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Thread: Networking on the cheap

  1. #1
    Thinkin' out loud again Builder's Avatar
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    Networking on the cheap

    Hey all,

    I was forced recently to join the 21st century 13 years late and create a home network. Of sorts anyway. My previous computer went belly up, although the hard drive was OK. Got me a brand-spankin' shiny new Windows 8 machine. All was going well until I couldn't get my scanner to work -- no drivers for Win8. So I went through my options: Get a new scanner or find another solution. Being a basic cheapskate I came up with another solution. I loaded a minimalist version of XP on an old Dell Latitude laptop (at least a dozen years old and referenced here).

    A very long story short (too late!), I created an ersatz file and print server out of that machine by hooking up my (non-wireless) printer, my scanner, and a couple old hard drives for storage. Now, there's not a lot of horsepower under the hood. 800 Mhz, 256 Mb RAM, and I used my smallest hard drive (20 gig) for the OS install saving the larger ones for storage. Basically, the internal hard drive is the "partition" for the OS and the external drives are "partitions" for file storage and backup.

    XP install was pretty basic: installed everything through SP3 from disks, got IE8 installed, then got all 100-something updates from MS Update. Went back and "uninstalled" unneeded stuff -- games, Messenger, Outlook Express, and more. In the end I used only about 4 gigs of hard drive for OS. Installed drivers for PCMCIA wireless card (remember those?), scanner and printer. And that's where I'd like to leave it; a lean, mean servin' machine. Except for the following:

    1) Any more tweaks I can do to the OS? The idea is to not use the internal hard drive for anything more than the OS, drivers, temporary storage for scans, and anything related. Storage will be on external drives or new computer. Remember this is XP Home -- I know, not the best solution but I had it laying around...

    2) Anti-virus. I can't seem to find a small footprint anti-virus app anywhere. My favorite, Avira, quit working on XP back around December/January. I tried AVG and that was a disaster, the old girl was wheezing trying to run it. Anyone got a non-bloatware anti-virus they like?

    3) Related to 2. If nothing is available in anti-virus, will it be enough to just be behind my router's firewall (and Windows Firewall)? Other than getting MS updates I'm not going to be downloading anything with the old Dell, or even getting on the web. The only "traffic" will be printing, backing up files from new comp. to the external drives, and grabbing scans off of the Dell with my new computer over my "network". It is, however, "connected" 24/7.

    Another primary goal has been to keep my new laptop as cord-free as possible. The only cord I ever really want to plug in is the power cord to recharge the battery. Everything else -- printing, backups, file movements, etc. -- should be wireless. In other words, I want no suggestions on TB+ drives, online storage, etc. I already have a GoogleDrive account, and I don't need a TB worth of storage for what I have. This is all about using my old computer (and other existing hardware) as a "server" and get the most out of it.

    Lastly, this hasn't cost me a cent so far (other than a new computer) and I'd like to keep it that way. I already had all the hard drives, cards, cables, software, USB hub, adapters, etc. I'm not gonna buy more memory, I'm not gonna get some crazy server software (unless it's free ) and learn it. This is all personal use and a learning experience. I'm also not serving movies to my TV or anything like that. It's just internet and between computers/printer/etc.

    Thanks!
    Kevin
    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail...
    but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying,
    "Damn... that was fun!"

  2. #2
    Thinkin' out loud again Builder's Avatar
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    Well, it's been almost 2 months since I posted that. Since no one offered any suggestions I'll give some preliminary answers to 2 & 3:

    There is no anti-virus that will run on that old machine. None. They all require way more resources than what's available on that computer.

    I've found that the answer to #3 is a qualified yes. Running "naked" behind those firewalls, no infections so far. As stated though, I am not actively going out on the web, downloading files, etc. with that old machine. The only downloads I'm getting are Windows Updates -- at least through April next year (EOL for Win XP) .

    Other than restarting to install Windows Updates that machine has been running 24/7 for almost 2 months with no problems. For the very little printing I do it has served (pun intended) very well. I've done a few scans and those have been performed with no problems -- scan to desktop with old machine, grab scan from old to new computer, edit as necessary, shazzam!

    The only issue so far, and there's no fix, is that the USB port serving the external drives on the old computer is USB 1.x, meaning that it is the choke point for any file transfers. Workaround is to start multi-gig transfers/backups before I go to bed and let them run overnight.

    Kevin
    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail...
    but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying,
    "Damn... that was fun!"

  3. #3
    Custom User Title tpoynton's Avatar
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    Thanks for sharing, I'm a cheapskate too!

    Does the laptop have a pcmcia port? I saw a usb 2.0 card for laptops on amazon for 6 bucks...add 19 bucks of other stuff for free shipping (I buy cat food). I know the goal is to spend nothing and have as few cords as possible...honestly, were it me, I'd do what you do and run overnight...but there may be a solution if you are willing to part with six bills.

  4. #4
    Thinkin' out loud again Builder's Avatar
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    Yeah, it's got the double PCMCIA card slots. One is currently occupied by the wireless card. I might just look into your suggestion. Some of those cards (maybe not for USB though) are double height. I have an ethernet/modem card that takes up both slots physically even though it only plugs into the lower one electronically.

    Thanks!
    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail...
    but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying,
    "Damn... that was fun!"

  5. #5
    Custom User Title tpoynton's Avatar
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    read the reviews, my quick look revealed mixed reactions and a concern about powering things. I'd hate to see the laptop go south shortly after such an investment

  6. #6
    Thinkin' out loud again Builder's Avatar
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    Just went and looked. There's an even better deal: a 2 port single height card for $4.50. Shipping $4.99. Heh.

    I wouldn't have any issues with power. Both external drives have their own power source. The scanner does get its power from USB, but I could leave it plugged into the original port.

    Ahh well, something to think about.

    Thanks again.
    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail...
    but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying,
    "Damn... that was fun!"

  7. #7
    Custom User Title tpoynton's Avatar
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    might be something you could scrounge up at a yard sale for a quarter...I'd definitely drop a quarter on one of those, but ten bucks? probably not...at 12 years old, something is bound to go soon I'm sorry to say!

  8. #8
    Thinkin' out loud again Builder's Avatar
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    Roger that! I know I'm living on borrowed time.

    Not much of a yard saler (sailor?). I tend to donate things more than buy. Scout Troop is having one next weekend and I'm giving them a truckload of high quality merchandise . Some of it is old computer stuff which was cutting edge back about 1996 -- a PCMCIA 16-bit stereo sound card with dongle, an external CDRW that connected through, wait for it ... the parallel port (!) and more. Stuff I spent serious cash on back in the day will be lucky to sell, much less sell for a quarter.
    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail...
    but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying,
    "Damn... that was fun!"

  9. #9
    Custom User Title tpoynton's Avatar
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    I just last year stopped using a printer with a parallel port! an old HP laserjet circa the late 90's that was a real workhorse, weighed about 50 pounds...but I think most people stopped using parallel ports to connect peripherals like drives before that . Nice to donate that stuff, hope the sale goes well for the troop!

  10. #10
    Thinkin' out loud again Builder's Avatar
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    Another update

    One of the issues I had trying to network WinXP and Win8 was that I could access XP from 8 but not vice versa. So I could send and retrieve files using Win8 but not using XP, if that makes any sense. Not really a big deal except that the old XP computer would forget shares sometimes on reboot. I'd have to go back and set them all back to where they were before booting. Annoying and time consuming.

    I found a solution. This is one of the coolest, slickest little programs I've run across in a long time. It just works. Install on every computer/device and swap files back and forth across your LAN. It automatically finds them, no config, no fiddling with IPs and permissions/shares, it's ready to go on install. You can even "text message" after a fashion between all those devices. Really simple, clean, drag and drop enabled UI.

    Versions are available for WinXP+, Mac, Linux (Ubuntu & Fedora), as well as apps for a number of smartphone platforms.

    And above all it's free!

    Dukto
    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail...
    but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying,
    "Damn... that was fun!"

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