Lab Leftovers: Speed-Testing an 11-Year-Old PC
Here in the PCWorld Labs we're constantly receiving new products for testing. While we do our best to return every review unit to its rightful owner, we inevitably end every year with an oddball assortment of leftover tech gathering dust in our warehouse. These leftovers are carefully catalogued and cached (read: piled in a closet), only to be unearthed every few years for fun and profit during an impulsive spat of spring cleaning.
Most of this stuff gets recycled, but occasionally we like to boot up a particularly amusing ancient relic to reformat, reminisce, and remind ourselves that dedicated tech enthusiasts can find uses for a beloved hunk of junk long after most consumers would have thrown it in the dump.
The PC That Time Forgot!
It's hard to determine exactly when or where this bad boy came from; our best experts have been able to backdate the unit to January of 1999, when it may have been delivered as part of a budget machine roundup for the April 1999 issue of PCWorld.
After carefully wiping away the dust and grime of time to expose a set of vintage MFPC serial numbers, we did what any sane optimization-obsessed tester would do: we set this one-of-a-kind "My Favorite PC" up for a few rounds of hardcore performance testing.
This is where the adventure begins. First we had to install the latest version of our WorldBench 6 testing software, which meant replacing the default Windows 98 with a fresh install of Windows 7 Starter Edition. Reformatting proved to be just the first step down this retro rabbit hole; to get Windows 7 operational, we had to toss out the factory-installed 32MB of 133 SDRAM and slot in a pair of 256MB SDRAM sticks we dug out of an old supply closet.
The old 512MB hard drive was junked in favor of a (comparatively) massive new 160GB hard drive capable of bearing a bare-bones Win7 install and a copy of our benchmarking software. Finally, with the end in sight we hooked up the 100-watt power supply and booted into Windows with a BIOS update and a prayer.
Once we got WorldBench 6 up and running, the machine failed 7 of the 10 consumer app tests right from the start. Without a full-sized motherboard, we couldn't even install a 3D graphics card (no PCI or AGP slots), and were forced to rely on an integrated graphics chipset installed during the Clinton administration as the machine limped through our Adobe Photoshop and video encoding tests. Here's a quick link to a screencap of our results:
For reference, the average budget desktop scores around the 100-point mark in WorldBench 6. My Favorite PC scored a 5, and even earning that 5 was a grueling process as the 400MHz processor spent days chugging through Firefox and Microsoft Office tests that normally take 6-8 hours on a post-Y2K budget PC. For comparison purposes, here's the same test results from the recently-reviewed Viewsonic VPC 190, a budget all-in-one PC marketed to call centers and local libraries:
So what have we learned from our upgrade experiment?
- Stay out of the PCWorld Labs warehouse at all costs.
- Windows 7 runs exceptionally well on an old machine, an impressive feat given the system hog that was Vista.
- With a little love, even a decade-old PC can be useful as a dedicated Internet machine for a small business or tech-phobic family member.