While in the Gulf, Navy builds PCs on board

ABOARD THE USS CARL VINSON, Persian Gulf—Far below the flight deck of this 100,000-ton aircraft carrier plowing through the Persian Gulf, Petty Officer Sandy Kearns runs a desktop computer factory, building high-powered 300 MHz PCs from scratch.

Kearns, an electronics technician, said economics stands behind the decision to build, or in some cases rebuild, PCs. "I can save between $700 and $1,000 per PC" by building a PC from scratch compared with the cost of buying a new machine, Kearns said.

Kearns estimates that he can build a new PC—with a new case; a motherboard; an AMD K62 chip, which is roughly equivalent to a Pentium II; 32M of memory; and 3.2G hard drive—for about $650. Multiply that by the approximately 900 PCs that are hooked into the Carl Vinson's local-area network, and the savings mount, according to Lt. j.g. George Haw, the Vinson's information systems officer.

The Vinson's LAN, Haw said, is one of the largest afloat LANs in the Navy, hosting more than 4,000 e-mail accounts and a number of standard Navy parts and supplies systems designed to serve the ship and its embarked aircraft squadrons.

Haw said the Vinson has an ongoing PC purchase program to replace older PCs, such as 486 PCs, with Pentium technology. Kearns said the PC manufacturing operation is designed to inexpensively replace those PCs on the ship, reusing the old keyboards and monitors with the new PCs. He has already rebuilt about 40 computers.

Kearns said it does not take long for his team to manufacture PCs. Putting an empty minitower on a workbench, Kearns demonstrated where the parts would fit. "I can put one together in 20 minutes," he said. He added that it takes about three hours to load software and get the PC completely burned in.

The Vinson's "computer store," deep in the bowels of the ship, provides full one-stop shopping, Kearns said. Besides performing rebuilds and upgrades, the computer store offers hardware and software trouble-shooting and repair, cutting the time it takes to make a repair from three days to a matter of hours. "That's because the supply people consider us a store, and we have everything we need right here," Kearns said.

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