Uriel Unleashed (or the Rebirth of an older Computer)

Gary L. Ratliff Sr. <eronstuc@gmail.com>

When the Pentium chip was first announced one of my thoughts was that some day in the future it would be possible to purchase one of these machines for the remarkably low price of $5.00!

Now just a few days ago I was able to purchase a tower which contained a Dell OptiPlex GX100 for the sum $5.00. Of course I realized that at this price the unit might not be functional, however, as an electrical technician I have built up quite a supply of spare parts. (Or as my wife likes to refer to it a bunch of useless junk.) Fortunately, just as I arrived home with my new purchase she told me that I was wanted at work as soon as I could get there. So it would now be several hours before I could determine if the machine would actually function. At the same time, because I would be returning from work after midnight she would be asleep and not likely to comment about me bring in another piece of junk.

Now all through the shift I was anxious for the day to be over so that I might learn if the machine would boot. Midnight arrived and the store was locked. Soon the unit was lugged into the front room and a monitor, keyboard, and mouse attached. The moment of truth had arrived. The power switch was pushed and......NOTHING!!! My experience with my Dell Dimension had taught me to look at the front of the tower for a button which would release a side panel for easy access to the guts of the beast. Taking my volt meter in hand the unit was again connected to electricity and the voltage checked across the black/red and black/yellow for the required 5volts and 12 volts respectively. Instead the voltages showed in the microvolt range. Diagnosis a burned out power supply. Now I realized that I could easily strip the machine of its hard drive and sound card and any other items. However, this step would only increase my spare parts inventory. I had a Dell power supply among the power supplies in my "electrical sandbox".

The Reconstruction Period

Shortly after the tools for the repair were assembled, the old power supply was stripped from the machine and a replacement Dell mounted. Now all the connections from the old non functional power supply were cut and placed in a cigar box. Now once again the moment of truth had arrived and the monitor, keyboard and mouse were attached. The power button was pushed and the machine began to boot up into Windows XP Professional. The machine reported that it knew that the side panel had been removed and that someone had been tampering with the system. Now to protect my data the machine would shut down!!! So I knew that my surgery was a success and with some more work I should soon have a functional system.

The next boot was preceded by pressing the F2 key to enter setup. Going throughthruough the many items revealed that the machine only had 64 Mmegs of RAM far below that required for any modern Linux version full install. I also found the item which detected the side panel being removed and disabled the system from reporting this information. (It is after all fairly difficult to operate on the machine and also not remove the side panel!!!) My next boots reported that the hard drive was not boot able. The boot sequence was altered to make booting from the CD Rom take first priority. Now my supply of Linux distributions was tried. With only 64 Mmegs of ram most booting attempts resulted in a Grey screen. I was able to boot into Puppy Linux and DSL. Also Partition Magic was able to analyze the hard drive and revealed that it contained 15 gigs on a MAXTOR hard drive.

Neither DSL nor Puppy Linux gave me the results I wanted to learn. I wanted to know just what was in Pandora's Box. Neither of these allowed gaining access to the contents of the hard drive. Now it was June first and I wanted to learn if my latest article was yet on the net. So a trip to www.pclosmag.com revealed a note from Papawoob noting that there was a new version of PC Linux out called Tiny Me which only took 200 Mmegs!! Perhaps this could be used. Starting several installs yielded only the blank Grey screen until I tried the council mode. Now I had the text only screen and could log in as either root or guest. Next as root I could mount the hard drive as hda1 and see the contents of the drive at /media/win_c. Soon I had explored the My Documents area and learned the contents of the Program Files and Windows directories. Mission accomplished.

My next goal was to make the machine completely functional. I realized that my spare parts also had some untried memory modules and that the machine had two memory banks, one of which contained a 64 Mmeg module. The other bank had one of the clips broken off but if instealledd correctly a module should work. I located one of the modules which reported that it contained 128 mMegs and inserted it into the bank. Next we have another boot into the Windows XP and the system immediately reports that the amount of system memory has been changed. Of course it was still reporting that the hard drive partition was nonun bootable and it was shutting down. A reboot into Setup confirmed that the system now contained 192 Mmegs ram which is more than that on my Dell Dimension which successfully runs many versions of Linux and the XP Professional version of Windows.

Next I found a spare hard drive and made the system have dual hard drives and the single CD-Rcdrom which came with the system. However, the power connector would not reach the second hard drive so some more surgery would be needed to set up a second drive. Here the step of cutting all the wires from the failed power supply gave me the raw materials to splice a power connector on to the too short connector of the machine. One simply cuts off the old connector, strips the wire on both ends, tins the wires then uses electrical tape to wrap the connection. Now the surgery on the system is complete. We are now ready to teach the machine how to be a Linux Box.

Installing PC Linux 2008 (Tiny Me)

The install of the latest version of PC Linux was a snap. Also because this version iscontained only 200 Megs instead of the more than 600 Megs of my earlier installs of PC Linux 2007, it is also much faster. Once the install icon is pressed a wizard guides you through the entire process. Because I never intended to use a wounded Windows, the 'use entire disk' option for partitioning was selected. The wizard allocated the 14 gigs on the Maxtor hard drive as it assigned some 9 gigs for the root (/) system and 5 gigs for /home. I setup a root password and created user accounts for my wife and myself. Then the system reported it was time to remove the CD from the drive and make my initial boot into the system.

The initial boot was what one would call an "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" moment. The features all seem to be different. What is really cool is that the side of the machine reports the amount of file system used and available for both the root system and the home partition. The amount of CPU usage is monitored continuously and the activity on the Internet connection is revealed.

The familiar Firefox is replaced by Opera as the default browser. I could not seem to get the system to play Cd's using the detected player and soon used Synaptic to get Amarok for me. Also the system seems reluctant to keep the four desktops and seems to revert to only two desktops on each initial boot. Of course it is very simple to get four desktops just right click on the desktop and select add another desktop then repeat the process and you now have four desktops. Instead of being numbered these have names John, Fred, Sam, etc.

Fine Tuning the system

Once the initial install is accomplished one may easily use synaptic to download any software which might be needed. The Opera browser lets you create blogs, upload pictures, and belong to another community. As the operation is a little different from Firefox one may wish to first use the tutorials provided. (Or if you wish the repositories may be added and there is a beta version of Firefox 3 which you are invited to try.) So for an investment of $5.00 for a junk computer and a little help from my spare parts bin and lots of effort I have a system which is 100% PC Linux only and it is ready for a 'Powered by PCLinuxOS' sticker.

Now because all of my systems are named after guardian angels, and as this system is now completely functional. I need to get the name of another guardian angel for this new one. My others are: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Eronstuc so Uriel is now unleashed.


Here we have the back of the Dell OptiPlex GX100 system obtained for the grand price of only $5. Of course its going to take a little work to get it into shape.


Here we see the second hard drive being installed. Because the connector would not reach, the power connector removed from the failed power supply is used to splice into the machines wiring harness. The old connector was clipped off. Also note that the data cables are not on the drives. I overlooked this and my next boot reported correctly that it could not find a primary drive and attempted to boot from the floppy.


With sufficient memory a boot from the CD-Rcdrom yields a graphic instead of a text only display. However, knowing how to use the commands available for bash enabled a correct diagnosis of the system to know what to repair to get a functional system.


The install wizard makes installing the latest version of PC Linux a snap. Note that several features are monitored in real time. In the default install this is always available. After some additional programs are installed using synaptic. The system offers a wide choice of which desktop environment you might wish to use.


Here we have the initial boot into Tiny Me. This is on June 2. On June 4 as I am writing this we are celebrating being married 37 years. Sure she is going to get rid of my junk computers and I'm stubbing my toes on all her petrified wood but as all old married couples know it's all just talk.