I purchased a refurbished R32 IBM Thinkpad the summer before my senior year of undergraduate studies at BYU. I do not recommend going that route. I put the laptop through the paces for the first month, and then a week after the warranty finished it started to die. I tried various things, but two months later it was completely unusable and I had a $1000 paperweight.
Fast forward a few years. I decided to get a cheap laptop for web, email, and text editing on the move. I purchased a used T23 IBM Thinkpad. It seemed to be the best deal I could find on craigslist at the time. That laptop ended up being a workhorse, lasting me the rest of my graduate degree. When my new job provided me a new laptop, I passed this old on on to my sister-in-law.
Unfortunately, no laptop lives forever. The T23 died a few weeks ago. My sister-in-law brought it over to see if I could fix it. After taking it apart and mucking with things for an evening, I made sure it would not ever work again (it's a free service I provide). I kept the machine and yanked the hard drive.
I borrowed my parent's A20m IBM Thinkpad. They had to dig it out of the back of a closet where it had wallowed for a number of years. I switched out the hard drives and used an old version of Knoppix to move the data onto a USB stick and then onto my computer (which is backed up online using Carbonite). Data saved, but sister-in-law still down a computer.
I asked my parents and, since they were obviously not using the A20m, they agreed to let my sister-in-law have it. That was great, except that the A20m has a 700 MHz processor with only 128 MB of RAM. A service-pack bloated version of XP wasn't going to cut it, so I turned to Linux. Puppy Linux.
Unfortunately, Puppy Linux did not work out of the box. The first big problem was that it did not recognize the hard drive. I could not find it to mount or anything. Luckily, some googling revealed a couple (1, 2) discussion threads that addressed the problem. The solution I used was to halt the initial boot up from the CD and then run puppy acpi=force at the boot prompt. I then had to install and permanently setup the boot to do that.
The next problem is that the machine's ethernet port did not have a card attached to it. I had pulled off a "permanent" cover when trying to save the data. Why put a port in there to just cover it up and make it useless? Exactly. I did have a couple of PCMCIA cards available. I could not get the one my sister-in-law had previously been using, a Linksys PCMCIA WPC11 ver 3.0, to work. I believe that had to do with a firmware update I had done previously to support WEP. Luckily, my parents had a SpeedStream SS1021 which worked fine with the Puppy wizards.
Now I am just playing around with the package managers and trying to get most of the useful packages installed. It has been kind of a pain, but it looks like it is only a couple more hours work. I haven't installed Linux in years, so it was kind of fun to muck around with it.