Salvage Season: Pt 3 – Other Computer Hardware

After taking a short breather to prepare all the images for the upcoming few posts, the salvages continue. This part is concerned with “other” computer hardware that I managed to snag. Some of it remains untested, primarily due to a lack of time and immediate need, but believed to be working (or close enough).

Optical, Superfloppy & Floppy Drives

The first drive I managed to snag was a Pioneer DVR-110DSV. Pioneer drives have a typically good reputation for being quality DVD writers in terms of their burn quality, although their reliability might be a little less solid with a few units packing up due to laser diode failure from time to time.

In fact, I still have a DVR-111D converted to DVR-111L for use with LabelFlash. It’s a good burner, but alas, drives of this vintage are IDE and SATA-to-IDE bridges that I’ve used don’t handle ATAPI properly, so it’s going to need native IDE, or the “compromise” of USB 2.0 to IDE.

The biggest significance to me about this whole drive? It’s the two suffix letters on the model, and the bit of plastic on the front. It’s a silver drive. It wasn’t that long ago when beige was the colour of choice, and people looking for a bit of variety started with black-coloured cases. That wasn’t enough for some, who liked shiny aluminium or the like, and thus silver was born. There weren’t that many factory-optioned drives with silver faceplates, so many took to their own with cans of spray paint and disassembly of the drive. A common thought was that a silver drive was “at home” in both a black and a beige case … but I’m not too sure about that. Maybe now I can add this to my black recovery tower that already has a mixture of black and beige faceplates!

Just as I thought they were going extinct, more of them inevitably turn up. What are they? Zip drives of course. The left one is a bit of an interesting one – it’s a ZIP 100 drive from 1998, and it’s NEC branded. I’ve never handled a “third party” branded drive, although maybe it is just one of a number of plants that produce drives for Iomega. The second is yet another ZIP 250 drive, which helps to boost my ZIP 250 inventory.

I almost didn’t salvage the ZIP 250 drive, as from looking on the outside, the small legend in the corner didn’t stand out. It was only on a second glance that I realized that I “had to” get the screwdriver out – it was too precious to let go.

Most ZIP drives look fairly similar with a plastic rail down the side, but the NEC does have some screws in the side.

Good ol’ IDE … nothing wrong about that.

Also managed to salvage this relatively plain and regular ol’ Sony floppy drive. It’s the regular light folded sheet metal drive which feels a bit hollow – the MPF920 of which I still have at least 10 drives sitting around since I went crazy on eBay and purchased a bulk lot.

I’m probably a hoarder.

But I justify this because these are the only drives that consistently read-out the Apple GCR formatted floppy disks with the Kryoflux. Other drives fail probably due to their internal equalization or signal filtering, but these ones do the job.

Lots of discarded laptops, so I took the chance to salvage some optical drives. These drives tend to be a little unreliable, so if you’re resurrecting an old laptop with a dead optical drive and no BIOS that boots from USB hard drive or optical reliably, the next easiest option is just to replace the optical drive with something that works.

It also gives me a chance to place the two identical-form-factor drives side by side to show the difference between a laptop with the IDE-interface (top) and SATA interface (bottom).

Graphics, Networking and I/O Cards

To me, this was a particularly good score – an Asus V9950ULTRA/256M. This is an Nvidia GeForce FX5900 Ultra based GPU, pretty much better than absolutely anything I had in the AGP days. While AGP is long and dead, having some decent AGP card is particularly of interest if you like to play some vintage stuff on “period-accurate” hardware, or if you just want to run an old machine but with some native digital screen output that can be captured easily. While this card has active cooling with two fans, they do spin freely and the dust load wasn’t so high, so I suspect it’s still living. Better still, as this was a high-end card, it was built with solid electrolytic caps and a lot of ceramic multi-layer surface mount caps – so no bad caps to replace!

Unlike some of the cheap cards of recent, the moderately hefty heatsink screwed into a sizeable backplate which was made of metal, so the unit didn’t have any flex despite sitting in a tower for over ten years.

The Silicon Image IC on the board was not fully identified, but the port on the rear appears to be a “TV out” port with SVideo pins. The backplate is stamped VIVO, which would suggest the possibility to use this as video input (i.e. there is a video capture chip somewhere) as with ATi All-in-Wonder cards. At least we have DVI, and if we’re desperate enough to go dual-monitor, we can (probably) do so.

Also salvaged was this very unremarkable AOpen AW200 soundcard with an AS9200 chip on it. This card wouldn’t have been taken if it were not so clean looking – it’s probably not seen much use. It is, however, a cheap and nasty sound card which many system builders fitted to machines as a default option, and one that seems to have been used by the uni in their DSP labs as well, where assignments involving the sound-card were being unleashed to the students as they seemed to have a propensity to fry the line-in jacks. In all, sacrificial, cheap and probably without a driver under modern OSes …

However, it does bring up a nostalgia point – the 15-pin game port. This connector was important for early games as a way of having joystick or gamepad input, with actual analog input channels as well as digital channels. It was also important for musicians, so that they could have their cheap MPU-401 MIDI interface boxes (I built one personally myself) and talk to their instruments without expensive Roland branded external sound-boards, etc. This has since long gone from modern sound cards, and modern computers – the void being filled with proper USB/wireless peripherals, but it also means that the computer lost its only “analog” input interface aside from sound as well.

Of course, where there are laptops, there are laptop wireless cards as well. This one was taken out of an HP laptop and is an Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300. It points back to a time when the Intel cards included in laptops had three antenna ports – this one for a 3T3R configuration. Sadly, a lot of Intel’s later efforts scaled back to two ports, and in fact, this one was taken from a laptop where the laptop only had two antennas connected and thus was unlikely to reach the 450Mbit/s claimed maximum rate which requires three spatial streams. Higher throughput adapters have attempted up to four spatial streams, although in general, it seems that above two spatial streams, there is less cross-vendor support and the gains begin to diminish possibly due to processing difficulties and lack of orthogonality between streams. Maybe there’s a chance that some of my more fussy HP laptops might take this card without a BIOS hack …

This one was a bit of a find. A virtually unused, 10Mbit/s 10BASE2 and 10BASE-T compatible network card. This one uses the Realtek RTL8029AS, a fairly popular chip, and is an AcerLAN ALN-201.

It came complete with its installation manual, a BNC T-adapter, and the driver floppy disk.

Computers

One of the hard drives I posted about in an earlier post belonged to this salvaged HP p6120a. It’s not a particularly fast machine with a Pentium E5200 and 2Gb of DDR2 RAM in it, but I did manage to add a second optical drive and hard drive, and stuff in another 2Gb of RAM. The unit functions well, with barely any dust.

Unusually for HP machines, this one uses a standard ATX power supply with a standard mATX motherboard made by MSI (codenamed BostonL). The rear plate I/O is one of the saddest ones I’ve seen – no serial, no parallel, no additional USB ports, no digital monitor connections. Everything just to save cost. The board is based on an Intel G31 chipset, so it should support two displays with one DVI, but the unit doesn’t have the connections. Maybe it’s to force you to consider installing a “puny weak” PCIe graphics adapter, as there are no auxiliary power provisions either.

I also managed to find an original Xbox console, although I have no idea whether it’s functional as it didn’t come with any controllers or leads. Given that I’ve never had an Xbox myself, I didn’t want to take this apart – other people have done that rather extensively in the past.

Some might be wondering why it’s in the computer section – well, that’s because it’s a glorified computer! It’s basically an adaptation of a regular Pentium III 733Mhz CPU, 64Mb DDR RAM, a custom Nvidia graphics chip, with a special DVD-ROM drive (for DRM reasons) and an 8/10Gb hard drive. The controllers plugged into proprietary USB 1.1 connections, and the machines were even hacked to run Linux at one point.

Sadly the graphics/AV-out uses a custom connector so I can’t even see the output.

It is a pretty hefty and solid brick, and made in Hungary in 2002 no less.

Wireless Modem Router

To many people, a wireless modem router isn’t anything worth salvaging. They’re probably right – there’s many good reasons why you probably shouldn’t be using old networking equipment like this. For example, older out-of-support networking equipment often has neglected firmware with known bugs that can lead to compromise of the equipment and unauthorized changes to settings, or the participation of your network in a botnet. There could be more benign reasons – like an unstable router, bad power supply, or just simply a poor performer.

That being said, a wireless modem router was among one of my earliest prized salvages prior to when I started this site. It was a very rickety D-Link wireless modem router with no power supply (as it presumably died), and it was just shockingly poor on wireless as the network would quit every 10-15 hours. The NAT on it was shocking as well, frequently running out of entries and not timing them out fast enough. But even to this day – three power supplies later, and almost half a decade on, I am still using that one salvaged unit to get online, and to bring these posts to you.

Of course, it’s probably not the safest, most reliable way, but I worked around the issues. I used a cheap $23 TP-Link wireless router as my core router – DMZ’d from the D-Link to bypass its NAT table limitations, and tacked on a $29 WD router to bring myself up to dual-band N. Then I started peppering ATAs around the house to get my VoIP fix … it’s a patchwork, but it works.

This particular Belkin would be the second modem-router I’ve come across, and yet another without its power supply. Maybe it too had failed. Regardless, this was fairly similar to one I used back in my Taste of Research days in doing Wi-Fi signal strength measurements.

The unit is showing its age – ADSL for WAN with no external WAN support means that it’s not ready for NBN. I doubt it was ditched because of this – it was probably because the power supply had died, it might have gotten unstable, or more likely, they got fed up with the 802.11n 2.4Ghz single-band, dual-stream 300Mbit/s performance.

This one is an F7D2401v1, which wasn’t the dual-band model which I had used in my Taste of Research adventures. It comes pre-secured with WPA/WPA2 which is a lot better than the really early wireless equipment that didn’t come with any security at all by default. This one does have a WPS button, so maybe it suffers from a poor WPS implementation susceptible to “reaver/pixiedust” attack, or maybe it’s not even capable of being disabled properly (as I’ve found in some of my older Linksys units).

To start it off, I decided to take a peek inside. While disassembling, I was greeted by this “bug”. Well, I guess there’s always time to be surprised!

The unit is pretty empty inside. The wireless is a Ralink RT3052F with the two antennas being made out of cut metal soldered at orthogonal polarities. There are spaces for large electrolytic capacitors, but much of that is not fitted. There is an EtronTech EM638165TS-5G 8MiB SDRAM. The main SOC is a Lantiq PSB 50601 HL XWAY Amazon SE Entry-Level ADSL2+ solution. Lantiq itself is a spin-off of Infineon and was acquired by Intel. There is also a Zentel A3V64S40ETP-G6 8MiB SDRAM as well.

The capacitors are all Elcon branded, which isn’t particularly special, and almost all of them are mounted crooked in some way. At least no components have been blown off the board as you might expect in the case of a power surge for example.

The underside is mostly bare except a coax cable linking one antenna across the whole board (possibly a poor design choice there), a mystery 4C02C IC and a cFeon F16-100HIP 2MiB serial flash memory.

Within the same pile, I managed to salvage an adapter of a suitable rating, but unfortunately the plug doesn’t accomodate the thicker diameter inner pin of the Belkin, so I decided to just go with an external hard drive power supply instead.

Suffice it to say, users have been warned about clearing off their hard drives when they dispose of them, and not many do this properly. They should also consider clearing any configurations on any networking devices they throw out as well.

This unit, for example, had a default configuration password. This is not recommended, as it is ripe for exploitation by worms which may do sinister things like reconfigure your router’s DNS so it feeds “poisoned” data to any downstream devices using it, redirecting users to phishing sites etc. It also means that it’s ripe for checking out the settings too.

ISP settings for example, remained intact. Note that passwords that can not be seen and covered by dots are easily uncovered in some cases where the unit sends them in the HTML source – or just by live editing the source using “Inspect Element” and removing the “type=”password”” from the input field declaration. If all else fails, sometimes backing up the configuration and inspecting the dump file reveals the password in plain text.

The same can also be said of the Wi-Fi credentials, so I hope whoever used this last and upgraded their network did not just reuse their old SSID and PSK combination, otherwise those who might have come across their “trash” would essentially be given the network key.

Luckily, for the former owner, I have no malicious intent, so I restored the unit to factory default settings and then updated the firmware to the latest version (1.00.42), ready as an (untested) spare in case of any desperate need. Lets just hope the NBN comes around to me sometime soon, as the 9.4Mbit/s down + 1Mbit/s up ADSL2+ I’m getting is barely enough for the family.

Other Odds and Ends

There was this whopping large-ass computer fan rated at 1.8A (21.6W). This measures 15cm each side, and came from a server, being really dusty. I washed it out with water, so it’s a lot more presentable now. The four wire interface seems to be red for positive, black for negative, blue for PWM speed control (tie to + for full speed), and yellow for tachometer.

It’s pretty thick …

… and it’s as heavy as a can of soup, or maybe a little more. It’s also quite noisy at full power because it’s just a monster of a fan, but that’s what makes it special. Not for hooking up to your normal motherboard fan header, that’s for sure. It could well cause damage due to the high current demand. On the other hand, I could probably mow the lawn with those blades …

I also came across this sealed packet of two floppies containing WinFax Lite V4.0. The fact it contains XIR in the name suggests this was an OEM bundle with a Xircom modem. Because I already use WinFax Pro 10 on an old Windows 2000 Professional laptop/VM, I felt no need to unseal it, but it’s still rather quaint to behold.

Of course, the story of WinFax is nowhere near as nice, as it was a software which Symantec abandoned, even though it was one of the best faxing software for Windows.

Conclusion

I suppose this is what happens when you have an eWaste pick-up or council clean-up. I go and walk around rifling through the unwanted junk of others, salvaging things which are too young to be antique and too old to be useful in a day-to-day circumstance. But I bet, in another few years, maybe people will be coming to me with their ZIP 250 disks for help … and I can definitely say that it cost me virtually nothing to get the drive. It’s also a good chance to play with hardware that I could never afford “the first time around”, and satisfy those inner urges to know. There are always little bits and pieces to look into or just have around because they’re somehow “fun” or not everyday.

The salvage does continue, and my own hands and screwdrivers have delivered me even more “gifts” of unwanted stuff this Christmas.

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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