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The Hot Wheels PC was bad, but watching a restored model run in 2016 is great

The Hot Wheels PC was bad, but watching a restored model run in 2016 is great

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By all accounts, the Patriot Hot Wheels Computer was a poorly executed idea. Released alongside the virtually identical Barbie Computer (the two were respectively "Designed specially for Boys [sic]" and "Designed specially for Girls") in the fall of 1999, it sold for $599 and came bundled with various games and educational software, plus a plastic steering wheel peripheral. "I don't think they're going to take the industry by storm," explained analyst Schelley Olhava to CNET that year. "But there is probably a niche audience who would be interested in this for their kids."

The computer went on to fail even these modest expectations by shipping with a faulty power supply that affected roughly half the first batch of sales; a number of parents who ordered them as Christmas presents ended up with a "free gift package" containing a toy and gift certificate instead. A year later, Patriot Computer filed for bankruptcy with 3,100 PC orders undelivered, leaving buyers with a $100 gift certificate from Mattel by way of apology. If you'd like to feel even worse, check out the complaint in Maximum PC from a family that supposedly spent $1,800 on a glitchy fully upgraded version for their 7-year-old son.

But sometime during that tumultuous period, Patriot manufactured the computer that was eventually purchased by Clint Basinger of YouTube gaming channel Lazy Game Reviews. Basinger lovingly restored the machine, replacing its fans, CPU cooler, RAM, and other parts — even a malfunctioning left mouse button. It turns out that the Hot Wheels PC still isn't very good, although it can apparently run Doom II and a sadly soundless version of Commander Keen. Neither is the steering wheel and pedal setup, which makes playing the 2000 game Hot Wheels: Stunt Track Driver 2: Get'n Dirty "exponentially more difficult than playing with a keyboard."

"It's an interesting little piece of history that, uh — it sucks," says Basinger. "But it's something that [is], I think, worth repairing and looking into." He's talking about the computer, but it's also an excellent guiding principle for life. We must render the past's failures powerless by laying them bare, take what pleasure we can from its successes, and share the process with anyone who will listen. We should also try that Hot Wheels paint job on another, better computer, because it's frankly awesome.