What happened to Packard Bell?

What happened to Packard Bell?

What happened to Packard Bell? It ceased operations in the United States in 2000, after a 14-year reign of terror on the consumer market.

But there’s more to the story than that. The Packard Bell story is a brilliant piece of marketing. The computers were terrible, but the marketing was as good as it gets. And that’s one of the reasons people remember it as one of the more prominent of the 90s computer brands, even if they don’t usually remember it fondly.

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Network printers with mismatched Windows versions

Jim, one of the longest-running of my longtime readers, wrote in last week about his experiences getting a venerable HP Laserjet 1100 working between two dissimilar Windows machines. Network printers with mismatched Windows versions always present a challenge.

Not only that, as time wears on, new challenges rise up to replace any old ones that don’t exist anymore. I’ll let Jim share, then add my own experience.

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The stunning fall of Mark Hurd

I didn’t believe it when the news broke late Friday that Mark Hurd, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, had suddenly resigned under fire.

Hurd wasn’t flamboyant or a quote machine like many technology CEOs. He just steadily turned HP around, increasing profits, passing Dell in sales of PCs and IBM in sales of servers, and buying companies like EDS and 3Com. He was exactly what investors liked.

In the following days, it turned out there was more to the story.Some people believe the infraction that HP cited for Hurd’s downfall was a cover, that HP wanted him out. The reasons make some sense. The one that resonates with me the most is the logic that Hurd increased profits by squeezing expenses to the bone, slashing the workforce to the minimum, then slashing salaries. Doing more with less, in other words–the mantra of IT during the entire previous decade.

The result? Record numbers of applications from HP employees at competitors. So far, no Steven Slater-style meltdowns, but when demanding more and more while paying less isn’t a good long-term strategy. The Slater story brought attention to this problem and got people talking about it, and it looks like HP may have been a few days ahead of the curve on that.

Other accounts have said employees don’t like working for Hurd and he’s unpleasant toward him. Which lead to some defenders questioning when "being nice" was a job qualification for a CEO.

Well, five years ago I was consulting for a Fortune 500 company. I stepped onto an elevator, and the company CEO stepped on right after me. He extended his hand, introduced himself, and asked me my name, what department I worked in, and what I did there. It was a 30-second exchange.

He stepped off the elevator and literally never saw me again. I don’t know whether he forgot about me the moment I stepped off the elevator, or if he jotted down a note that if he needed a printer fixed he could call Dave Farquhar and filed it away. But unlike a certain very famous CEO, he gave me no reason to fear sharing an elevator ride with him.

And I do think an important qualification of being a CEO is knowing who to call when they need something done quickly and done right. Being friendly is conducive to that. Being ruthless at all times is not. Even Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun knew when to be kind.

Then there’s the question of the consultant. The consultant who had, among other duties, the questionable job duty of "keeping Mr. Hurd company on trips," but with whom Hurd didn’t have an affair (both deny any sexual element to the relationship), and whom Hurd didn’t sexually harass (HP said no harassment took place, and the two settled out of court and kept the terms private). The consultant with whom Hurd concealed $20,000 in expenses in order to hide the relationship.

To a CEO of a multibillion-dollar company, 20 grand isn’t much. Hurd could have paid that back, and he offered. The amount of money isn’t the question nearly so much as the motive. Why did he feel the need to conceal having dinner with one particular subordinate?

The sexual harassment claim gives weight to the claim of it not being a sexual affair. But the job duty of "keeping [any male in a position of power] company" is a common euphemism for something less innocent. I’ve also read speculation that some of this consultant’s past work–namely, acting roles in several R-rated films of the type that gave the cable TV channel Cinemax the nickname "Skinamax"–may have contributed to these expectations.

Some have said that’s blaming the victim. But no means no, and the definition is the same no matter what the person’s job description was for most of the 1990s.

If Mr. Hurd jumped to certain conclusions because his consultant once had a starring role in "Body of Evidence 2," that says more about him than it says about her.

If I remember one thing from my freshman orientation in college, it’s sitting in an auditorium and being told repeatedly that no means no. Regardless of how much she’s had to drink, or what she’s wearing, or what reputation she has for whatever reason.

Since the charge was harassment rather than something else, it sounds like perhaps someone thought a no on Monday might not be followed by a no on Tuesday. That’s better than thinking no means yes based on reputation, but it was still problematic enough to settle out of court rather than try to get it dismissed.

We’ll probably never know HP’s full motivation behind the dismissal. Mark Hurd left over what appears now to be a relatively minor matter of $20,000 worth of incorrect expense reports and a slightly inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, both things that would go completely unnoticed or be easily rectified if it was a different company, or, perhaps, a different person.

The key is to not leave that something relatively minor laying around.

Upgrade diary: Compaq Evo D51S

Compaq Evo D51S
The Compaq Evo D51S is a well-built, small computer and it offers a few upgrade options

I upgraded a Compaq Evo D51S today. This was also sold under the name D510, and may have also been sold under the HP or Hewlett Packard brand. It was intended to be a low-profile, relatively affordable business computer.

Upgrading it poses some challenges, but there are some things you can do with it.This one has a 2.0 GHz Celeron in it. It will support a 2.4 GHz P4 without any issues (and a lot of them were sold with that chip), but I think that’s as high as you can go with the CPU.

The 2.0 GHz Celeron that came in this system will bog down with a heavy Photoshop filter and I’m sure some of the things I do in Adobe Premiere would bring it to its knees at times, but if your primary use of the machine is word processing, spreadsheets, web browsing and e-mail, it’s plenty fast. I would max out the system RAM before I replaced the CPU.

You can forget about motherboard replacements in this machine. Everything about the motherboard inside is odd, to get everything to fit in a smaller case. Compaq used to be criticized (sometimes unfairly) for using proprietary motherboards, but this one’s definitely proprietary.

Inside, you’re limited to two DIMM slots. I pulled the memory and replaced it with a pair of PC2100 DDR 1 GB DIMMs, which is the maximum the system supports. According to Crucial, PC3200 memory is compatible. Of course if you’re buying new memory, it makes sense to buy the faster stuff, in case you ever want to put the memory in another system.

In late 2010, 2 GB of PC3200 RAM sells for about $90. That’s close to the price of the computer itself, but more memory is probably the best thing you can buy for one of these machines, especially if it came with 256 MB of RAM.

The onboard video is the Intel 845G integrated video. It was better than I expected, but it steals system memory and, at least theoretically, it reduces memory bandwidth. The AGP slot is oriented vertically, so there’s only room for a low-profile card. That limits your choices somewhat. I had a low-profile ATI card with an early Radeon chipset on it. It’s not the most exciting card in the world, and may not even be better than the integrated Intel video, but it freed up some system memory for me. For what I want to do with this system, it will be fine. I’m not sure that Sid Meier’s Railroads! will run on it, but Railroad Tycoon 3 will, and from what I understand that’s the better game anyway.

There are a number of low-profile AGP video cards on the market that would be a suitable upgrade for this machine. None of them are cutting edge, but there are a few that are DirectX 9-capable, and prices range from $20 to $40. The built-in video is adequate, and while my first impression of it was that it didn’t bog the system down nearly as badly as the integrated video in the P3 days did, I’m still not a big fan of it. I think adding a discrete video card is a good move.

The stock Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 is a pretty good performer. At 40 GB it’s relatively small, and it won’t keep up with a brand-new drive, but for a lot of uses it’s plenty fast. From what I understand it will support hard drives larger than 137 GB but you may have to mess with IDE modes in the BIOS to make it happen. The trick appears to be to set the BIOS to use bit shift instead of LBA. Additionally, you have to be running Windows 2000 SP4 or XP SP2 to see the full capacity of the drive. I don’t have a large drive to put in it, so I haven’t tested that.

There’s no room for a second drive in there, so if you want additional storage beyond what’s already there, it will have to be external. Or you can jettison the floppy drive, but then you’ll have a goofy-looking hole in the front of the computer. That’s the price you pay for a low-profile system.

The CD-ROM drive in my particular unit was pretty balky. I’m going to replace it with a CD-R/RW drive for the short term, and eventually (probably early next year) put a DVD burner in it. I’m primarily interested in putting home movies on DVD. For backup and data transfer, I pretty much use USB flash drives exclusively now. They’re a lot faster and more convenient than messing around with CD/DVD burning software. Any drive with an old-school 40-pin IDE connector will work.

Speaking of USB, the USB ports all seem to be USB 2.0, which is nice (installing software off a USB 2.0-based flash drive makes you want to swear off optical media forever), but the ports on the front are recessed far enough that only a standard cable or a very low-profile flash drive can plug into them. My SD reader would only plug into the back, which is inconvenient.

The system has two full-size PCI slots for expansion. I put an IEEE 1394 (Firewire) card in one of the slots, since I want to do some light video work with it. The other slot will probably get an 802.11b wireless card. If I needed that PCI slot for something else, I could plug in a USB adapter for wireless networking.

I used to be in the habit of buying the biggest case I could afford or find (they weren’t always the same thing), so a really low-profile desktop like this Evo 510 feels a little strange. But a lot of things are different now. I could put a 1 TB hard drive in this system if I needed an obscene amount of storage. USB ports eliminate the need for Zip or Jaz or Syquest drives and even, to a large extent, for CD or DVD burners. If it weren’t for my interest in video, I wouldn’t bother with a burner in this machine at all. And since sound and networking are built in, there’s no need for a lot of expansion slots. It would be nice to have three PCI slots instead of just two, but I would imagine a lot of people never even fill two.

As it is, this computer fits on a small desk, and if you put an LCD monitor on top of it, the combination will take less real estate than a 17-inch CRT monitor does.

There are a lot of these machines on the market now, either coming off lease or being replaced due to business upgrade policy. They’re cheap ($75-$150 depending on configuration) and I think they make an excellent home PC. They’re cheap, unobtrusive, and surprisingly expandable.

A decked-out 510 probably won’t run Vista all that well, but a lot of new PCs don’t run it very well either. I think a 510 running Windows XP or Linux can be a very useful computer for a good number of years.

Another look at color laser printing

I’ve been watching color laser printing for about 10 years. I remember when I was impressed to see one priced at $9,999. (No, that’s not a typo; I meant to type 10 grand minus a dollar.) And I remember I was riding the Metro in Washington DC in 1997 the first time I saw one priced under $4,000.

Today, you can buy a color laser for less than I paid for my first black and white laser, a Panasonic Sidewriter model that cost me $349 in 1994. If you shop around, you can get one for considerably less.

I haven’t bitten just yet, but I’m getting closer.I loved the Sidewriter line. I’d have loved it even more if I’d been paid on commission when I was selling them. You could tell how much I’d worked in a given week by the number of Sidewriters that were on the sales floor. If I’d been allowed to work 40-hour weeks, it might have been impossible to buy one in St. Louis.

The Sidewriter was an easy sell. At the time, a monochrome inkjet printer cost about $150. The Sidewriter cost $349 with rebates. (Regular price was $399.) I told the potential purchaser to do the math. Inkjet cartridges cost about $40 at the time, and, like today, were good for about 500 pages. Sidewriter toner cost $50 and was good for about 2,000 pages. So you’d have to buy $120 worth of ink to print as many pages as the Sidewriter would do, out of the box. By the time you used a second cartridge, the Sidewriter had paid for itself–and that’s just from a monetary standpoint. From a convenience standpoint, the Sidewriter won hands down. What would you do if you ran out of ink late at night in the middle of printing something that was due the next morning? In 1994, there wasn’t anyplace you could buy an ink cartridge at midnight. That’s not always true today.

Needless to say, if someone came in looking for a printer, if they weren’t interested in color, chances were they walked out with a Sidewriter if they talked to me.

I’m still looking for a color printer that matches the Sidewriter’s economy for home use.

If you’re looking for a color laser printer, there are several avaliable under $400 today from the likes of Hewlett Packard, Minolta, Lexmark, and Samsung. If you shop carefully, it’s possible to get HP’s most stripped-down model, the 2550L, for $250-$275.

But there’s a downside to the 2550L, besides the most obvious downside of the tiny 125-sheet tray. The cartridges are set to print 2,000 pages and then stop, regardless of whether there is toner left. You can’t refill them, and you can’t use third-party cartridges. At least the 2550L ships with full cartridges, not half- or 1/3-full starter cartridges.

But what’s worse is the toner cartridges cost $80 apiece. There are four of them. Do the math. Also consider that the drum unit is only good for about 5,000 pages in color, and it costs $175.

The HP 2550L is a throwaway printer. Your best bet with this printer is to buy it along with four reams of paper, and when you open that fourth ream, order a new printer. Hang on to any cartridges that still have some capacity left, of course.

From an economy standpoint, the best color lasers on the market today look like they come from Samsung. The Samsung CLP-550 costs more than the HP 2550L, but it’s faster, it’s compatible with PCL6 and Postscript Level 3 (so it’ll work with your favorite alternative operating system, which probably isn’t the case with the 2550L), it comes with both a 250-sheet tray and a 100-sheet tray, and it comes with a duplexer. Printing on both sides of the page without any manual intervention is cool. It’s not a feature you’ll use every time, but it’s hard to live without once you’ve had it.

And more importantly, the Samsung cartridges are refillable. The drum is rated for 50,000 pages, so you won’t necessarily replace it during the printer’s lifetime. The printer also has a $28 waste container that’s supposed to be replaced when it fills up.

The Samsung cartridges cost about $125 each, so they are are more expensive than the HP, but they last for 5,000 pages. And refill kits are available. I’ve seen kits priced at $55 and I’ve seen them priced at $36. If they’re good for 5,000 pages, the cost per page drops to close to a penny per page.

The downside is the CLP-550 comes with starter cartridges that are only rated for 1,500 pages. I don’t know if those starter cartridges can be refilled to full capacity.

I’m not ready to buy one, but if I were going to buy a color laser today, I’d probably get a Samsung.

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