The Most Useful Tool in the Garage

Recently I was at friend's place going over a new to him KTM 200 that we were setting up for his wife. We were going over the usual stuff, setting up the suspension, making sure fasteners were tight, changing transmission oil etc.

It was then I noticed something that I take for granted in my workshop that was missing in my buddies well equipped garage; a garage computer. Every time we had to look up a torque spec or fluid volume, he would run back in the house, look it up on the Internet, and then run back to the garage to do the work. Now, this wasn’t a total waste of time since he occasionally also returned with a cold beverage when required, but it didn’t take me long to realize what a great tool having a computer in your garage can be.

Need to check the valve clearance on your bike? Lookup on the how-to video on YouTube and have the bike right next to you. Or, load up a PDF version of the shop manual, at your fingertips when and where you need it. Or build up your parts list as you work and order it all online.

So what is a good “garage” computer? Basically, it’s any computer that can get to connect to the Internet and you don’t mind getting dirty or even broken in the worst case. You can use an old desktop or tablet, but my garage computer is an ancient Toshiba laptop that I brought back from the dead. If you have an old laptop computer getting dusty on the shelf, it would make a great choice. Most laptops can be made usable again with a new battery, a new hard drive and maybe some more RAM. Go to eBay and look up an aftermarket battery, most can be had for around $30. Next on the list is a new hard drive, or more specific and new solid-state hard drive. You would be surprised at how much better that old computer will run with a new SSD, it really will bring it alive. Everything will load and run faster and your battery life will be better. You don’t really need much storage for your garage computer, so you can pick up a small SSD for around $50. If you don’t have over 4GB of RAM you might want to pump that up as well. You should be able to do that for another $50 if required. I upgraded the old Windows 7 that was on the Toshiba to Windows 10. This was a free upgrade at the time and runs surprisingly well on the older hardware. There was a problem with the old internal Wifi, but I turned it off, and bought a USB Wifi adapter for $20, and it works great. So for under $200, you can restore that old machine to something useful. 

 

The stickers make my old Toshiba laptop faster. Stickers are always good for a couple horsepower. I also sprayed it with Plasi Dip to offer some protection and give it a getto look.

But here is the conundrum. Do you put money into an old computer or so you simply buy a new one? Spending $200 might not be a ton of money to get a working laptop, but you can buy a new machine for just about the same money. A new Chromebook or even a simple Windows machine can be had for about same money. Cheap tablets can also be had for this price. Is throwing new money at old hardware a good choice? It depends. My old Toshiba was a decent and fairly expensive machine in its day. After I revived it, I have been literally abusing it and it is still working fantastic without a problem. Those old machines were built tough. So, if it was a good quality expensive computer, it is probably worth bring it back to life. 

Some may say, you don’t need a garage computer, you can do all that on your phone! Yes, you can, but there is no substitute for a large screen and a real keyboard. And, you don’t want to get your $800 iPhone dirty or smashed will its sitting on your workbench covered in bike parts and adjustable wrenches.

What else is this garage computer good for?

  • Watch videos: Youtube instructional, races or even NetFlix
  • Use it for music. Plug it into your garage stereo and use some streaming service. I use Jango.
  • Use it to connect to the ODBII connector on your car and do some diagnostics. The same can be done for bikes.
  • Use it to record a service log on whatever you are working on.
  • Buy parts or bling for your bike on eBay or AliExpress. Note: This can be detrimental to your credit card balance.

Use it as a foundation for your garage man-cave multimedia workshop. Add a cheap projector, a fridge and a cupboard for snacks and you won’t need to go in the house. My brother Dave, a real garage nut, actually installed a hidden functioning urinal in his garage. It was strategically in line with the beer fridge and the empty bottle storage.

So, yes if you spend any time wrenching in the workshop, a garage computer is mandatory and will soon prove to be the most useful tool in the garage. 

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