Posts tagged ‘hardware’

Another choice for computer parts

I’ve never thought of us as exactly over-flowing with choices for buying computer components here.

Sure, there’s a great little back-street parts shop every couple of miles, but their range is usually pretty limited and a lot of that is “we can order it for you and it’ll be here this afternoon”.  But they are very handy and sometimes they’ve got the cheapest prices around.

For a better range and (usually) better prices we have Tiger Direct and NCIX.

I’ve used Tiger Direct several times in the past, generally successfully but I’ve never felt 100% comfortable with them. Not sure I’d use them again as they messed up my last order and the customer support rep didn’t really help the situation.

NCIX has always been a pleasant experience. The prices are usually good, the range and stock are excellent and, being local, I can pop into one of the shops to pick up my order and save time and postage. Maybe the fact that I can cut the delay and cost of shipping out of the equation is a factor in my satisfaction here. The only criticism I have of them is that they put things on and off sale so frequently that several times I’ve bought something only to see it at a lower price the next week – but that’s pretty much expected in this market.

However it looks like we now have a new player in the market. Newegg have been a favourite of many folks in the US for several years – good prices and a good selection. And last week they finally opened a Canadian store.

A quick scan through a couple of random components shows them to be generally comparable with NCIX – about the same or a bit cheaper. The range doesn’t look great though – for instance only 2 different 24″ monitors listed whereas NCIX has 9 actually in stock. Looks like the shipping charges start at about $15 so it’s unlikely to be cost-effective for me personally unless I was ordering a couple of things together but for folks who already have to pay shipping from NCIX it’s likely to be an alternative worth checking. And NCIX will price-match a lot of stuff so maybe I can get the best of both worlds next time I need to buy something.

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5th October 2008 at 9:20 am Leave a comment

What else has been keeping me busy. Part 3!

Somewhere, in amongst all this, I’ve been volunteering at Free Geek.

And, it must be said, having a fabulous time.

I spent last Thursday dismantling the computers that are being scrapped. Open the case, remove the power supply, remove the motherboard, remove the RAM, the battery, the processor and heatsink. Put it all in separate piles, grab the next machine off the rack and repeat.

Does that sound boring? Oh no – it’s great… every machine is different – some of them are 15 year old pre-ATX machines, some maybe as new as 5 years old. Every machine is put together differently, different challenges to getting the parts out. The more modern machines were interesting because of the economy of construction and, for the business oriented models, the mechanisms inside them designed to make it easier to change components. The older ones were equally fascinating… plenty of times I stopped to admire an ancient component and thought “wow – I used to have one of these” (and in many cases still do!).

I’ve been fiddling around inside PCs for almost 15 years now so I could pretty much do this with my eyes closed. I’ve also got several years experience with Ubuntu – Free Geek’s operating system of choice. So, with a bit of training, I’m someone they could easily use anywhere in the process.

Their volunteer co-ordinator said something about “fast tracking” me through the system which sounds great… give me a day or so in each position and then maybe find something challenging for me to do there. But first I need to spend time doing each of the jobs so I know how it all works.

I went back on Saturday and spent half the day at “eval 1”. This position is responsible for the initial assessment of the incoming machines. Open them up, remove memory, hard drives, addon cards, optical drives, vacuum them out and then decide if the machine is up-to-spec for re-use. If it is, it goes to “eval 2” where it’s tested to see if it actually works. If not it goes to dismantling.

Underneath the eval1 desk there’s a big plastic bin into which you drop all the removed cards – a fair mix of graphics cards, sound cards, network cards etc. This bin had reached overflowing so I offered to ‘deal with it’. Dealing with it involved sorting the cards… graphics cards in one pile, network cards in another, modem cards, sound cards etc. And then they’re very fussy about which cards of each type they can reuse. For example the Ubuntu install is done over the network so if you’re keeping a network card it has to be network bootable. Most motherboards already have sound built-in so if you’re keeping a sound card it better be a good one. And graphics cards… that’s where it gets really complicated. They have a very clever flow-chart to help non-technical people identify what to keep and what to bin but I’d seen all this stuff before so could whizz through the bin pretty quickly. Then back to eval1 to help out. Another great day.

I’m back there again tomorrow… officially a “floater” which might just mean I get to stand-in for someone who doesn’t show or (hopefully) it might mean I get to do a couple of different jobs.

Can you tell I’m enjoying this? *LOL*

24th September 2008 at 6:45 pm Leave a comment

Building computers for other people

I was at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival at the weekend and ran across a stall for Free Geek.

They’re a volunteer organization that takes people’s unwanted old computers, strips them down, ethically recycles the unusable parts, takes the reusable parts and builds them into fresh computers. Then loads Ubuntu onto them and sells them dirt cheap or gives them away to people who need access to a computer but can’t afford one.

Sounds like a damn fine organization to me. And, given that this is the sort of thing I do for myself all the time, it sounds like somewhere I should be able to do some useful volunteer work.

If the planets align, I’ll go down there next Wednesday and see what it’s all about.

22nd July 2008 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment

Computers from junk

I bought an apartment when I first lived here. I still have it now and rent it out. I was over there this morning doing some work and, as I left, I saw an enormous pile of stuff stacked up beside the dumpster.

On further investigation I found a full dinner service, set of speaker stands, a PC, keyboard and LCD monitor and a dozen mice (no – the ones with buttons on silly!). It’s amazing the stuff people throw out. I took most of it to the nearest thrift store (one block away…) but brought the PC home.

A spot more investigation revealed a Sony Vaio PII-400, 1.6GB, 192MB. OK, a heck of a long way from a powerhouse but fully functioning, neat mini case and a matching and working LCD monitor too with integrated speakers.

I’ve had to up it to 256MB RAM and I’m prepping a 40GB drive to put in there. We have a PII-350 which runs Xubuntu perfectly well for casual browsing and email so I think I should be able to do the same with this one.

28th June 2008 at 5:29 pm 1 comment


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