Reviving an old PC, part 1: Research

Last week, I got my hands on an old PC. The former owner asked me if I had any use for it, and I decided it would be fun to see if I could transform it into a usable computer again. It’s been 20 years since I last built a PC from parts, so this seemed like a nice Covid-19 lockdown project.

So, what have we got?

I had no idea what the components in this machine were, except for the CPU (an older Intel Core i3) and the fact that it was a midi tower model case. When it arrived and I opened it up, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only does it contain mostly A-brand parts, it looks brand new. Everything is dust-free and in mint condition.

The good

Asus P8H67-M EVO motherboard

The most important component in any PC is the motherboard. Unless you plan to replace it, it is going to determine which components you can use. The Asus P8H67-M EVO in this case uses DDR3 memory, and was developed for use with second generation Intel Core processors (“Sandy Bridge”). It has USB3 and six SATA ports (two of which are 6GB/s). NVME drives are likely not an option. All in all, this is an excellent board for what I am planning to do.

Once I determined the make and model of the board, I went to the Asus website to check CPU support. As with many “Sandy Bridge” motherboards, with a newer BIOS version, you can also put in many “Ivy Bridge” chips. Plenty of upgrade options.

Cooler Master Elite 333 computer case

Also good is the case. It’s a Cooler Master Elite 333, which looks okay and has plenty of space. I could replace it with something smaller since the Asus is a Micro-ATX motherboard, but this leaves the option to add a decent graphics card and some other stuff.

The power supply has a decent output of up to 450W, so it’ll do until a dedicated GPU is added. It’s not very quiet though.

The bad

Intel Core i3-2100 CPU box shot

The Intel Core i3-2100 in this machine is a dual core chip, which despite its low performance has a TDP of 65W. I think my goal is going to be to put in a quad core replacement. This would pretty much double the processing power. I want to use an Ivy Bridge CPU if possible, simply because they’re newer and have slightly better integrated graphics.

4GB of RAM was okay back in the day, but won’t cut it anymore. Luckily, there are two empty DIMM slots on the motherboard. Two additional 4GB sticks would bump the RAM to 12GB, which should be plenty.

The CPU cooler is a stock Intel one, and not great. If my budget allows, I’ll get a better one.

The ugly

For storage, this still uses a traditional harddrive, so an SSD will need to be at the top of my shopping list. Also, there’s an optical drive (DVD-RW) and an outdated wifi card. I think I’ll simply leave those out.

Another issue is that the PC runs Windows 7. I know that attempts were made to upgrade it to Windows 10, and that those failed. Apparently, there was an error about the GPU being insufficient. I’ll have to sort that out if I want to keep using Windows. Personally, I’d prefer to put Linux on it, but an activated WIndows 10 will improve potential resale value.

And finally, Windows 7 runs awfully slow, even considering the limited hardware. This machine may be hiding some skeletons in its closet.

What’s next?

Next up? Buying new parts. Or in some cases, used parts. My shopping list so far:

  • A quad core Ivy Bridge i5 or i7 CPU, preferably with a modest TDP.
  • 2 sticks of 4GB DDR3 memory.
  • A SATA III SSD (new?).
  • A better CPU cooler (new?).

I think it should be possible to get these parts for around €100. That seems like a reasonable amount to invest in such an old machine.

Roy Tanck
I'm a freelance WordPress developer, designer, consultant, meetup organizer and speaker. In my spare time I love to go out and take pictures of things.

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