I rebuilt a Dell Dimension 4100 last night

So, I rebuilt a Dell Dimension 4100 last night. I didn’t make any hardware changes other than replacing the Western Digital hard drive inside, which was on its last legs.

Along the way, I learned a few things.I won’t say much about the WD drive except to say it’s the most recent in a long line of bad experiences I’ve had with the brand. I don’t know anything about current WD drives. But this one was loud and shrill, Windows bluescreened when I tried to install to it, and when I tried to run SpinRite on it, it said it would take 140 hours to test. A drive that size (20GB) should take 8-10.

In its defense, that drive was five years old. But I replaced it with a Maxtor drive that’s almost eight years old. SpinRite processed that Maxtor in 3 hours and found nothing worth commenting about. (Just because SpinRite didn’t say anything doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t do anything.)

The Dell Dimension 4100 does have a proprietary power supply (although it looks like an ATX). If you work on Dells, I suggest bookmarking PC Power and Cooling’s Dell cheatsheet. PCP&C power supplies are expensive, but they are reliable, and their prices are comparable to what Dell would charge for a replacement and they are higher quality than what you would get from Dell–assuming Dell will even sell you the part (they’re in the business of selling computers, not parts). I believe newer Dells use standard power supplies.

If you buy a Micron, you can punch in a serial number and get drivers for the machine. With a Dell, you just get guesses based on the options that were available for the machine.

Download the chipset drivers and other low-level stuff from Dell’s support site. Windows 2000 didn’t completely recognize the system’s Intel i815 chipset and I get better performance afterward.

Nlite offers a lot of promise–automating the Windows install, removing components, etc.–but I had trouble getting it to work with the OS recovery CDs I had. I didn’t have enough time (or blank CDs) to figure out how to get it to work for me. I’m sure it works better with a plain old Windows 2000 Workstation CD, but of course I can’t find mine. But if you have a CD that works with it, it’s nice even if you don’t remove the stuff Microsoft doesn’t let you remove, since it provides a nice interface for slipstreaming service packs and hotfixes and removing all of the prompts during installation.

The tricks in Windows 2000 with 32MB of RAM work pretty nicely, even when you have more than 32 megs. Of course, if you’re ruthless with Nlite and can get it to work for you, you probably don’t need that bag of tricks.

I didn’t try to install it without Internet Explorer. I’d love to try that sometime but I didn’t have time for that. At least disabling Active Desktop (see the link in the paragraph above) gives most of the benefit you would get from smiting IE.

The quality of the Dell hardware is reasonable. It didn’t floor me, but I didn’t see anything that made me cry either.

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