I’ve been working on a Compaq Presario SR2011WM. It’s a basic, low-end, single-core Celeron D system from 2006 or so. It can take up to 2 GB of RAM, runs Windows XP adequately, and has SATA ports, so you can put an SSD in it if you want. But don’t be fooled by the name–the Celeron in this machine is single core, and has a Prescott-era Pentium 4 core in it at that, not a low-TDP, Pentium D-style core.
In case you’re wondering, the easiest way to get it to boot from USB is to plug in a USB drive, hit ESC as the system runs POST, then select your USB drive from the menu.
Now let’s talk about options for upgrades.
Linux runs fine on the machine, if you just want to extend its life and improve its security, but I would recommend adding more memory to it.
I don’t think I would want to run Windows 7 or Windows 8 on it, as is. Its limit of 2 GB of RAM is on the low side these days, and having dual cores would help. You can put a Pentium D 900-series Socket 775 processor in it to get a second core, and used Pentium D 900s aren’t terribly expensive. So you could buy 2 GB worth of DDR2 DIMMs for it for around $40, and a used $20 CPU, and for $60, give the machine some extra oomph.
But according to HP, the motherboard is a cheapo ECS board, which they are sometimes known to use in their very lowest-end systems. How much do I want to rely on an ECS board that’s seven years old? Not much.
The one thing that board has going for it is that it’s a standard micro ATX board. So you could get a low-end micro ATX board, a modern 2- or 4-core CPU, a cheap 4 GB DIMM or two, and potentially still spend less than $120. Then you’ll have a much more modern system with a great deal more longevity.
Drop in a new motherboard/CPU/memory combo, an SSD, and buy a Windows upgrade, and you’re approaching the cost of a new computer. But you’ll have a new computer, except for the case, and probably with higher quality components than you would get if you bought a $350 computer. Low-end machines generally don’t come with SSDs, though they benefit from them.
The main thing the SR2011WM has going for it these days is that it’s a standard, sturdy enclosure with multiple drive bays and front-mount USB and audio ports, so if you have one or can get one cheaply–and this is precisely the type of machine that’s likely to show up at a thrift store, rummage sale, garage sale, or on the curb–it’s good material for building something more modern into. And that’s about all you can ask from an entry-level machine from 2006. The case does lack a built-in card reader, but it does have available 3.5″ and 5.25″ bays to install one, and they’re cheap.
If you’d rather buy a new machine than upgrade it, take the hard drive out and sell the machine on Craigslist. You shouldn’t have much trouble getting $30-$50 for it, which you could then apply toward the cost of a new machine. Someone who is interested in a second machine for testing would be happy to have it.