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Technology Spring Cleaning

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If you’ve been working with computers and related technologies for more than a couple of years, chances are that you have a lot of no-longer-current equipment that’s taking up storage space. Or, if you still use it, might be causing problems or compatibility woes. With the cost of new computers and hardware near all-time lows and new operating systems such as Windows 7 demanding better hardware, now’s a good time to clean out the storage room and send your older hardware away. Hardware expert Mark Edward Soper helps you sort out what’s worth keeping, what you should discard, and helps you find ways to get rid of obsolete technology without throwing it into the trash.
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The Usual Suspects

When you decide it’s time to clean out the junk room and send old technology on its way, some items are no-brainers. Unless you have old systems that rely on these technologies, the only place these items should go is into a box marked “electronics recycling center.” Later in this article, I’ll tell you how to find one.

  • Expansion cards that no longer fit into your systems—ISA, VL-Bus, and EISA motherboards and the cards made for these motherboards have been obsolete for over a decade. More recent systems with AGP video cards have now been superseded by PCI-Express. See Figure 1. compares ISA, AGP, and PCI cards.
  • Figure xx-xx

    Figure 1 PCI cards are still in use in current systems, but ISA and AGP cards are now obsolete.

  • Parallel ports and cables—Parallel ports (aka LPT, Centronics or DB-25F) were used primarily for printers, but some old scanners and removable-media drives (remember the Iomega ZIP drive?) also connected to these ports. Their doom came when USB (universal serial bus) showed up. Parallel printer cables have a DB-25M connector to connect to the PC and a Centronics connector to connect to the printer (a few cables made for HP printers use a smaller version of the Centronics connector). Figure 2 illustrates parallel and other ports on the rear of a typical system.
  • Figure 2 Parallel, serial, and PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports on the rear of a typical desktop computer.

  • Serial ports and cables—Serial ports (aka COM and RS-232 ports) were once widely used for mice, plotters, and some printers, as well as external modems. Although the original IBM PC used a 25-pin serial port (DB25M), the nine-pin version shown in Figure 2 has been common for over two decades. Unless you use serial ports for data acquisition, battery backup interfacing, or modems, these ports are probably useless – and so are the serial cables you have lying around.
  • Dial-up modems rated for less than 56Kbps—If you have a DSL, cable, or other type of broadband connection, you probably don’t need any type of dial-up modem today unless you fax directly from your computer. But if you need dial-up modems, stick with 56Kbps (aka “56K,” “v.90” or “v.92”) models, and get rid of any 33.6Kbps (aka “33K”), 28.8Kbps, and slower modems that might be cluttering up your equipment closet.
  • SCSI cards, cables, and devices for desktops—A decade ago, SCSI was the king of high-speed, high-capacity storage and scanning, as it permitted several internal and/or external devices to be daisy-chained to a single interface. However, virtually everything that SCSI once did on desktop computers is now being done better, faster, and cheaper by USB 2.0 and FireWire (aka IEEE-1394). You probably paid a mint for external SCSI cables and devices, but if you don’t use SCSI anymore, it’s time to send them away.
  • Most keyboards and mice with PS/2 ports—Although some computers still include round 6-pin PS/2 ports for mice and keyboards, these ports are on borrowed time. If you have 101-key PS/2 keyboards (these lack the Windows and Menu keys) or PS/2 mice that lack scroll wheels, it’s time to let go.
  • Excess RJ-11 telephone cables—Every time you or your organization buys a telephone, fax machine, or all-in-one unit with fax capabilities, you become the proud owner of yet another RJ-11 telephone cable. If you don’t replace existing phone cables unless they’re damaged or deteriorated, you probably have a bunch of these cables taking up space. Keep a couple for spares, and ditch the rest after replacing any of your installed cables that have broken plastic retaining clips or cracked surfaces.
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