In need of an obsolete but reliable PC for a project, I searched a dark corner of my basement, a last stop for castoff PCs before being sent off for recycling. I found one. Predictably, it had an Asus motherboard in it. Specifically, it had an Asus SP97-V in it, a budget Socket 7 board from the late 1990s sporting a SiS chipset with integrated video that worked well with Cyrix and AMD CPUs.
My approach with the Asus SP97-V
I built somewhere between 50 and 100 systems around that board. Working at the University of Missouri in 1997 and 1998, my department had tons of 486s and even 386s still in use. They were painfully obsolete, but at the time, decent name-brand PCs still sold for $1,000 and up, so we couldn’t afford to replace them all via traditional means.
I took a radical approach. I recommended buying Asus SP97-Vs with the cheapest CPUs we could find. We recycled whatever components we could out of the old PCs we were replacing. CD-ROM drives and network cards were fair game, and I was able to recycle a lot of memory too. Hard drives were questionable, so I usually would spring for a new Quantum hard drive unless things were really tight. The CPUs I bought varied from week to week, but even a 200 MHz IDT Winchip CPU was a big boost from a 50 MHz 486.
And in a way, I argued that Cyrix and IDT CPUs were ideal for business. They were lousy for gaming, and we didn’t want our users playing games. I usually didn’t bother with sound cards. Listening to music was a luxury, and we didn’t want people playing games. If people wanted to listen to music at their desk, they could bring in their own radio or portable CD player.
DIY PCs at work?
Assembling the PCs from parts took some time, but we had a site license for Ghost (which was still a Binary Research product–Symantec hadn’t bought it yet). By using a Ghost image, we could load all of the software on the PC in less than half an hour, which more than made up the difference. It doesn’t make sense to do it that way now, but it did for a moment in time.
By recycling whatever we could and leaving out the luxuries, I was able to give nice upgrades for office work for most users for $300-$400. I’d had good experience with Asus products in the past and found Quantum hard drives to be nearly bulletproof. The combination worked well. The computers were on the trailing edge even in 1997-98. But they ran Windows 95 and Office 97 much better than the computers they replaced.
The computers didn’t stay in service long. I left for greener pastures in November 1998. And although those PCs ran Windows 95 reasonably well, they weren’t all that well suited for Windows NT or 2000. But they served their purpose and bought the university some much-needed time.
I’m not exactly sure where this PC came from, but I built a number of PCs for other people using the same formula. And often when they upgraded, their old PC ended up in my basement.