paqman (small p, yes I'm converting to *nix-isms) is a small ATX case 700 MHz P3 with 512MB of RAM and (these days) a relatively small hard drive of 20 GB. It used to be made by pre-HP-acquisition COMPAQ. Yes it works, all of it, including the on-board XVGA. Nothing's busted which I find refreshing in these days of 400 Watt footwarmer CPUs. The paqman CPU has a heatsink, no fan. The power supply has a fan that kicks full-on, off and sometimes in-between for short periods of time when necessary. Other than that it was kind-of-green when that hadn't become the latest marketing craze. Its obviously well made, my son left it running constantly for years without a UPS when he was using it.
He now has a HP 2GHz P4 desktop he brought home that had been dumped at the recycling center. All it needed was a hard drive. I dumped some more RAM into it, found a 80 GB drive that was inexpensive and he's in business running shrink-wrapped XP Home Edition installed on the system.
My daughter's P3 got trashed evidently the same time as Debbie did. I still need to find a replacement drive for her system. Discovered that she had an early and faulty version of ACPI in the BIOS. Turns out that even if you have it turned off to prevent a AC power-return restart, it does it anyway! Nice, real nice. I happened to be in the room last week when we had one of our "flash-and-trash" power events triggered by lightning that causes 3 or 4 bursts of AC power to occur. Her computer tried to reboot 3 times even after I held the front panel power switch down! I ended up having to pull the power plug out. Time to find a newer retired system.
Sometime back I mentioned that multi-tasking required or was better done on multiple machines,** here is a description of my implementation of multi-tasking. Currently my office desk, a converted armoire or entertainment center should more properly be referred to as a "network-in-a-big-box-with-a-desktop" has 4 machines. debbietoo, a DELL Celeron refurb, is going to eventually be the Samba Domain server. Sugarbear is an old P3 bought from a surplus house and is the workhorse desktop. dell2 is the refurbished DELL P4 XP SP2+ (only!) desktop. Both of the DELLs I bought about 5 years ago when it looked like prices weren't going to get any lower and they haven't actually when you consider it as a complete unit, only the CPU power inside has changed. RAM in both has been boosted to 1GB so they aren't too shabby.
paqman brings up the rear as the third Linux system. My idea is to use paqman as a utility desktop when I'm wanting to do odd things that require 3 machines, or a temporary config. His operating system image is likely to change around a lot as I try out some new-2-me Linux distros.
All 4 of the systems fit into the cupboards under the desktop/main shelf. I have a hinged open-down desktop liberally attached in various places with Velcro to hold a keyboard, a trackball and my beverage coaster. The side-supports are 2 1/8” aircraft cables, one for each side. There is plenty of room to flop open those manuals often needed late night. There are 3 magnetic latches to hold the desktop surface in the upright position when I want to close the doors and tidy up (a DTR-domestic tranquility requirement).
My only excessive acquisition for this setup was a pair of digital DELL 17" extra-sharp LCD panels I bought over a year ago. But the justification has been and actually turns out to be that my aging eyesight requires it. A third 17” panel mounted on the back of the top left desk door is used for DebbieToo. I rebuilt 3 working analog 17” LCD panels out of a group of 6 that had been trashed or scrapped out by my company. My kids have the other 2.
The networking components, the Linux firewall system, the net and KVM switches and the DSL modem are tucked in the back out of view since I can get to all of it through web pages.
I have an HP does-it-all printer/scanner/copier/fax machine that I think really sucks behind the monitors. Its slow to start up for even a black and white print. It seems to take forever to decide when its going to actually scan when asked to and I haven't bothered with trying to FAX with it except one time. Yes it worked but I never want to go through that again. It seems the only drivers available are Windows drivers. Considering how badly it works under Windows, I wouldn't even try it under Linux. My experience with HP in the recent past is that they have written some really crappy printer drivers. Its biggest redeeming virtue is that it was cheap and I could buy it when I needed to on a Sunday. Other than that it has a couple of flash drive memory sockets that are sometimes convenient.
Shelves above hold odds and ends and more of the d__n heavy books it seems are needed to keep up with this business. When the e-book/readers get to be reasonably priced then I'll likely transfer to that mode but not until then. They should be priced cheaper than freaking phone/PDAs for goodness sake, they've got one tenth the amount of electronics inside them, just more Flash RAM. I'm holding out for when they get handed out as schwag at conventions like USB flash drives are now, not really! They just need to be priced somewhere around the price of a couple of tech manuals like 100 to 120 dollars.
There are also development kits for various 8 and 16 bit micro-processors that I either use at home or at work. Cases to hold CDROMs, DVDRoms etc. Spare printer cartridges for the damn HP that seems to eat them for breakfast. A big 6 Volt flashlight for when the lights go out, not often.
The whole point of this exercise is to renovate my “office space” at home enough to allow me to work fewer days in the office. Gasoline at $4 a gallon (even in Houston TX!) and the freaking toll-road fees is eating into the budget pretty severely. I drive 35 miles each way to work so its about 2.5 gallons a day plus the toll fees at $10 a day. $20 a day doesn't seem like much but it mounts up fast especially with the collateral damage to food and power prices.
* HIT -- Household Information Technology, if you really need yet another three letter acronym.
** -- Multi-tasking is actually an often abused programming term. Think of using multiple computers as a macro (like in big) version of multi-tasking. And before the Virtual PC and VMWare fan-boys climb all over me, this is AFFORDable Multi-tasking. I use Virtual PC 2007 at work and its great on a P4 Duo running at 3GHz with 4 GB of RAM! I just can't afford to buy the horsepower and machinery to make it work well at home. Yes a P4 will run Virtual PC BUT you wouldn't want to have to do it past lunch.