Building a legacy PC

Sony playerIt’s amazing to find out how many (ham-related) applications still rely on legacy interfaces (parallel, serial) and legacy operating systems such as DOS, Windows 98 or XP. Windows XP has been a reliable partner here in the home for programming radios, transferring songs to certain older audio devices I still own and use.

I have two Sony Net MD players for example, and their exotic Vaio Pocket Music Player VGF-AP1 is still in use here also. I still use a HP Laserjet 4+ printer too, which requires a parallel port.

All fine, until your hardware starts to die. My ancient IBM NetVista desktop, tucked away somewhere in a dark corner, decided it was time to retire. First the RTC quit working (no, it was not the battery). Then one USB bridge gave way. I quickly made a backup of all my data and considered my options.

  • Option 1: use my Windows Vista notebook. Vista is somewhat unpredictable at times though, and there are no parallel or serial ports.
  • Option 2: use my Windows 7 notebook. Unfortunately Sony never bothered to support Windows 7, and the lack of legacy ports is the same.
  • Option 3: build a legacy PC with all the ancient bells & whistles I need and install a fresh Windows XP on it.

I decided to go with option 3, and made it as cheap as possible by purchasing ‘New Old Stock’ hardware.

  • Mini ATX case,
  • Biostar N68S motherboard, AMD Sempron 3200+, 1 GB RAM,
  • Hitachi DeskStar HD 1 TB,
  • 2x serial ports, 2x parallel ports (one of which was on board already),
  • DVD writer and floppy drive (salvaged from the IBM),
  • My last, never installed ‘IT journalist give away’ version of Windows XP Professional,
  • A dirt cheap 15.6″ Asus LED wide-screen monitor instead of the old CRT,
  • New multimedia keyboard ($5) and optical mouse (free).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs usual assembling a PC is easy and straightforward, but getting all the software back to work can be more challenging. Windows XP refused to install updates, and it took a few nerd/geek interventions to get it to work. After that it was a matter of patience, a lot of patience. I lost count of the number of updates and the time it took to install all of them.

Sony Stuff
Another problem I ran into is that I initially couldn’t locate my original Sony software CD. Normally that doesn’t bother me much, most companies will support their products for a long time. Sony however removed the software I needed last year. In the end I remembered where I stored the CDs.

But nothing worked. The PC didn’t recognize the Net MD, nor the VGF-AP1. After a lot of hair pulling experiments, all in vain, I tried another USB cable. Bingo. With a little bit of luck the LPT bracket and an extra PCI card with 1x LPT 2x RS232 on board will arrive today, after which this PC can be tucked away in that dark corner once proudly owned by IBM.


15 comments on “Building a legacy PC

  1. This is the way to go, recycle old PC Hardware and a copy of XP is unbeatable for Hamware. Then download a copy of Unbuntu 32bit Linux, which gives a Dual boot option once loaded so you get the best of both worlds.

    73 G1KQH

  2. Whats the advantage over Unbunta then Hans? I find it very fast compared to Windoze, but only a Handful of Ham programs have been Ported over to v13.10 so far? Of course I could run Wine and then try some Win progs on that.

    73 G1KQH

  3. I still use everyday my collection of netmd and himd minidisc machines. Head to, register in their forum and download a user supported version of sonicstage software with optimized 64 bit drivers for legacy Sony music devices. It should work fine with the latest windoze flavors.

  4. I am quite new to this Linux stuff Hans, Its a bit like moving from a ZX Spectrum to DOS, a different new world! So what does Linux Mint have to offer which Unbunta doesn’t ?



    • Below the surface Ubuntu and Mint are one and the same OS — Mint is based on Ubuntu. However, from the moment Ubuntu started to ship a horrible desktop called Unity (about as crappy as the Toys ‘R’ Us interface shipped with Windows 8), most Ubuntu users switched to Linux Mint with either Mate or Cinnamon as the desktop of choice.

      Both Mate and Cinnamon are sleek, fast and require almost no learning curve if you come from Windows.

      • While I’ve used linux off and on since Slackware 3.4, i haven’t kept up with the distros much. What’s the difference between using Mint and say Lubuntu?

      • I’ve never used Slackware, but I think it’s safe to say that Mint is a typical desktop distro which emphasizes on ease of use, especially for people who never used Linux before. I’ve seen people switch from Windows to Mint in a matter of hours without issues.

  5. If you dont know the difference between the differend linux distros its best to start with Ubuntu. You wil be save and fine.
    (Just like: If a person does not know the difference between a Ferrari and a Fiat but needs a car, he will do fine with the Fiat. If he needed the Ferrari he would have known.)

  6. I stayed away from Windows 8 when I upgraded recently to dual boot OS and moved to Windows 7 + Unbuntu.. I still run an XP machine too! Every one I know hates Windows 8 The next step would be to totally eradicate the Windows OS altogether but doubtful it would ever happen?

    I understand what your saying about Mint, I will put it put a copy on another spare PC I have lying around and have a play.

    73 G1KQH

  7. Just wondering, why not a virtual machine? I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately as I find myself using Linux and Chrome OS more and more. I also ran into this issue in the past working on industrial controls, thankfully Fry’s Electronics sold quite a adapters for “legecy” ports.

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