TYPES OF COMPUTERS YOU CAN USE
In fact, ANY old computer that has a printer port, or an output port, can be used to control a homemade robot. The printer ports for many old computers allowed you to go to a store and buy a general purpose printer, and plug it in a standard 25 pin "printer port" connector. Some computers had special printers that ONLY that one computer could use, with special connectors. If an old computer has a special connector, then you must have the instruction manual in order to learn how to use it!
- Another consideration, is that the old computer must have a simple language that you can program with, in order to "talk" to the printer port. IBM "clones" all had the same type of connector, and can usually be programmed with QBASIC, BASIC, BASICA, GWBASIC, GBASIC, or some "BASIC" type of language that is designed for that machine. At the moment, this website will concentrate on the most common computers, all running variations of " D O S ". This is mostly Microsoft based, although, if you get early computers, you might find a UNIQUE, deliberately "different" version that is required, and only works on " that " specific model. For example, I have many EPSON clone computers that will only start if a specific FLOPPY from Epson is in the floppy drive when the computer starts - without this exact software, the computer will not start at all.. I have seen an interview on TV with Bill Gates stating that he does not mind people using old, obsolete DOS, particularly for charitable or free work, so this is not a big issue. For the moment, the dummest, easiest method to get old computers running quickly, is to use the native language (DOS-ish) since all video cards , even the extremely high end, new versions, all work in a BOOT up mode that enables the oldest DOS type screen to work for setting the BIOS. Thus, for simplicity, the native "dos " type of software that shipped with the computer is the easiest to find, and install. I am looking for a LINUX based, single disk, OLD version of software that will do the same thing- boot a computer, and run a few simple program step commands, but so far, cannot find an OLD, SIMPLE version - all the versions of FREE Linux, now require a huge harddrive, and huge memory with a new, top of the line, NEW computer with Huge resources!
- These 'IBM-type' Clones make up 90% of the computers that will be thrown out in the next hundred years, so this site will be concerned mainly about this type. If you have ANY old computer, you can use it to control robots, if it has a printer port or OUTPUT PORT, and documentation on how to access the port with ANY programming language, however, you must then figure out all the connections and programming on your own. There are still "old computer" groups with resources for Computer companies that have gone out of business years ago, and these groups may help you.
- As stated on other pages, I am now concentrating on LAPTOPS, which still exist in relatively high numbers, and on NEW computers ( new, meaning, VGA+, Colour, Pentium Class, modern ) since these are NOW being thrown out by the millions. They work, when run from a FLOPPY with DOS and BASIC programs on them, just like the old 8088, but faster and better. Kids actually like the features like colour and sound, since these allow more sophisticated basic programs and BASIC games.
<picture of typical laptop>
The laptop above, was thrown out in the garbage in a pile, with 6 other, working, perfectly good laptops. This is an IBM Thinkpad with 233 MHz CPU, 64 Meg of RAM, and a 6 Gig Drive. It needed a 110 Volt adapter, since the battery was very poor, but the adapters are now available for $10 anywhere. It shipped with Windows 95 installed, but can run with NO HARDDRIVE, - just the floppy is needed. This model also has a CD player. It is very typical of what might be found today as "trash". It is PERFECT as a tool for programming robots, since the Monitor, the Keyboard, and the Computer are all in one , small, easy to carry package. By connecting a simple circuit constructed on cardboard, using a few cheap electronic parts, a student could control a Robotic device, quickly, easily, and very inexpensively, since the laptop is "free".
<picture of typical "new" computer>
The computer shown above was thrown in the garbage. It is a CYRIX MII 233 CPU (not a typical "Intel" Pentium ) with RAM, Harddrive, and CD, perfectly working, with Ethernet LAN card, Sound card, USB, and all the typical PORTS needed. Other than cleaning, there was nothing else to do to get it running. As is, it runs the ROBO_BAS.bas "basic" program and controls any robot you wish. The motherboard is a cross - over type that runs on old RAM (72 pin) or newer ("SD" 168 pin) Ram, with either a new ATX power supply or the old AT type, and has a built in VGA Video card in the North Bridge chip. It is a perfect robot controller. I will be using computers like this in demonstrations as I build circuits and connect robots for this website, over the weeks ahead.
Personally, I am looking forward to working on some of the older, rare computers in amongst the hundreds that I have - such as the AMSTRAD "portable" powered by a bank of "D" batteries! Unfortunately, (as they say on Star Trek ) I have run out of " Space, the final frontier" and no where I live has room for a few hundred computers to set up.
I encourage kids to find old, thrown out, free, computers
which someone typically spent $3000 to $7000 for, when
originally purchased !! In fact, I have an original, "IBM"
Brand, Green Monitor and 286 Tower, in original "IBM"
Blue and White boxes, that someone threw out in a snowbank
in the frozen wasteland of Northern Ontario... The BILL of Sale
was carefully packed with the documentation for the "PC" as
well as the Software, all from "COMPUTERLAND". The
Bill total was just a few dollars (Canadian) under $7000.
The unit had a 5 1/4 Floppy drive that took up the height
and size of two of today's DVD units. And a HUGE 10
Megabyte harddrive... No mouse, no sound card, no CD,
No internet, No colour, -all for only $7000!!
The COMPAQ 924, BELOW, was thrown out in the rain
last week, here in Vancouver...
and looking on the web for reviews, I found an
article from MONEY, Dec 1st, 1994, which included these
suggestions: PICKING THE RIGHT COMPUTER
-you'll certainly want a capable machine with plenty of room for growth. On the PC side, that could be something like the Compaq Presario 924 (about $2,000). It has five ISA expansion slots, so you can add a CD-ROM drive or as yet-undeveloped extras in the future.
-Color printers such as the Hewlett- Packard DeskJet 560C ($550) or the Canon BJC600 ($580) cost only $200 more than comparable black-and-white printers.
-As for the network connection, A PC's networking gizmo-a card that you simply plug into a slot-generally costs less than $100
-you may want to spend $100 to $300 or more to add a faster modem-preferably one that runs at 14,400 bps.
-If that requires printing documents, think seriously of plunking down $400 or more for a black-and-white laser printer. For PCs, a good choice would be a Hewlett-Packard 4L ($620)
-First, add more memory. Eight megabytes is the minimum; 12 or 16 would be better (cost: about $50 per megabyte). Next, see if you can perk up the processor speed. Semiconductor maker Cyrix offers add-on chips that upgrade 386 machines to their 486 counterparts (prices start at about $250). And Intel's OverDrive processors can effectively double the internal speed of a 486 computer, transforming a 25-megahertz family sedan into a 50-megahertz race car for $200 and up.
-Finally, you must decide whether to pay $200 to $350 more for a computer equipped with a CD-ROM drive, sound card and stereo speakers.
-Finally, consider replacing your cramped hard drive. Thanks to tremendous oversupply, prices are the lowest ever; a 540-megabyte PC hard drive can be had for under $300, half the price of only two years ago. And massive one-gigabyte drives cost less than $800.
-Microsoft Works (Microsoft, $100)
-LapLink for Windows (Traveling Software, $100)
When I opened up the computer, the owner had done every single upgrade and MORE, so the cost, adjusting for Canadian currency and the SOFTWARE, would easily be $6000 to $7000 !
Why not give this magnificent machine to a kid, FREE, for ROBOTS?
Many younger people tend to think of "OLD" computers as " CHEAP" and "USELESS"
however, they do not realize that the Apollo space missions, and rockets, and Nuclear Reactors,
even the Transistors and Computer Chips that started " TODAY'S" computers, were
designed by Engineers, who all used those " Useless", "CHEAP", "old", computers...
HOW ABOUT A COMPUTER WITH 2 HARDDRIVES FOR ONLY $13,484.00 ?
Compare the price of the "cheap", "old" computer, with any computer today. Then add in the
price of the SOFTWARE, the Printers, the Networking, the Internet, The MONITOR, the
MOUSE, and dozens of " OPTIONAL" accessories, and you could buy a new CAR... for less!
The first CD burner I used was an EXTERNAL box with a special add-in Interface Card, for
only $4000 with optional memory upgrades, and the CD Blanks were over $30 each. "OLD" computer, and "CHEAP" do not belong in the same sentence!
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