In Search of the Worst PCs in America (We Found Them)

These PCs will not win a beauty contest anytime soon, but they did win a "Worst PCs in America" contest.

Worst PCs in America

Some PCs are born crummy. Some achieve crumminess. And some have crumminess thrust upon them. Those are my conclusions after judging our Worst PC in America contest, in which we asked you to tell us about really rotten personal computers–with the lure of a snazzy HP Envy 13 laptop to be awarded to the most outstandingly awful entry. Herewith, some lowlights, including both once-decent machines that have fallen upon hard times and some systems that were kind of terrible and/or just plain odd from the get go.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall

Yes, the worst PC in America is a Mac–the one belonging to Reynaldo Rivera, who won our contest and will be receiving the HP Envy 13. In 2006, when it was new, this MacBook Pro was arguably one of the best PCs in America. Now it’s missing its screen (and some keys), its trackpad and Superdrive don’t work, it has a mouse that’s held together with duct tape–and best of all, its video display is a 13-inch standard-definition TV, which it’s connected to using a vintage Curtis Mathes VCR as an intermediary. Oh, and the machine failed altogether while Reynaldo was preparing his entry. Did I mention he’s being using a well-worn copy of Dante’s Inferno as a mousepad?

Another headless wonder

I’d never even seen one laptop sans screen, but two showed up for this competition. Derek Powell’s Asus is in marginally better condition than the prize-winning MacBook Pro; it sort of works, once it gets through running CHKDSK. In this photo, it almost looks like it’s meant to be used this way–like a very, very low-profile desktop computer with a built-in keyboard.

Prop me up

The hinges of James Thomas’s Averetec lapotop failed to do their job, but the screen hasn’t broken entirely off–yet. It’s hanging on for dear life, and still works. But James must lean the screen against a vertical service to keep it up (in this instance he appears to be using a handy crock pot box to do the job).

We didn’t start the fire

Richard Lange’s IBM desktop is a shell of its former self–literally. It was caught in a fire–of unspecified origin, not caused by the PC itself–and it looks like the warranty inexplicably didn’t cover the damage.

Tablet a la 1996

Once upon a time, the Fujitsu Stylistic 1000 was a useful (albeit weird) pen tablet . Today, it’s just weird–and owner Benford has made it weirder still by installing FreeDOS and OpenGEM . I especially like the wonderfully inapprorpriate, oversized Kensington serial trackball Benford has attached.

Haunted mansion

Tyler H’ s eMachines PC isn’t that lousy a machine compared to some of the entries, but I love the cobwebs collecting in its innards. Perfect for Halloween!

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Another nice touch with Tyler H’s eMachines desktop: It believes it to be early 1980, presumably due to a faulty CMOS backup battery. It won’t have to worry about the Y2K bug for another twenty years!

“Trash-80" may be too kind

“Ugly even for a TRS-80″ is a really insulting thing to say about a computer, but in the case of Alan Sisk’s TRS-80 Model 12 , it fits. The dual 8-inch floppies were obsolete technology even when the Model 12 was released in 1983; it originally had a white case, but Alan’s example appears to have been toasted to a golden brown.

Ugliness is more than skin deep

Ugliness is more than skin deepUntil fairly recently, Apple was the only computer company who seemed to give a damn what the inside of its PCs looked like. But Alan’s TRS-80 Model 12 has an eyesore of an interior even by the standards of quarter-century-old machines. I want to look away, but can’t.

Crate it up

Lindsay Young’s old OptiPlex has been transplanted into a wooden “case” that’s too small to hold the power supply or drive–Lindsay wanted to test the cooling effects of running a server “in the open.” At least technically speaking, it follows in the proud tradition of wooden PCs dating at least back to the Apple I .

Air supply

Ryan Hu’s ThinkPad has a busted fan, and therefore displays an error message rather than booting up. But the intrepid Mr. Hu discovered that he could jumpstart the machine by removing the keyboard and blasting the CPU with compressed air during the bootup process. He provided a video showing his technique in action .

Old yeller

Like many 1980s laptops, Micah Taylor’s Honeywell Bull SupersPort 286 was homely and ungainly even when it was new. Over the years, its case has aged to an unsightly yellow color–a striking hue even in this age of multicolored computers.

Paging Jackson Pollock

Turaj Pilehvar was installing Linux with his buddies when he got excited, jumped up, whacked his Compaq’s power cord and knocked the laptop onto the floor, then tripped over the cord and smacked the notebook’s display with his knee. The resulting damage to the LCD is…gorgeous.

Nothing to see here

Patrick Cody Yockey’s sister got mad and broke his Dell display. The piece of paper covering the damage helps the system preserve at least a few shreds of dignity.

Mac Me II

Jacob Suh’s 1987 Macintosh II won’t boot and has an old external CD-ROM drive that’s ginormous by today’s standards. But I’m including it among these worst PCs mostly because this first non-compact Mac ushered in a decade of Macs that tried mighty hard to be just as boring from an industrial design standpoint as the corporate PCs they competed with.


Randy Burrow’s PC, a refuge from a machine shop, is missing part of its case and has an interior that’s contaminated by metal shavings. But the black and white wires protruding from under its floppy drive provide its best “feature”–since it doesn’t have a working power button, you’ve got to touch them together to turn the system on.

Still useful, unfortunately

Evilfantasy’s old Dell OptiPlex GX1 is running Windows XP despite having a piddling 128MB of RAM, but he says he still uses it daily. (It also has dual optical drives, a sure sign a PC has been around the block a few times.) There’s something almost touching about a terrible old computer that’s still in service and refuses to die–and this hardworking OptiPlex has a lot of company out there.


Cody Pahr had a Packard Bell PC. That was bad. It wouldn’t boot. That was worse. So Cody and a pal did what many of us have wanted to do to a lousy PC: They hurled it from a rooftop, then smashed it to smithereens with a variety of scary tools. They also recorded the proceedings and turned them into a music video . It’s cathartic just watching them wallop it into submission.

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