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This page was one of the first on our web site and has been periodically updated as time has gone on. We have decided to leave the earlier sections as it gives a fascinating history of how home computers have changed in power and peripherals over quite a short time. Whilst working we existed for many years with just two HP palmtops of our own to which we added a Dell Dimension XPS P120C computer in January 1996, a Toshiba Libretto 50CT Laptop in March 1998 (75 Mhz Pentium and 850 Mbyte disk) and a Dell Dimension XPS P700r in April 2000. Since then the basic principle of having two desktops and a laptop connected by a hardwired (and latter WiFi network) providing Broadband Internet access from all machines and mutual backup has remained although the machines have been progressively upgraded and replaced in a way that we waste as little as possible, for example we are still using our original monitors.

The Dell XPS 120c was the first machine to replaced and was superceeded for a period by a Tiny machine with a 200Mhz Pentium processor, Widows 98 SE which also had USB ports enabling us to use a USB broadband modem. This machine was a cast-off from a neigbour whose son needed more power for games and was one that I had already set up modems and video cards for and was new enough to have an ATX motherboard with USB 1.1 ports and an ATX power supply. This happily ran Windows 98 SE and had sufficient power to act as our Internet access machine with a Firewall and ICS software for broadband and kept us in business for an extra couple of years for the cost of an extra 64 Mbytes of RAM. It finally ground to a halt as virus checkers became slower to keep abreast of the latest threats and it finally became incapable of also running a firewall and a WiFi connection.

Fortuitously at the point when the Tiny had reached its end of life we were offered a Gigabyte Triton Motherboard with an AMD Athlon 2500+ processor and 256 Mbytes memory and we set about building our first machine from scratch. The motherboard specification was much as we would have chosen and almost the same power as the two Dell 2400 machines I had specified for a local firm. It had a built in video of more than adequate performance and on board network, USB 2.0, Audio, Serial and Parallel ports. I hoped to make use of the existing Tiny case but that used a cut down ATX form factor motherboard which was even smaller in one direction than the microATX form factor of the GigaByte motherboard. Cases however have come down so much in price that a Dabs (www.dabs.com) own brand case with a 400 watt power supply was only 21 pounds. It even had a front panel USB connector. It is however Chinese and very lightly constructed so next time i would spend more time specifying and purchasing a good case or reuse of of the earlier Dell cases which are first class for strength and access.

We did a trial using existing small floppy, hard drive, keyboard, monitor and mouse to make sure it would at least boot up in DOS, recognise a hard drive and run a bootable CD before purchasing a 80 gigabyte hard drive and a Sony CD writer. We wanted a system which could be booted to both Windows 98 SE for legacy hardware and applications and Windows XP for normal use and we firstly built a 98 SE system up which enabled us to check we had all the motherboard drivers and could check everything before investing in another copy of Windows XP. The building of systems and the searches for drivers will be covered fully in the Installing or Rebuilding Windows Systems page. It is sufficient to say that we have ended up with a machine which should be powerful enough to satisfy all our requirements for our prime machine for at least 2 years and probably considerably longer yet can still be booted up as a Legacy system to access our old software and hardware including our scanner.

The Gigabyte machine and the Dell XPS 700 now share the 19" monitor, mouse, keyboard, microphone and speakers via a Belkin 2-Port KVM Switch and the Gigabyte machine and the latest laptop are now both multiple boot to Ubuntu Linux which has largely replaced our use of Windows see Fun with Ubuntu Linux for more details. The following concentrates on the desktops and our experiences with the Libretto 50CT and its successors, a Toshiba Portege 3440CT and a Toshiba Satellite Pro L20, both still in use, are covered in more detail in the page on Mobile Computing and Ubuntu Linux on the Move.

Triton - Gigabyte Motherboard based machine

Triton Specification

Triton Internal PCI Cards

Dell XPS P700r

Dell XPS P700r Specification

Dell XPS P700r Internal Cards

Tiny 200

Tiny 200 Specification

Tiny Internal Cards

Dell XPS P120C

Dell XPS P120C Specification

Internal Cards

External Hardware


Preloaded Software

Email, Internet Access and Web site development Software

Original Rational for Specification and Choice of Dell XPS 120C

The original specification was derived from an assesment of what we needed a home computer to do which then led to the hardware and software specification. The following is an almost direct copy of the file off the HP95 where the requirements and specifications were worked on over Xmas 1995. The options looked at are in priority order and square brackets were low priorities.

User Requirement

Industry Standard Word Processor.

  1. Word
  2. Wordperfect
  3. AmiPro

Industry Standard Spread Sheet.

  1. Excel
  2. Lotus 123

Presentation Graphics

  1. Black and White Printed
  2. [Colour Vugraph]

File interchange with HP95

File interchange with HP200

FAX send

  1. From PC files
  2. [From documents (ie Scanned)]

FAX reception

  1. By arrangement ie when PC in use
  2. [Unattended (24 hour)]

Internet and Email Access

  1. From Within UK
  2. [Worldwide]


The prime criteria here was to have the power to run the big programmes such as Microsoft Office with a sensible response time. Both of us had used Word extensively at work, in my case on a Dell Optiplex 466 and this led to a specification that we should look for a basic increase of 3 times over a 486 66 MHz machine with 8 Mbytes of RAM using Windows 3.1. This required a:

Disk Capacity

Leads to Absolute Minimum of 500 MByte Drive Note in 2003 - the current 2 + 4 is still viable but the 850 on the Libretto is a very serious limitation with current software.

Virus Checking


Based on experience

Input/Output Devices

Future Expansion Bay, Slot or port requirements

  1. Backup (Internal Tape Streamer?)
  2. Sound Wave Table (ISA slot)
  3. TV etc (PCI slot)

The Selection

The System

A number of machines were looked at including those from Dell, Gateway, Dan, Evesham, Mesh and Tiny.

Dell won by being a good £200 below the price/performance curve of all other options - largely because of the preloaded software. Another factor was our previous good experiences as far as reliability of other Dell machines.

8Mbyte of RAM was ordered on the expectation prices would fall allowing an additional 16Mbytes to be added within 6 months. Current indications was that a progressive upgrade was cost effective

The Software

The Internet Service Provider

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Content revised: 13th November 2006
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