at WebFLUX HQ, so it may not even work at all anymore.
The 6400 has been offline for months, partly because we couldn't get the phone lines in its room to support more than one split to connect two machines (the 5151 and iMac are the connected devices at this time). And besides, the Mac OS 7.5.3 6400 with AOL 3.x and MSIE 3.x was never a very good net client anyway.
Compaq 5151 User's Log Contents
I made the purchase online for an associate, at Compaq Works ["http://www.compaqworks.com/"], as linked in my Dirt Cheap PC and Killer Deals Page. Prior to purchase I made a list of what the buyer wanted, and then shopped online, comparing about twenty different new and refurbed PCs from lots of different sources, divided among three categories: basic PC specs, exact specs desired or better, and something in-between these two extremes.
From all the contenders, the Presario 5151 stood out from the crowd, in a mix of price and features. It was also in the top range of systems (exact specs desired or better), with plenty of RAM and disk space, all the I/O ports wanted, ZIP drive, and more.
More detailed specs: AMD K6-2 350 MHz, 96 MB RAM (upgradable to 384), 8 GB HD, v.90 56k modem, 32x CD ROM, 100 MB ZIP, Ethernet, AGP graphics, one open PCI slot, one open ISA, almost every imaginable I/O port (more different ports than I've seen on any computer except for those with video editing I/O), Windows98, MS Works, photo editor, video phone and video mail software, fax, a game, anti-virus, MS Encarta and Bookshelf, MS Money, Quicken, keyboard, mouse, and more.
Before shipping and sales tax: $599
Add in shipping and estimated Tennessee sales tax: $98
Add in a CTX PL7A 17 inch monitor ($200, bought elsewhere at a physical outlet)
Total: About $900
Should I mention this $900 system has a practical mouse (unlike a new $1200 iMac), and a decent keyboard (again, unlike an iMac), plus TWO built-in writable media drives (unlike the iMac's ZERO such drives), a 2 GB bigger hard drive, THREE TIMES the RAM, and a 17 inch monitor compared to the iMac's 15 incher, to boot? OUCH! might say many Mac users, feeling an awful pinch where their wallet resides....
And to add insult to injury...
So far the 56k modem seems to work better than either the 56k modems on our NEC laptop or iMac (but only time will tell if this perception proves accurate).
It was considerably easier to log onto the net with this refurbished Compaq than a new iMac. I didn't have to do special tweaks to the TCP/IP software or to adjust memory settings to get the browser to open, as I did on the iMac. And remember I'm pretty much a Mac expert but total PC novice!
The monitor also seems to diplay better with the Compaq for some reason than it did with the NEC laptop (to which the display was connected for a few weeks).
So far as speed...the Presario seems definitely faster than the NEC, and maybe about the same speed as the iMac. So I'm baffled as to how many Mac sites can justify helping push Apple's hype about the iMac CPU being significantly faster than the PCs out there. Remember this is an older, used PC, not even one of the faster new ones!
If there's one spot the new iMac outperforms this old PC, it's in boot up time. The Compaq seems to require nearly as long to boot as our Performa 6400, while the iMac boots considerably faster.
The worst problem we've had with the Compaq so far turned out to be due to inexperience with PCs (and this model in particular); the Presario wouldn't boot once when a floppy disk was left inserted in the drive, since no OS was on the floppy. The floppy has a door on it that was closed and so I thought no floppy was in there-- I did check and remove any disks from the CD drive and ZIP when the problem arose, but didn't push the eject button on the floppy. Again, the floppy drive appeared empty from the closed outer door.
Luckily my brother Scotty showed up at that precise instant, saw the error message onscreen, and ejected the floppy, and the thing immediately would boot again.
The second worst problem was an annoying and somewhat mysterious "Q" that would appear on the desktop, wanting to install updates of some kind. After pursuing the matter via clicks and user manual references we realized it was some sort of downloadable updates from Compaq itself that were being made available to us. So we clicked "install" to have it go ahead. One hour later it still showed the same animation of paper flying between folders and asking us to wait until it was done, and I figured something definitely was wrong. I'd been wondering all along if the online update used some 800 number or whatever to do its online thing, since the docs mentioned nothing about it requiring the user to log onto a service of any kind for it to work--it was all supposed to be automatic.
I'd stalled picking up a phone attached to the line to detect any modems working because I didn't want to possibly interrupt any transfer. But an hour should have been more than enough time for a reasonable update via 56 k modem. So I picked up. Dial tone, no modems.
It was difficult to get out of the loop the updater was stuck in, waiting for a connection. There were no quit or abort buttons handy, so I just had to try things until I got it to stop (no notes of the trial and error process here folks, sorry).
After I finally interrupted the loop, I restarted the PC, then logged onto AOL, and then started the updater-- which then worked much more as expected, downloading and installing something within only a minute or so. So the updater requires you to be logged onto an ISP after all. I wish the manual had made this clear-- but instead it seems to strongly suggest no ISP log on is necessary. Oh well.
The third worst problem was the lack of a hard copy invoice or receipt from Compaq for the machine. As of the day I write this (8-17-99), the Presario arrived eight days ago, and we have gotten no such paperwork. This may not seem like such a big deal until you note that buyers only have ten days to return such refurbs, and the original receipt must be sent in with it. Yikes!
Other caveats about buying from Compaq Works ["http://www.compaqworks.com/"] (a refurb outlet online) include:
A: 12 day delivery time (in our case); the site gives varying times on different pages, such as 7-10 business days for shipping, or 10-15 working days to process an order(?)). In contrast, ordering from ADW gave us an actual delivery time of about three days according to my notes.
B: Compaq reserves the right to refuse to refund or exchanges (so credit card refund battles look possible in some cases)
C: 15% restock fees if you return something with something missing or judged amiss concerning the packaging and contents (so essentially Compaq can charge you 15% if it wants to; plus, it can be pretty tough even for careful experts to put such a package back together again in its totality for a 'perfect' return).
D: The buyer can get little or no idea of delivery dates or shipping or tax costs until after they have ordered the machine on the site. In contrast, ordering from ADW seemed less mysterious and more upfront about such things (though I still experienced some trepidations with the online purchase, as documented in the Sony VAIO PCV200 log).
E: 90 day warranties on refurbs (after the ten day return limit I guess you might have to lug the thing in to a Compaq dealer or ship it somewhere for a fix). In contrast, ordering from ADW offers a 7 day refund policy, 30 day exchange, and varying lengths of warranties due to varying manufacturers, etc (the Sony we ordered had a 90 day warranty). ADW's site seemed clearer about the refund policy than Compaq's.
F: Note that unlike the refurbed Sony we got from ADW months back, the Compaq 5151 showed definite signs of having been used for at least a couple months by someone before us. The OS and apps on the hard drive had apparently been re-installed by Compaq to act as new, but the voltage setting switch on the back had been significantly chewed up by a screwdriver, and quite a bit of dust could be seen on the cooling fan blades, peering in from the back via flashlight. I haven't opened the case since there's been no need, and besides I might void the 90 day warranty by doing so (I'd need to check the fine print; Compaq has also applied a sealing tape to show if the case is opened). Of course, this is nitpicking of sorts; you shouldn't realistically expect refurbed PCs to look perfect cosmetically speaking. All I'm doing here is relating my observations of two random samples of refurbed PCs from two different vendors and manufacturers.
G: On the very day I ordered, Compaq had announced it was laying off 8000 employees. GULP!
The fourth worst problem with the Compaq so far? No speakers came bundled with the unit. Of course I was aware of this when I ordered, and considered it a minor matter since I was sure I could personally find speakers for a song if I tried. And for my personal use I'm not sure I would have ever installed speakers on the unit, since I'm not that much into noise while I work, and the Presario's modem has its own speaker for log on verification/troubleshooting. But the Compaq owner likes noise, so they had to buy some speakers later to go with it. They bought a pair of Labtec LCS-1016 speakers at Wal-Mart for (I'm guessing) somewhere around $25-$50, unlike the careful shopping around I would have done myself. No speakers came with the Sony we bought from ADW months before either, but Scotty had no problem scrounging some up from old electronics junk laying around his house I believe.
So far the refurbed Compaq seems to be working well for us. Actually giving us much fewer problems than the new iMac before it. And yes, I'm being fair here because like the iMac the Compaq too has had a printer and scanner and quite a few new apps installed on it since its arrival. If it hasn't yet matched the iMac in accumulated installations to damage its stability, it must be getting close.
Compaq 5151 User's Log Contents