It’s been 19 months since I bought a new computer and 19 months since I paid my old computer any mind.

I use it now as a web server, and I do all development work on it.

It’s eight years old and creaky. Here’s a feature comparrison between it and my newer machine.

Dell Dimension L500c (old) Dell Optiplex GX280 (new)
Processor Intel Celeron 500mHz Intel Pentium 4 2.8gHz
RAM 320MB SDRAM (512MB max.) 1GB DDR2 (4GB max.)
Hard drive 120GB EDIE 160GB SATA
Optical drive DVD-ROM/CD-RW DVD-R/W
Floppy drive 1 ZIP, 1 3.5" floppy 0
PS/2 ports 2 0
Serial ports 1 0
PS/2 ports 2 0
USB ports 2 USB1.1 8 USB2.0
PCI slots 4 2

I attempted to backup the smaller partition of the Dimension’s hard drive, and it took Acronis True Image 7 hours to finish. I wondered why it took the Optiplex less than half that time to archive the same size.

It came down to the USB port. I was backing up the partition with my external hard drive, which supports USB2.0. My documentation was vague about whether the Dimension supported USB2.0, but I suspected it didn’t since it was built in 1998. I spent more than hour trying to download a driver from the Windows Update site, only to get an error time and time again. As it turned out, it didn’t like the fact I was using IE5 instead of IE6. No, I didn’t upgrade because I had switched to Mozilla before IE6 was released.

Then I attempted to install the driver through the Device Manager, but it wouldn’t have any of it. So I pretty much concluded the USB ports were 1.0 or 1.1.

If I want the external hard drives connecting to the Optiplex to work with the Dimension, I would need some upgrades. I have a number of upgrades in mind for that machine:

  • Maxing out the RAM. 512MB is insufficient for most applications made today, so it would struggle if I ever used it as a backup machine. For a web server, it’s enough. Estimated cost: $40-$80.
  • Add a USB2.0 PCI card. The external drives would creep without it, and I would like to backup the 60GB of MP3s on the second partition of that drive. Estimated cost: $20-$40.
  • Install Windows XP Professional. Is it worth putting it on a machine with an Intel Celeron chip? Should I just wait for Windows Vista? Estimated cost: $200-$215.
  • Add an eSATA host adapter? I don’t anticipate replacing the current 120GB EDIE drive with an SATA drive, and I think a USB2.0 upgrade would be more appropriate anyway. Estimated cost: $40-$80.

I would end up spending anywhere between $300 to $415 ($260-$335 without the eSATA adapter) upgrading that machine. I could buy a new Dimension for around that much. (It would still be a paltry Dimension.)

I have to tell myself to let it go — this machine, although still running like a trooper, is past its time. Pouring cash into upgrading its components is like shelling out thousands of dollars repairing a car that keeps breaking down. I have first-hand experience with that.

The big difference between said car and said computer is the fact the Dimension hasn’t really broken down. It’s slow, but it’s not broken. And as a web development machine, it works fine.

Investing in those upgrades might extend its life just a bit more. Is it worth sprucing up a machine I use tangentially? The answer, of course, comes back to "let it go".