This project started about six months ago when I asked the computer technician at my school if he had any old hardware for my students to pull apart. I teach technology subjects and I’m always on the lookout for old or dead electronics, motors, lawnmowers, cars, etc. The kids either have a go at repairing them or use the parts in other projects.
A few days later, the computer technician turned up with a heap of dead power supplies, hard drives, a VCR, various other bit and pieces and four dead laptops. I asked about the laptops and the response was “dead hard drives, they’re not worth fixing, let the kids pull ’em’ apart.”
Dead hard drives
A computer with a dead or dying hard drive can have a number of symptoms. Often, the computer appears to start OK but then the drive makes whirring or clicking sounds and the machine freezes or crashes. Alternatively, it may simply give an error message like “IDE Error” or “Operating System Not Found”.
Often, an old laptop with a dead hard drive is usually not worth spending any money on. Many of the older models also struggle to run Windows XP at a decent pace, especially if they have only 256MB of RAM and a modest processor.
Puppy is the answer
I was starting to think that maybe I had run into a dead-end with these otherwise working laptops when I stumbled across the Puppy Linux website at www.puppylinux.org. Puppy is basically a lean version of Linux that runs well on modest (read older) hardware. In fact, this operating system is so small it doesn’t need a hard disk drive at all. When booted, it runs entirely in RAM (less than 93MB), so it’s quite fast in operation.