Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Long Route to Fixing Up Free

I mentioned in a post last week that my computer died. I do now have a computer running again at home, but the lengths I went through to to make it happen, while spending as little as possible, are pretty amusing. Talk about stretching frugality to the limit!

A few years back I had a lovely iBook, which unfortunately died. Apparently there was a known defect with it (there might have even been a recall on the part that I didn't know about) and mine died about 8 months after the extended warranty that Apple provided for it ended. To fix it, it would have cost me between $400 - $500, which really wasn't worth it. If I had had that kind of money, it would have made sense to just save up for a new one instead, however, this was during the time of the whole marriage separation, and the last thing I had was extra cash laying around.

So, for the time being I was using my computer at work. I'd drive into the office on Sunday afternoon and check email and take care of all my online business. My boss, running into me one afternoon, took pity on my and offered me a "permanent loan" on an old PC he had laying around in a closet. I could use it as long and I wanted and when I was done, I was to give it back to him so he could donate it.

Well, on September 12th, it died. The hard drive had been going for quite awhile, but this time it locked up, shut itself off and would not turn on again. I knew it was probably heading down that road, since it had been making weird noises for awhile, so I hadn't kept anything valuable on it. Of course, naturally it died the same time my cell phone did, plunging me into a world with the inability to call or email anyone. However, I wasn't completely out of luck, as I had another computer standing by...

A good friend of mine, knowing I was using a dying, borrowed PC, offered me his old iMac. There was just one problem. It only had an internal cable modem, and I used the neighborhood wireless. So, I chatted with a buddy of mine in the tech team here at work about what I could do. He suggested a usb
wireless adapter antenna. There are a lot of them out there, and if I had a PC, they are pretty cheap. But since I had a Mac, I wanted one that said specifically that it was Mac compatible. After a lot of searching, comparing of prices and brands, I finally decided on one I found on NewEgg for about $50.

The night my phone died, I decided to try out my new antenna - and that is when I ran into a problem. It needed OS X, and I had OS 9. Sigh.... back to the drawing board.

The following Monday I went into the office and talked with my tech buddy again and asked him about getting a copy of OS X. (I was starting to wonder how much my "free" computer was going to cost me. ) Good news! My office (where we all use Apple computers) had a few copies of OS X.3 laying around - and I could have one - for free! Sweet! So that night I went home, downloaded the new software and the software needed for the antenna....

and it still didn't work. It seemed to me that the problem was the iMac itself. It's curvy plastic body, while looking cool, seemed to have a design flaw. The usb didn't connect very well. The next day, I went back to the tech team. By this time the whole team knew about my mission to get a computer running as inexpensively as possible. The tech director said he had had the same problem with the iMac and his son's iPod, and he dug through a box of pieces and parts and handed me an extension cable. It was maybe a foot long, and looked like it would do the trick... except, it didn't.

That night I went to the computer, excited to try it with the new cable... and to my vast frustration, the cable didn't fit. The male end plugged in nicely to my computer, but the female end had some kind of wacky bump on it. It wasn't a traditional usb fitting - even though at first glance it looked like one. I tried a few other usb ends into it - my keyboard and mouse - and nothing fit, including my antenna.

I admit, I did have a bit of amusement watching the director of technology go through the exact line of thought I did, when I handed it back to him the next morning. He too tried plugging a bunch of things into it and, for a moment, looked equally confused. He solved the mystery when he found out that the cable worked beautifully with some of the office keyboards. Apparently they have a special connection. The tech director wandered off into "tech land" (the back of the office where there are tons of dead and dying computers and computer parts) and emerged awhile later with a screaming bright aqua blue 15' cable usb extension, with standard ends. He gave it to me and said I could have it on "permanent loan." A lot more cable that I needed, but by borrowing it I could at least figure if the problem with the antenna really was that it wasn't plugging in properly. I still wasn't 100% sure this was the root of my problem.

I was right, it wasn't. The cable worked great and everything fit where it was supposed to, but the computer still didn't acknowledge the wireless. I tried my limited store of computer knowledge, then gave up. The next day I brought it into work.

My tech buddy had it on his desk for two days. He updated all the software and then found some drivers that could be downloaded for the antenna. I did still need the cable, that had been a problem, just not the only problem. He also put in a little extra memory he had taken out of his wife's computer when she upgraded. He found that the battery is pretty dead and the on/off switch is a bit wonky, but other than that - it lives! Taking it home, I held my breath plugging it in. I had my coworker's cell number in case there were problems, but I hoped it wouldn't come to that. Fortunately it didn't - I am now up and running and online!


Computer - FREE
Antenna - $50
Assorted parts and software - FREE
Tech advice - FREE
Box of gourmet chocolate chip cookies and chocolates for the tech department to thank them for all their help - $12

So, for $62 I have something I can limp along on. Would I like something else? Sure, but this will do just fine until I can get something else. A computer is low priority right now, but when I do buy one, I want to have all the money saved up and put away so I can just walk in and pay cash.

Photo by: Stephen Hackett
via flickr


me in millions said...

Wow! I think I would've given up waaay before you did. I'm glad you finally got everything to work!

Dawn said...

Me too! It works now and is great. Some sites don't like the fact I use Safari, but other than that, things are good.

Divorced Lifestyle said...

That's awesome. When my desktop died, I just took money out of my "bedroom furniture" fund and bought a new laptop. Not very frugal, but soooo worth having a computer that no longer takes 30 minutes to boot up....

Catie said...

Hahahahaha! That is so 'you'. I mean the new you. Good thing your tech guys like you!

Dawn said...

Divorced Lifestyle - I don't have a "furniture" budget at this time, though I might make one in the future once things settle down. I have a few things I would really like to get - like a new bed.

Catie - I know, right? I was on a mission! I was going to make that computer work... or else!

Dawn said...

Catie - by the way, the tech guys do like me, but liberal amounts of chocolate also go a long way. :)

Frugalchick said...

Reading that story, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry! But I'm glad you're finally up and running, and that you accimplished it pretty inexpensively.

SS4BC said...

Wow this is a lot of effort! Great work. I'm glad you got a computer that works for a cheap price. =)

Stephen @ Financial Services said...

You are pretty lucky to have a friend like that. Frugality in action.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Good for you, for not running out and buying a replacement!! :)

Glad you're back up and running!