Trash can PC

Here’s how I got a useful, working PC for next to nothing.

SonB and I found a couple of old PC chassis dumped on the street a year or so ago, both missing hard drives but we took the memory from one and put it in the higher spec base unit, an old Evesham PC that had a Soundblaster digital audio card and a Hauppage WinTV DVB-T tuner. Running less /proc/cpuinfo at the command line on it reports the CPU as an AMD Athlon(tm) 64 X2 Dual Core Processor 4600+ running at 1GHz.

We got this PC to boot off a memory stick but never did anything with it, but my interest in it was re-sparked when the Raspberry Pi foundation released a version of its PIXEL operating system that runs on normal PC (and some Mac) hardware. Would the trash PC boot PIXEL off a 2GB memory stick? Yes it would!

I had to experiment a bit with the BIOS settings on the PC to get it to boot off USB, and I found one of the USB sockets was physically damaged, but I soon got it to boot into PIXEL. Booting was slow but it worked – patience paid off. The PC doesn’t have any built-in wifi, so I plugged an ethernet cable in the back and into my broadband router.

The picture shows me simultaneously web-browsing, playing music in Sonic Pi out of the SoundBlaster card, drawing a Matisse snail in Python – and of course doing a screen-shot using scrot. The picture quality on my old Sony TV is amazingly good – luckily I had a DVI to HDMI cable lying around as my TV only has HDMI inputs.

So there we go – discarded PC found on the street, minus hard drive to perfectly perfectly serviceable computer in about 15 minutes! The PC also has 2 Firewire 400 ports which I might be able to make use of – I have a load of old FW devices – plus SPDIF and optical audio ports, an E-SATA socket, multi-format card-readers, a DVD-ROM drive, another DVD-RW drive… plus that Hauppage TV card! I even wrote this blog post on the computer, though the PIXEL OS wouldn’t see the built-in card reader.

The OS would read an audio CD but not play the files, so I installed VLC but couldn’t get it to play the CD – possibly the drive is damaged, or something is missing from the x86 PIXEL version of Raspbian.  A fun foggy afternoon, however, as the Flash player works! Here it is playing Mark Kermode’s video round-up of the worst films of 2016:

It will also play radio programmes on the BBC iPlayer Radio web pages, and – though it took an age to get going – here it is playing a TV show perfectly off the BBC iPlayer web page! One of our home movies, I think…


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