The times they are a-changin’. I made the pilgrimage to north St. Louis, to visit my church’s sister congregation, to see their new PCs. I spotted some Compaq Deskpro EXs at Insight for an insanely low price, and I wanted a respectable name brand, so that was what I had them order. I set one up and let it run, and was surprised to see it came up with a standard AMI BIOS. No more Compaq disk partition-based BIOS? Nope. Not even a Compaq logo. Just an AMI logo, like a clone. The case was a standard microATX case with a Compaq case badge on it. I popped open the case. I couldn’t tell for certain if it was an Intel-made board or not (the AMI BIOS suggests yes) but it’s a standard microATX board. No weird Compaq drive rails either. Seagate hard drive. The CD-ROM firmware says Compaq. But it’s a standard ATAPI CD-ROM. It looks like a Hitachi, but I could be mistaken.

This is good. While the quality may or may not be up to the standards of an oldschool Compaq, in the event of a failure after the warranty period, off-the-shelf parts will work to keep these things running. I can get microATX power supplies and motherboards.

Oh, how do they run? Well, after I cleaned up the root and Windows directories, put in my usual msdos.sys parameters, and replaced emm386.exe with umbpci.sys–they paid for that shadow RAM, so they might as well use it as RAM–the system boots in 20 seconds. That’ll slow down after adding the network card and installing more software, of course, but at least we’re starting out really strong.

I thought I read in the system specs that they’d have built-in Ethernet, but I may be mistaken. That’s fairly easy to remedy. I can pick up a 5-pack of Netgear FA-311s at Mwave for about $70. Two of those will put us in business. I’m disappointed that the FA-310TX, an old favorite of mine, seems to be discontinued; hopefully the 311 uses the same or a similar chipset. In a lab situation I’d prefer Intel or 3Com cards, but the Netgears sell for much less, and I have lots of experience with Netgears in Linux. I’ve occasionally had problems with Intels and 3Coms in Linux, and since there’ll be one or possibly two Linux servers in the lab, and I’d rather start out with standardized parts all around, I’ll give Netgear the nod.

Bloatbusters. I believe I mentioned this site before on my old site, but maybe not. These guys look at utilities, tell you what’s wrong with them, and sometimes provide a tightly-coded alternative. For instance, here’s a Windows CD player. It’s 3K in size. Personally, I prefer the play button on the front of my CD-ROM drives, but not every CD-ROM drive has one.

I can’t stand their site navigation and layout, but their essays are often entertaining to read.

Along the same lines, there’s Radsoft , who plays host to Bloatbusters. Radsoft’s product is Extreme Power Tools, a $47 collection of over 100 tightly written utilities, including a 25K file manager that claims to pack in more features than any of Microsoft’s file managers. Evidently they used to provide a demo download, but the only demo I can find now contains just their task management tools, which are interesting but certainly not the most generally useful.

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