It’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).
As 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.
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.