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"In addition the refrigerant used R134 is far less effective than the now banned R 12 used in the older models. " Not so. R12 and R134a do have slightly different properties, and when R-134a is retrofitted into an older R12 system the performance will often (not always) suffer. Many older R12 systems (i.e. GM cars) will run identically on R-134a, except for taking a few minutes longer for the intial cool-down, because the systems were built with excess capacity.
But on other systems, the conversion is no good simply because using R-134a in an R12 system is about 5% less effective, and many systems (especially Japanese) just didn't have that much overhead to start with. Or, the conversion wasn't done right.
In a NEW system, built and designed for R-134a, you'll never know the difference. In an old system...there's no reason for the conversion, if you are dealing with someone competent to fix the leaks and recharge the system. R12 is still available, about $30/pound, and if your system is not leaking one fill should last over ten years.
On a 7-degree variation...if the alternative is changing from an analog thermostat to a digital one...digital electronics just don't last as long in appliances. Yes they are more precise--but way more expensive and sadly less reliable. If you go digital, keep your analog one as a backup.
Putting a small fan in the ice box may be all you need to even out the temperature in it. There are little ones that run off a D-cell for long periods, or off 12VDC consuming very little power. Or, cleaning and rebuilding the analog thermostat that's in there now.