What to do with 486 computer

Question: I recently upgraded to a new Pentium 133 MHz computer. I have tried very hard to sell my old 486SX 25 MHz machine but have had no takers. What am I going to do with this old pal? I wonder if I can connect my two computers together by some kind of hardware or software to make them work as one and result in a slightly more powerful machine than my new Pentium 133? —D.B.H.

Answer: Your question is one computer users ask frequently these days. Your 486 system is on the low end of the 486 PCs. It’s approaching boat-anchor status. It’s fine if you’re willing to use software that is as old as the computer is. Without major upgrades, though, running newer software on it will drive you a little nutty. You could consider upgrading the processor to a high-end 486 or a Pentium Overdrive chip.

You might also consider adding more RAM.

Setting up a home network might be fun, especially if you’re into head-to-head games, like Doom or Marathon. “If he feels adventurous, he could set up a two-system network very simply,” said Mathew Fiszer, a senior support advisor at CompuSmart in West Edmonton. “Both systems would be able to share their resources.”

All you’d need to accomplish this is two network cards and a network cable. CompuSmart sells a network starter kit from StarTech which includes two ISA network cards, 25 feet of coaxial network cable and comprehensive instructions on the setup for $99.95. “It gives you the ability to connect up to 30 computers or printers together,” said Fiszer. That method wouldn’t produce a more powerful computer, though. If you want symmetrical processing capability, which means hooking the two together to make one powerful computer that shares tasks between two processors, it can be done, but it enters into the domain of the computer hobbyist.

“It would take considerable electronic/computer engineering know-how,” explained Christopher Salvador, a tech whiz at Edmonton’s Vicom Multimedia. “There are actually devices that can fit into the respective ISA slots of the two computers, connected by a cable and when the proper software drivers are installed, they can facilitate a type of symmetrical processing.”

As you may expect, there are limitations to this scheme. “Unfortunately, to achieve this ‘hack’ both processors chips would have to be identical,” said Salvador. “It’s definitely in the realm of dedicated hobbyists and hackers.” Maybe your best solution is to be charitable. Take it down the street to a local church, school, or various boys and girls clubs around your city.

If there are charities or non-profit organizations out there that take donated computer equipment, e-mail me, I’d be happy to run a list in an upcoming column.