Well here we are post Christmas, pre New Years. Happy Holidays!
If you read my last post you know I set out to find a small-form factor PC on a tight budget, as well as upgrade the CPU for my laptop computer. And I did: the upgrade CPU cost me $30, and I found a seller on eBay who was offering a small PC with an atom dual-core processor, 2gb memory installed, an optical drive, all for $150. This is from Tom Abel at The Independent Computer Lab. Tom was originally offering the box for a bit more, but since I don’t need a hard-drive or an OS he lowered the price, and he wants to get his business going and get some reviews, so he offered a steep discount. I had done quite a bit of research on the Intel Atom Dual Core; I was convinced after about a week of off-and-on research that for my purposes the device that Tom was offering would be enough. Not a screamer, not exactly cutting edge, but enough.
Tom responded quickly to my request for information and specs, and we worked out a deal. Tom was quick to grasp what I was after, and in fact he had a Linux box auction going on eBay right after we started corresponding (even though he, by his own admission, is not a Linux guy). He also followed up with offering to supply the HDD at a low price, but with all the network storage I have it was not needed. Plus I wanted to experiment with setting up a simple device driven by a USB flash drive. We’ll go over that in Part III.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind as we go forward here: one, life is not very convenient, and secondly, Tom’s business model is to deliver an assembled bare-bones small form factor PC. More about business models and opportunities in Part III.
So the stage was set: get the PC from Tom, set it up (keyboard, mouse, LCD), power it up, boot off the Kubuntu CD, and optimize as needed. Then install the new CPU for my laptop (the sequence was meant to insure I had at least one computer alive in case one got bricked). I have to say I was pretty excited.
Tom had the PC delivered within 3 days (Tom covered the shipping costs). As it so happens I was having a working lunch with my local partner so we decided to get the box up and running. He happens to be a Linux expert, so I figured it would be good to have him helping out.
The first thing we noticed was the memory had not been installed, which was no big deal, but we also noticed we couldn’t get the CD drive to open. We discovered that the case was malformed — the optical drive simply would not fit correctly in the opening allowed. We also noticed the wrong screws were used to lock the optical drive into place. I figured I could solve the case problem later, so we simply set the front cover aside and booted up using the Kubuntu CD. Which worked: the unit was in fine working order as near as we could tell.
Remember what I said about life being inconvenient? So be it. My response was, and is, given that life is full of problems the main thing is responding effectively and appropriately. I gave Tom an update on the situation, and he apologized and explained that he hadn’t tested the system because, unlike the others he sold it didn’t have a HDD (e.g., no OS). He used the wrong screws because he didn’t have the right ones and he wanted the unit to be shipped to me as quickly as possible. Which I understood; how the manufacturer could goof up a standard like a case cover is beyond me, and had that not been the “case” (ha!) the screws would never have been seen. (As it happens I found the correct screws in the accessories).
Like I said, it’s all about appropriate responses. I was still OK with everything; a bit behind schedule, but that is nothing new.
So I filed the front case cover to accommodate the optical drive, got it to fit just fine. (took about 10 minutes, it’s plastic, just had to be careful to vacuum everything carefully as I went). Booted back up with the CD, did a bit of surfing using Konquerer, and got happy again. Next step: use the Kubuntu USB boot wizard to create a USB boot drive. (Another topic that required a bit of time to research: but the end result is that the Kubuntu team created a wizard to format and install the OS to a flash drive).
Well, when I went to reboot the PC, it wouldn’t. No beep, no fan, nothing. I could diodes lit up, but nothing useful. I didn’t see any loose wires, nothing out of place. I spent about an hour looking at it, reading various web pages, hoping to discover it was some simple thing.
Tom and I exchanged a couple of emails, and concluded that the unit was dead. He sent me a replacement, which arrived in a couple of days (again he paid the shipping).
The new unit had a slightly larger from cover opening, so I was able to squeeze in the optical drive. Once the memory was installed, the unit booted right up. I’m using it now to write this post.
The sum total is this: Tom Abel delivered as promised, and responded quite well to a bad situation. He stepped up and did what was needed, with no complaint or equivocation. My 11 years at HP included reading lots of research on satisfaction, and everybody — HP, Dell, Gateway, IBM — took their fare share of dissatisfaction.
Would I recommend Tom Abel? Sure. I give him 5 out of 5 stars for customer service, and 3 for the product. I’m guessing the mistakes we’ve seen won’t happen again. What I also recommend, which is what my blogs are about, is to your research first. Look around, ask around. If you can’t deal with a bare-bones computer, pay the extra $100 and buy a brand name. For me that $100 was an important savings. (More about why that is important in Part III).
The unit Tom sent has been up and running for several days; I installed Firefox, Thunderbird, got a printer set up, figured out to access the network storage. It’s not perfect, but it’s working. Right now Tom and I are working on finding a simple way to update the BIOS (simple on a DOS machine, not so much in this case).
My next step is to install the Dothan CPU into my laptop. With that, I will have (essentially) 2 new computers for less then $200, plus the cost of a keyboard and some spare parts.
Have a great day and thanks for stopping by!