Techy, But Thrifty

Aaron and I have been on the lookout for a cheap garage sale laptop for some time now. While we didn’t want to plunk down multiple hundreds of dollars for one, we thought it would be helpful to have one for when we go out of town to anime conventions (and whyever else we go out of town), so we could actually use the free wireless connections we sometimes score. Granted, Aaron’s Nintendo DS and PSP can access the web via wifi, but having a laptop would be so much easier.

Imagine our surprise when we were garage saling a few weeks ago and came across a laptop for $15. The woman manning the sale said it was her husband’s, mainly, but that something was up with the power cord, and it wouldn’t stay powered up. Usually the laptops we find have a cracked screen, which is a big dealbreaker — but this one had none of that. It was dirty, missing some clips and feet, and had cracks by the hinges, but the screen was fine. We talked the lady down to $10, and I ponied up for our initial investment in this used laptop.

We took it home and tried to power it up, with no luck, of course. I eventually noticed that the power light on the AC adapter wasn’t even coming on, so Aaron took the next monetary hit for the laptop and bought a new adapter online for $17.

The adapter arrived yesterday, so we plugged it in and it powered right up. Rock! Then it came up with a Windows 2000 login screen. Suck! We tried various combinations of administrator and admin as usernames with various obvious passwords, but no dice. I went online and located a utility to boot into Linux from a CD-R and hack the passwords, but before we tried to use it, Aaron saved the day by suggesting the one obvious administrator username and password we hadn’t tried (“administrator” with a blank password), and it logged us right in. Effin’ A.

So, we sat down and played around with our new toy. Unfortunately, the previous owners didn’t leave anything cool on the computer — just a Disney game that Aaron uninstalled without even launching it. We experimented with letting it run on battery power alone, and discovered that it only lasts for about a half hour on a full charge. I’d already requested a replacement battery from Dell, since we discovered in our online research that the battery had been recalled; but I haven’t gotten any response back, so I’m assuming that the recall program is no longer being honored. Turns out that batteries are $60, so I think we’ll be content for now with having a semi-portable computer that just needs an outlet.

Next necessary element: a wireless card.

Our new-to-us Dell Inspiron 5000 takes almost any PCMCIA wireless card. We could have had instant gratification by buying the Linksys Wireless-G card at Best Buy for $50, but that would really defeat the purpose of buying a laptop on the cheap in the first place. You don’t pay more for the wireless card than you have for the whole kit so far. So, after some searching online, Aaron found the very same card on eBay for just under $20 shipped. Score!

So, in probably less than a week, we’ll have a functional laptop with wireless connectivity. Next upgrade will be more RAM — it’s running with 65MB right now, but can hold up to 256MB, I think.

Hey, all we really need it for is internet, so it doesn’t have to do much. For about $50 so far, this is a deal.

2 thoughts on Techy, But Thrifty

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  1. do you know if your laptop has usb 2.0? if so, i have a USB wireless card you may borrow when you go out of town.

    i like it too much to give it/sell it/part with it at all, but just let me know when you’re going out of town and i’ll bring it to work 🙂