I Turned My Old Computer into a Robot

In a couple months I’ll be moving across the country. As much as possible, everything needs to fit in my car. When I moved to my current location, everything that I needed did fit in the car.

But that was three years ago. And I’ve accumulated more stuff, so much so that everything cannot possibly fit in the car. About 2 and a half years ago, I bought a new desktop, an HP. My old desktop, a Dell Dimension 2400, has sat in my closet unused. As much as I loved that computer, it was time to part with it. I had so many memories with it, though, that I didn’t want to just throw it away.

So I turned it into a robot.

A boy and his computer

I bought this computer right before my freshman year of college, back in the summer of 2004. My dad and I researched computers extensively, and looked for one that met my needs.

And what were my needs? Just something to get me by for a year and a half. See, I was enrolled in architecture, and starting the fourth semester of the architecture program, all students were required to buy high-power laptops capable of running AutoCAD and all the other design programs. So we reasoned: buy something cheap now, because in 18 months I’ll be spending $2,500 on another computer.

I made it through three semesters of the architecture program, then changed my major. I never did buy that high-powered laptop. So my Dell computer, meant to be temporary, ended up lasting me through undergraduate, plus post-undergraduate, plus my master’s program, plus the beginning of my PhD program. I used that computer for approximately 8 years, far longer than I intended.

And I pushed that computer to its limits. I upgraded a few components, such as the RAM, but basically it was still the same computer as the day I opened the box.

Dell Dimension 2400 front and back

Front and back view. That little antenna on the back is the Netgear wireless card.

Dell Dimension 2400 sideview

Side view. Years ago I got a first generation iPod Shuffle and it came with a little Apple sticker. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I stuck it on my computer, hoping I’d infuriate Apple fanboys everywhere.

This computer and I went through a lot together. All of my schoolwork was conducted on it. And I wrote a massive amount of personal documents, including five or six novels (unpublished). This computer was my companion as I transformed from a boy into an adult. The expansion of my mind, heart, soul, and faith was facilitated by this computer. This computer was easily the possession most important to my development throughout the 2000s. Countless hours were spent in front of its screen and typing away at its keyboard.

The computer must go

Computers are funny artifacts. They get outdated so quickly, and within a few years, their value is next to nothing. Due to the rapid advance in computers, far superior models can be purchased for far cheaper prices every few years. So keeping a computer like my Dell Dimension around really doesn’t do me any good. Was I honestly ever going to use it again? It had Windows XP, which is no longer supported by Microsoft. All the software is out-of-date. And everything that I could do on this old computer I can still do on my new HP with Windows 7.

Now, I’m a connoisseur of old video games and find it worthwhile to keep and maintain old video game systems. But old video game systems don’t really go out of date. Sure, graphics improve on newer systems, but the old games still play just fine. And in many cases, old games aren’t available for newer systems. So I keep my old NES and SNES because they offer different gaming experiences than the N64 and PS2.

However, the functional difference between my Dell Dimension and my new HP are slight. The new computer is faster and runs better software, obviously. But I still use my computer primarily for Word, Excel, and the Internet. New computers runs these programs faster, but that’s about it. I still interface with these programs in essentially the same way as I did with my Dell Dimension. In other words, that Dell Dimension didn’t offer a unique experience; it wasn’t worth keeping.

But this computer was important to me, so I thought constructing a robotic figurine would be one way to remember it and easily transport it.

So let the deconstruction begin!

Dell Dimension inside

You can see quite a bit of dust inside. And it’s been cleaned several times throughout the years!

Seagate portable hard drive

My 5 GB Seagate portable hard drive. I bought it my freshman year for $150 and it served me for 9 years. I bought it when flash drives were just becoming popular, and at the time, it was way bigger than any flash drive.

Dell Dimension guts

All the guts of the Dell Dimension.

Once everything was taken apart, I began the task of sorting and imagining. How could all these parts fit together? What sort of robot could I make with them? These parts actually sat on my kitchen table for about a month as I tinkered with them.

Finally, I had an outline of my robot. The Seagate hard drive casing would make a torso, and the two RAM cards would make legs. Once I began putting the pieces together, though, I realized that the RAM legs wouldn’t work. The top ended up being too heavy, so I scrapped that idea and instead made a hovercraft robot.

Della parts laid out

Introducing Della, my robotic companion

Della, rising from the parts graveyard

Della, rising from the parts graveyard.

Here is Della, the completed robot. Let me explain how everything came together.

Della's face

Della’s head is a reader of some sort from the hard drive or CD drive. There’s actually a magnet inside holding the screw-eyes on. I found two little rings wrapped in copper wire (if anybody knows the names of these computer parts, please enlighten me in the comments). They look like little candies. But they also look like Princess Leia’s hair. I glued the rings to the side of her head, added some more copper wiring for hair, and that’s how Della, a female robot, was conceived.

Her neck is a piece of rubber. Initially her head was too heavy for the neck, but then I found a stiff spring in the computer that fit perfectly over the rubber piece. Now the head stands up straight and kind of bobbles around.

Della's shield

This is Della’s shield. I found this computer wheel somewhere and it was too cool not to use. The ring it sits in is also a magnet, so this isn’t even glued in place. I imagine that this shield generates an electrical force field to protect her.

Della's spellbook

Della’s spellbook is in her other hand. This is actually the guts of the Seagate portable hard drive. Della’s holding the spellbook high, either reading from it or conjuring a spell. I figured a textbook was the most fitting “weapon” for Della, considering my computer was primarily used for academic purposes. Her forearm is actually made from the computer’s power button.

Della's torso

Della’s torso, made from the Seagate casing. The feminine cut to the casing further reinforced Della’s gender. I found an even bigger copper ring in the computer, so I put that inside the casing to represent her internal power source.

The little shield on the front of the hovercraft portion was originally a Dell logo from the front of the computer. As a kid, my dad used to give us these Mr. Yuk stickers to play with. At some point I acquired some and put one on the computer. I figured the Mr. Yuk shield made a nice, threatening hood ornament for Della!

Della back view

The back view of Della. The hovercraft portion was made from a (very cheap) microphone I occasionally used. The base became the hover mechanism, and I turned the microphone around to act as the exhaust. Remember those RAM legs that I wasn’t able to work out? I really wanted to use the RAM, especially because I had a long two-month battle with Dell to upgrade my RAM and was never sent the right one until the end. I envision the RAM cards as the propulsion for the hovercraft.

Sideviews of Della

Finally, side views of Della so you can see the entire profile.

In the end, I’m very pleased with the memories my first computer gave me, and this robot figurine was the perfect way for me to commemorate the passing of that computer.

Computers are very important to our way of life and to our development. They facilitate our becoming and shouldn’t be discarded lightly just because they get a little slow in their old age.

~Dennis