The 11 Neff Hall chop shop

I saw an IBM PS/2 Model 55SX at an estate sale this past weekend. It took me back to my first non-food service, non-retail job, doing desktop support at Mizzou.

Well, as a precursor to doing desktop support, they tried me out just building and tearing down machines. I worked out of Room 11, which was at the time a dingy, dark, musty place. But they pay was good and it meant I got to spend my time between classes taking computers apart all day, and that was nice.

My first assignment was to build IBM PC 330 and PC 350 computers to sit on professors’ desks. These were 50 MHz 486DX2s. They were a bit outmoded by then, but they were a lot better than what they were replacing, which was, in most cases, a PS/2 Model 55SX, which was a 386SX running at either 16 or 25 MHz. My second assignment was to disassemble those Model 55SXs, reverting them back to their factory configuration, and sort out all of the add-ins so we could use them to upgrade other machines, and then, sell whatever was left as surplus.

It turned out that I was good at building and tearing down machines, and within a couple of years I’d worked my way up to network administrator.

But it all started with those piles of new-ish 486s and old 386s.

The 55sx is one of the most common PS/2s, so I don’t feel too bad about what I was doing, and besides, in 1995 when I was doing this, they were doorstops anyway. I installed DOS and a network card in a couple of them with a telnet client and we set them out in the lounge so students could use them to connect to Lexis/Nexis and other services. Not many people used them. We also had a lab of PS/2 Model 70s, which had 386DX chips in them. They were outmoded too, but not as outmoded as a 55SX. Most of the parts I salvaged out of those 55SXs went to extend the life of those Model 70s.

Those Model 70s soldiered on until, believe it or not, 1998. When we finally replaced those, we didn’t have any money, but those machines were hopelessly underpowered for what we needed to do. We ended up replacing them with first-generation Emachines, which at the time cost $399 apiece. They were all we could afford, but they ran at 266 MHz, which was a big step up from the 25 MHz Model 70s, even if they weren’t built to last like the Model 70s were.

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