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      02.07.2010 17:20
      Very helpful


      • Reliability


      Still surprisingly usable, even after all these years

      Even though they haven't been in the PC system business for some years now, having sold that part of the company to Chinese outfit Lenovo way back in 2005, we old-timers still tend to think of IBM as representing the basic idea of what a PC should be. After all, the very phrase "Personal Computer" (in this context, at least) is their own and dates back not far short of three decades. Although I use a much more modern PC in my everyday computing, I still keep an IBM 300 PL as a backup, and despite its age it can still come in handy in an emergency. Actually, I fully expect it to survive several hundred years yet, to be retrieved and puzzled over by future archaeologists...

      The IBM is a pretty large machine; you'd never mistake it for one of the slimline PCs you see so often nowadays. Depending on your point of view, this gives it either a reassuring air of solidity and presence or a rather excessive bulk that takes up far too much desk space. I tend towards the first view, especially since its desktop format (as opposed to tower) means that you can place a monitor on top of it. Given the 300 PL's age, it's hardly surprising that it was designed to take a big heavy CRT unit, which means that there's little chance of breaking the case by accident. Actually, it feels as though it would be quite hard to break it on purpose either!

      Oddly, despite the big, roomy case - which is a bit of a pain to get open, but which once that's done is quite easy to work inside - this computer isn't quite as expandable as it might be. For example, though it has an AGP slot for a graphics card, it accepts only what are known as a "low profile" cards, which are about half the height of standard ones. This quite severely limits your choice of upgrades in this department, an important consideration given that the card fitted as standard was the pretty dire S3 Savage4. However, I managed to find a suitable version of the nVidia GeForce 2 without all that much fuss, and that's a very nice fit with this class of PC. You also get three PCI slots (the traditional sort, not PCI Express) for soundcards and the like, and (thankfully) two USB ports, though these are the older, slower v1.1 type.

      One thing that hasn't been upgraded since the computer was new (1999!) is the processor, an Intel Pentium III running at 533 MHz. This chip is in the Slot 1 format, which is more expensive to upgrade than the alternative socket-based P3 CPUs, but I believe that it is possible to install anything up to an 866 MHz unit on the provided motherboard as a like-for-like swap. It's fast enough to deal with a lightweight Linux distribution, and will also handle XP if you have a bit of patience. The RAM was originally a pretty mean 128 MB, and that I *have* changed, increasing it to 768 MB, which is quite adequate. There are only two memory slots, and the maximum installed RAM is 1 GB, so any version of Windows after XP might be a bit of a squeeze.

      As you would expect with a PC of this vintage, there is a floppy drive, which I like playing with for the purely childish reason that disks click into it with such a wonderful "thunk" noise. The optical disc on the 300 PL was originally a pretty basic CD-ROM, but I've upgraded that to a DVD drive. This was slightly tricky, though by no means impossible, because various strengthening metal struts inside the case get in the way when you're doing the changeover. As far as the hard disk is concerned, it originally came with a 20 GB unit, of IBM manufacture of course, and again that's straightforward but not entirely trivial to swap for another drive - though you'll need an IDE drive, remember, not the modern SATA type!

      Of course, the actual experience of using a PC depends a great deal on the software, and that isn't really relevant to this review beyond my previous mention about what might actually work. What is nice is the big round power button, the basic but reassuring startup sequence (complete with nice big blue "IBM" text logo) and, of course, being able to look at the thing's front panel and see the words "IBM Personal Computer" staring back at me. The old phrase "IBM clone" is hardly relevant any more, but it's rather satisfying to know that this isn't one. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the real thing. Over-engineered perhaps, but it can still do a job if your requirements are modest. They'll only be a few quid - plus substantial postage if you can't collect - but sadly there aren't many around now. Rather a loss, I feel.


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