Dell Latitude CPi A-Series

Got this laptop from my favorite flea market dealer. The condition it came in wasn't the worst, but it is pretty beaten up, with a large crack in the bottom right and lots of scratches on the cover. The RAM cover was installed backwards, the plastic placeholders for the PC Card slots are missing, and 4 of the keys are detached, with 2 missing. As usual, the charger didn't come included.

Latest update

Cleaned the laptop up some more, dusted off and wiped the back panel after detaching it and also got Firefox running on the thing.

Processor Intel Pentium II-366
System Memory (RAM) 2 x 64MB Mitsubishi SODIMM SDRAM 66MHz
Video Memory 2.5 MB
Case subject
Drivers Browse
Manual Browse
Current OS Windows 2000 SP4
Case study

I was feeling a bit blue on that saturday, so i decided to skip class in favor of some impulse shopping. I went to the flea market and visited my favorite stall, where the shopkeeper presented me with this specimen. Its a Dell Latitude CPi A-Series, in a pretty meh condition. There are quite a few scratches and it has a solid gash in the bottom right corner on the inside of the case, though i have fears it may have snapped while i was taking it home, since i may have dinged it on the sidewalk because the bag was too big, although it has no visible damages where it was hit. The laptop itself uses some weird square charger that i have only seen once and that i did not have an adapter to, so i also purchased a little addon for the universal charger from the guy. However, i didn't notice it was not suitable for mine, and i had to wait until Monday to get the new charger i ordered, as i outlined in the update post a couple days ago.

With the laptop being home and having no way to turn it on, i had nothing to do besides small cosmetic touch ups, so i wiped it down throughly, since, like all the other laptops, it was covered in thick dark dust. I also took some placeholders that i had lying around from the other Latitude laptop and plugged them into the CardBus ports. The keyboard had 4 keys detached, so that was what i did next. The K key was simply a matter of reattaching it, but the V and the N keys were missing, and the F key had it's scizzor mechanism damaged, so i put the F key in place of the N key and left V as is. I've also gone through and checked out the I/O ports and noticed that it has no Ethernet port and no Floppy disk drive. That may be a problem. Upon turning the computer upside down, i noticed that it had no OS license sticker - it was peeled off, just like the badge near the keyboard. I already highly disliked whoever was using it before me. The cover for the RAM sticks was looking lifted, like it was supposed to be popped in place, but i thought i should take a look at it first, so naturally, i tried to pry it off, thinking it was soft plastic, like the monitor covers. Needless to say that was not the case, especially with the laptop being so dry. 2 of the 6 little legs fell off as i pried it open and then i realized it was supposed to be slided on, and the reason it wasnt flush was that whoever used it last put it on backwards. I swear. Luckily, it had 4 more legs so i slided it back on with no trouble. Both of the RAM slots were filled so i was feeling optimistic.

Fast forward to Monday, and i hurry over to the post office as soon as it opens, being excited to get my charger. I soon stopped being as excited because the charger i ordered had no voltage changer button. Oops. Way to go. Anyway, it was set at 19.5V, and the laptop's backside told me that it used a 20V supply and it should work, so it isn't as bad. As soon as i got home, i tried to put the adapter onto the universal charger and met another issue - the adapter did not want to fit on the charger port of the power supply. So, i recalled the wise words of one of my teachers, "you can either be smart, or you can be strong". Being neither, i still tried my best to make it fit, and used my knife to shave off a bit of plastic, and wish immense struggle it finally made contact. I plugged it into the laptop and the battery LED blinked. Halleluijah, its alive! It was certainly a nice suprise, since i was pretty convinced it was dead from my previous encounter with a Latitude laptop.

Next order of business was to boot to whatever OS was installed on it's hard disk and snoop around in search of personal files. Most of the used computers i bought have had various personal files, such as images and music lying around. You may say this sounds creepy, and i agree with you. But what i am usually looking for is some nostalgia. Old hard drives are like a time capsule, with photos and music dating back years if not decades and plus, its always fun to find some goofy pics that the previous owner took. Myself being that one annoying kid that took photos of everything and everyone back when i was younger i am always excited to know people as weird as me exist too. Anyway, i was sort of alarmed when i saw a start up screen of something that looked like a custom Windows XP image. Those are usually very ugly and slow. And needless to say, the computer did not boot. So i crashed it and rebooted with the "last known good configuration" option. This time, it got to the desktop and i got to witness the horror that this custom image was. Needless to say, i wasn't really surprised as themes that look like Windows 7 are fairly common in the CIS countries, but i was surprised that this laptop could handle it. Whoever had this laptop before me gave it quite the hard time. Even if it did look like the entire thing was one big Internet Explorer window whenever anything on the screen was updated. In hidnsight, i should have taken a few screenshots, but oh well.

Unfortunately, in terms of files, the most interesting thing i found was some ominous folder named Shrek 2, which i think was a game. I poked around, and after finding only custom icons for the theme i decided to start the process of installing a different OS onto the laptop. I did not want a Windows XP image on this, since i already have a Windows XP machine, and i also already have a Windows98 computer too. I originally wanted to do something with MSDOS and Windows 3.1, but since the laptop haven't had a floppy disk drive, i decided against something too old. My other option was some Linux distro. I also remembered that i had a Windows 2000 key sticker from the other Latitude laptop lying around. So, without much thinking, i went online, searching ISOs of Windows 2000. Of which i couldn't find anything that wasn't a pirated or a modded or a pre-activated copy. I may be misunderstanding something, but i couldn't find one that the key was for. I stopped my choice on a BootScripted ISO with multiple versions of Windows 2000 on it. After burning it to a CD i was excited to finally get to installing it, except there was an issue. The optical drive wasn't making much noise and the computer refused to see the disc, and only booted from the HDD despite the CD drive being selected in the boot options as the first.

This is what i have been fearing. If the optical drive is dead, how would i even install an OS onto the laptop? This BIOS looks too old to support booting from USBs (i didn't test it, i probably should). My other option was to get my other laptop, the Compaq, and to swap the HDDs so i could install something, since the Omnibook has its drive fit snugly under the keyboard, and i can't get to it without disassembling half the laptop. So onwards i went, reinstalling Windows XP at first to browse the files without the distraction of all the goofy addons just in case i missed anything, and then Windows 2000. Although, one thing i missed was that Windows 2000 auto detects some hardware and installs drivers for it automatically. Which will make sharing the hard drive impractical, not to mention Windows XP and 2000 get a BSOD on boot upon swapping the hard drive to another computer, probably due to an issue with the boot record or something (don't quote me on that). Also, while i was fiddling with the Compaq, i tried booting the Slackware version of Puppy Linux on it, from the other HDD i had laying around, and it worked, but it was pretty darn slow, with the mouse moving around laggily. I wonder if its the issue of the video adapter or RAM. Maybe both? I wasted a few hours doing the swapping, screwing and uncrewing the tray screws over and over and over and plugging and uplugging the little riser that came with the Latitude laptop (the other Latitude also had a weird HDD adapter), until i got bored. I thought i would give it a rest for the day, but then an idea dawned on me.

Somehow, i recalled watching an LGR (or maybe it was The 8-Bit Guy, i dont remember) video where he was fiddling with an old drive, and i also recalled just sliding the HDD tray out. It was stuck, and it was dry and crusty. What if the laser head in the CD tray is also stuck? With a bit of trouble i got the CD drive to open again (yes it was this crusty) and i tried moving the laser head. Usually, in a new, well oiled tray it would move around easily at a touch, but this one was so dry i couldn't move it at all. No wonder it didn't read CDs. I got a better grip and with a bit of effort i was able to get it unstuck, and finally, the computer was able to read the CD, but now it couldnt read all the files, which caused some weird .inf files to go "missing" on a non-rewritable media i just used to install the OS successfully on another laptop. Yeah, right. I wiped down the CD and the lens, despite the sticker telling me not to, and i also wiggled it around until it was moving more or less freely, and i was able to successfully start the installation of Windows 2000. Victory (I should have taken more pictures, darn it).

The installation was surprisingly hands-free and got done without a hitch, although the warning message telling you about the date and time issues is annoying. I have no idea where the CMOS battery for this particular model is housed, but i have my suspicions that it is not easy to reach. I will check up on that later. I also went around browsing for Windows 2000 drivers, but i didn't find any video adapter or sound drivers, only some utility programs and a BIOS firmware update, which i didn't want to get into. Pretty boring, i guess. Next thing was to get the Internet setup and connect to the World Wide Web. It isn't a particularly difficult task, except that this computer has no Ethernet port. Only something that looks like a very weirdly designed modem cable port. All i know is that the LAN cable doesn't fit in it. I was about to get upset, but i recalled that i have just bought a PC Card for wireless connection functionality. This computer has a whole 2 ports that i could plug it into. Jackpot. Luckily, the oldest OS that the software for the card could run on was Windows 2000. Probably one of the luckiest purchases i have ever made. I plugged it in, installed the software and soon enough i was connected to the Internet. I've installed Firefox 10.0.7 ESR on it, and it seems to run fine, i could even get to Neocities on it. I've heard that Discord also works.

Next order of business would be to explore the software itself and to see what runs on Windows 2000 and what doesn't. Also i want to do some cosmetic touch ups, and tighten the hinges. Currently, the monitor just falls when tilted sligtly and that is not how it should be. Unfortunately, i do not have the hammer to fix it today, but i hope to find a way in the near future. I have given the plastic a bit more cleaning, and removed the ugly localization stickers from the touchpad keys. I thought about migrating the badge stickers from the other Latitude, but the OS badge was almost completely destroyed, and i don't want to risk destroying the OS license sticker too. I wanted to also replace some of the keys on the keyboard from the other Latitude's keyboard, but they didn't fit, and the mechanism was different too.