Mom’s computer is fading fast. I built it in 2002 or so, but I used stuff from her old computer, including the operating system, which dated to more like 1998.

I’m tired of fixing it. There was a time that I might have enjoyed it, but she needs something reliable, and I don’t have that kind of time anymore. Windows 98 was anything but rock solid when it was new, and this is a 10-year-old build. And do I know for certain that all the hardware is perfect?

It’s cheaper and easier to just start over.I didn’t find any earth-shattering deals at Compgeeks.com, although I did find some stuff that would have been usable. I wandered over to Craigslist and found the usual myriad of people selling their old home PCs. I decided to just do a search for something I knew would work. My wife and I have had a Compaq Evo 510 for about two months now and everything about it impresses me. So I went looking for another one.

I found one. It’s a 2 GHz P4 with 256 MB RAM (I quickly upgraded it to 512) and a CD burner. It even had a fresh install of Windows XP Pro on it, and a certificate of authenticity so it’s legal. I paid less for it than I charged the last time I had to fix someone’s computer. Actually, I paid less for it than a copy of XP Pro sells for. So it really was like getting the hardware for free.

XP isn’t perfect but it’s a lot more stable and reliable than Windows 98 ever was or will be. While this hardware isn’t new, it’s newer than what Mom has, and it’s built with quality components. It’s a business-class machine, and in my experience, business-grade hardware isn’t flashy but it’s very reliable. As long as you feed clean electricity into it, the only thing that’s likely to go wrong is a hard drive crash, and those can happen no matter what you buy.

There is a ton of former office equipment on the market now that’s perfectly usable, replaced only because corporate policy mandates that computers get replaced every three or four years. As long as the hard drive gets replaced, or at the very least reformatted and Windows is freshly reinstalled, these PCs will make very good home computers for a very long time.

They make terrible gaming rigs, although with a better video card you can do some light gaming with them (my Evo 510 runs Railroad Tycoon 3 and Baseball Mogul 2008 just fine).
For word processing, e-mail, and web browsing, they’re all you need.

I put a better video card in it anyway, to free up the memory that the onboard video was using. I put in a $10 Nvidia TNT2 card in it that came out of an old IBM. I got it off Craigslist too.

If anything, I’m more comfortable with Mom having something like this than I would be with her buying a new Compaq Presario or HP Pavilion because it’s made with better components.

If you have an aging Windows 98 computer, this is a good time to upgrade to something a little bit newer. You should be able to get a former business computer with a 2 GHz Pentium 4 running Windows XP for less than $200. It will be money well spent, in any case.

Mom will be happier because she’ll have a much faster and more reliable computer. I’ll be happier because if I play my cards right, I’ll never see Windows 98 again.