Laptops

The little laptop that could

Read about how a Dell Latitude LS400 laptop played an active role in a TechRepublic member's network support duties in the days following Sept. 11, 2001. Tell us if you ever owned a system that holds a special place in your heart.

About 10 years ago, TechRepublic member Bob Eisenhardt (reisen55) borrowed a Dell Latitude LS400 laptop to help him with his off-site work for Aon Consulting Group. Bob set up the Dell as a split Windows and Novell server to act as a portable business unit when meeting with clients, saving him the trouble of establishing access to larger, permanent systems on these occasions.

Aon Consulting's offices were located on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center in New York City. On September 11, 2001, the entire world watched as their occupancy was unceremoniously terminated without warning. 175 employees of Aon lost their lives, including Stephen Poulos, who went back to retrieve some data tapes for Aon Risk division that had not been transported off site.

Backups for Aon's Consulting division had been taken off site on September 10, 2001, but no hardware existed to run the business. As Bob said, "When my servers fall 103 floors to the ground, that is a non-recoverable event."

Bob had left the little LS400 at home on that fateful day, so it played an active role during the recovery. Quoting Bob:

September 14, 2001. I travel to the Greenwich CT office for emergency support as Aon employees are now scattered to the four winds and I am one of the very very few WITH A LAPTOP, my little LS400 which did all kinds of emergency chores, a print server, email unit, Novell server.

Nobody could print so I swiped a Laserjet that was doing nothing, attached it direct and pointed everybody on whatever systems they did have with them as a shared printer, the least I could do under rush circumstances. Through the Novell server half, I was partly able to contact what remained of the NDS tree.

Several days later, reinforcements finally arrived...

Photo credit: Paul Paradiso

... and the long process of Ghosting new systems and reconstructing the network began.

Bob kept the little LS400, but after about three years, it succumbed to troubles with the display. Bob purchased a replacement, but the LS400 always held a special place in his heart.

A few weeks ago, Bob attached an external monitor and powered it on for old times' sake. It came up faithfully. So Bob hunted up another LS400 on eBay for $10, and combined parts from the two systems. Here are both systems (old faithful on the left -- the newer one on the right):

Photo credit: Bob Eisenhardt

Bob loaded XP Pro on the combined unit, along with everything he needs for remote desktop access to client systems. His little companion is back in the saddle. Bob is donating the remainder of the original unit to the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

As slow as the reconstructed LS400 is by 2011 standards, Bob swears by his "netbook on a dime." I'm sure his feelings for the unit run much deeper than its hardware specs would warrant.

Have you ever owned a system that served you so well that it seemed to have acquired a faithful personality all its own? I know I've had more than a few systems that seemed to suffer from personality disorders. Tell us your stories in the discussion.

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

26 comments
bgcr
bgcr

It make one hell of a difference to your life having a bit of kit you can rely on whatever its age or spec.

realvarezm
realvarezm

Everybody has had a laptop or pc that earn a name and respect if you want to put it that way. I still have my very first pc which i called Samantha (dont ask why) it has a lot of history, Of course nothing compared to the LS400 mentioned before. Cheers

fahdim
fahdim

Great companion. And great story.

reisen55
reisen55

Stephen Poulos worked for the Aon Risk Services division of Aon. The total casualty count for Aon in all divisions was 175 individuals. Aon Consulting lost 19 staffers, and we hold a candle rememberance ceremony every year to honor them. My own manager, Harvey Betan, was in South Carolina that fateful day.

reisen55
reisen55

Just performed like a champ on a drive to Atlanta. Yes it's tech specs are far below anything we call standard but for the price, and the size (I gave a huge Inspiron 1500 to my step-daughter down there, I hated carrying THAT monster around), it is a great little device. Just patience on startup but I could get internet, email, RDP my accounts and resolve issues. A perfect travel companion.

scott
scott

I have a couple. 1) Was a system just purchased and I needed to get the metal piece removed from the CD rom bay in order to slide my DVD drive in there. This case was not your typical case, it had a plastic shell around it so I had to reach in from the inside and up to the bay and get my hand in there to then begin working the metal piece back and forth, after a few minutes of being frustrated I put more effort into just ripping the metal piece off and sure enough it did, and my hand slipped and got a nice cut to the bone one of the metal edges in the case. After I fixed my finger and carefully set the computer up, during XP installation when the computer name came up, I choose "Ginsu". It felt fitting and I kept it with that until I upgraded to a different case. 2) No finger slicing in this one, but the computer is based on the motherboard and not the case. It was an Abit BP6. I bought the Celeron 300Mhz processors for the dual processor board, overclocked those bad boys to like 600Mhz plus and used Windows 2000 to take advantage of that other streaming processor. That system held strong for a few years as my main system. I eventually upgraded, probably to Ginsu, but I kept the system intact and occasionally I pulled it out to see if it worked. I moved across country this past summer and I had to part ways with it to save on space in my move but I swear it would still boot up and work right now if I still had it.

SerrJ215
SerrJ215

It was my college graduation gift, an Inspiron 5150 witch I named Speedy after the Green Arrow's sidekick (being a comic book geek). It was a great machine and it was my faithful sidekick. I started my business with it and it came everywhere with me. I didn't feel right without him not being slung over my shoulder. He lasted almost 6 years, before it died. What was remarkable was that the model was recalled a year after I got it and I didn???t know. Speedy ran and ran remarkably for 5 years beyond many of the others of his line. Towards the end, when he wouldn???t start anymore, I actually wanted to give it a burial. (I didn't I know how to recycle tech). I am a road warrior IT consultant, my equipment gets allot of heavy use and a bit abused but Speedy never blue screened, and left it all on the field as it were. Now I know allot of sentiment for a computer. But I give the things that matter to me names, In a way It give them a personally and well I think makes you unconsciously treat them with a bit more care and respect. I worked for a building remodeling company where I ended up working with a CNC machine. It was a computer controlled robotic cutter that could fabricate cabinet pieces. It was a temperamental, old, neglected piece of equipment. It wasn???t until I started calling it "Layla" after the Clapton song. (The only radio station that could be heard down there was classic rock) that the machine started to perform for me.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

When my Gigabyte Dual Slot 1 Board died. by that time it had all of 1 GIG of RAM and 2 X 500 P3 on it and I still insist that it was faster than the Core 2 Duo with 4 GIG of RAM that replaced it. It was certainly faster than the P4 3 GIG system that I used while I was waiting for time to build that new system. Some M'Boards are just so well designed that you want to keep them going forever. Unfortunately when the North Bridge died on that Gigabyte M'Board a GA6 BXDU it felt like the end of the world. I've had a lot of supposedly fast systems but nothing beat that old Dual Processor Server Board with Built in SCSI. Now I have a i7 unit which is still not as fast as that P3 but maybe I'll get eager and assemble a Dual Xeon Unit that I have here. That should be nice and fast if only I can find a suitable case. Col

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It was issued to me when I started this job in 2005. Already three years old and a refurb when I got it, that laptop still gives me faithful service running Ubuntu 9.10, with WinXP in VirtualBox when I need it. It's eaten a hard drive, the "[" key is broken, and the battery is on its last legs (20 minutes max life), but other than that, it's still going strong, with the only change to the original specs an additional 512MB RAM.

seanferd
seanferd

That's quite a laptop, and, obviously, quite a gentleman who used it to its full potential. Way to be, Bob Eisenhardt!

Slayer_
Slayer_

It was only a 200mhz, but I swear it kicked the crap out of GHZ machines. Stability was always awesome, Even for Windows 95, it would be on for days on end working hard. I frequently ran several games at once. It was common to fire up Sim City, and let it run while playing a game of mech warrior. Speaking of Mech Warrior, I used to laugh cause, online, I was facing 1ghz and 1.5 ghz machines already, and I would get into the level, passed the loading screens, often twice as fast as them. Even after it was so old that it was significantly passed its useful life, I installed web and FTP server software on it and ran it for another 4 years. It died in 2009, when my father turned on an air compressor, and it blew a breaker in the house, and that was the final blow for the aged power supply. RIP, 1997 - 2009. Some pictures... http://trevorsarchives.selfip.net/funpics/MoreImages/oldie/Full.jpg http://trevorsarchives.selfip.net/funpics/MoreImages/oldie/mon.jpg http://trevorsarchives.selfip.net/funpics/MoreImages/oldie/tower.jpg

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Few of us have had to deal with that level of disaster. It's no wonder that Bob has warm feelings for the lifeboat that got him through it.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I love it. I bet you had a regular chuckle whenever you thought about that name. When I worked in R&D for a software company, we used to name the systems after Greek gods. We set up two for the sales department: Hermes and Hades. Hermes is the god of commerce and thieves, so that seemed appropriate. For the other one, we just liked being able to tell the salesmen to go to Hades.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Of course we all have to name our systems if they're on a network, but I guess some of those names aren't as personable. For instance, I tend to use names of deities (Greek, Roman, or Sumerian). Some people use the name of the primary user, or something about the OS.

magic8ball
magic8ball

The old HP Vectra XU 6 200 I had. Dual Pentium 200s and a whopping 256mb ram. At the time that thing smoked almost any other pc I was using then. It had 2 SCSI drives and I added a 4x ide cd burner later. Ran NT workstation like a champ.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... do you type Ctrl+[ for ESC? I once used a very old terminal -- I forget the brand -- that didn't have an ESC key, and I had to use Ctrl+[ instead.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Bob has had some trouble using the new site, but I hope he'll be able to put in an appearance here.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

(not including a C64 and a DEC Rainbow) was in 1990: a 386DX-33 with 4MB RAM, a 160MB ESDI drive, a 14" monitor, and a Panasonic laser printer. I upgraded it piece by piece over the years, until by the time I retired it it contained no original parts -- not even the case. It ended life as a server, and I would have kept it except that its (third) motherboard died and it had an AT power supply.

seanferd
seanferd

and fire up my 486. I finally gave up on the beast when the PS/2 port died. I'll swear it was faster than several Pentium machines (OK, one was a Packard-Bell, so maybe that should not be counted).

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

When I tried to catch it, I changed its travel from vertical to a horizontal arc. It hit tip-first between the [ and ] keys, with the handle moving downward. I never did find the keycap.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The cam would have recorded its own demise!