Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic
howeird

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Saved from Computer Hell

Yesterday after work I popped down to Fry's and bought a motherboard - a twin of the one which is being RMAed to ASUS. All they had left of that model were customer returns, which are always iffy, but my love for instant gratification won out. The sticker on the box indicated it had all its contents, and the board had passed a POST test.

They lied

At 8:30 pm I took my now well-fed body up to the computer room, looked at all the cables plugged into the back of the PC, and said to hell with labeling them, I know where they all go, as long as I just unplug them and leave them lying in place.

Put the PC on the work bench, removed the covers, and began surgery. I did label all the SATA data cables, since that was critical, but since I was going to transfer the drives directly to the new case, I didn't need to label them.

Even with planning this all out in advance, it took till 11:00 before the machine was rebuilt into the new case with the Fry's motherboard installed. The new case had some differences which took a while to figure out - like the lower drive bay only held 3 drives, not 4 as it said on the box. So drive 1 had to go into the same bay as the floppy drive, but that's fine because it gives better ventilation and heat sinking for the drives than the previous case. Also, this case has a fan mounted in the front of the lower drive bay, which pushes the drives into the case another inch, and that means the display card needs to be juggled into place after the drive bay is installed. It also puts the SATA data cables an inch closer to the motherboard connectors, so there is more slack, which is bad - they tend to pop out more easily. I don't know who designed the SATA data connectors, but the SUCK. They don't lock, and they are not tight enough to stay firmly in place if you happen to brush by one.

After all was in place, I connected the power, keyboard, mouse and video to the PC, and tried to fire it up. Nothing. Turns out I had the power button connector one pin away from where it needed to be.

One more time. The power LED comes up, I hear the hard drives spin up, but there is no beep from the speaker - not even a warning beep - and the display stays in standby mode. Cycling power on the monitor didn't help. Switching from digital to VGA didn't help. Putting in a different display card didn't help.

Panic.

This symptom usually means the CPU is dead. But the CPU just came out of a working machine - I sure hope I didn't kill it.

By now it's half past midnight, and I really need to get to bed.

Can't sleep - there must be something else I haven't tried. 1:30 am, I get out of bed, and try disconnecting everything except the video card. At the very least I should get a series of error beeps from the case speaker, and a video BIOS note on the screen.

Nada.

So I finally am convinced this is a bad motherboard, and go to bed. It's about 3 am.

Woke up half an hour before my alarm, take the motherboard out of the case, remove the CPU fan and then the CPU and RAM. I put the board in its box, then remember the CPU fan anchor plate is still stuck to the bottom of the motherboard. It took some work to get that off, because it is attached with a two-sided adhesive dot, and I have to be careful not to scratch the traces.

That done, I re-box the board.


It's Wednesday. At about 7 pm I want to be at a tav in Mountain View for the South Bay RPCV hang-out, so I leave work Right On Time, shoot over to Fry's, and get an exchange for the motherboard, drive to the tav, and nobody is there. WTF?

Never mind, I have a motherboard to install. This time I know the case geometry, and the only hard part is plugging the little jumpers from the case to the motherboard. Even the CPU fan installs in minutes. Turn it on, and it powers right up. So I plugged in all the connectors, an it all works just fine. The first thing I do is go to Yahoo Groups and look at the RPCV calendar. It says St Stevens Green in Mountain View. But then I look at the recent messages, and they say the hangout is at Tied House in San Jose. Sheesh.

This time I can get to bed with an unburdened mind, and when I wake up Thursday morning I remember that the whole reason for this exercise was the microphone port was bad on the original board. So I try out the mike, and it's the same almost-dead as the original motherboard.

It's the $%^&*() audio drivers and/or BIOS.

Friday after work. I want to catch at least some of Consonance, but they still don't have the program guide on their web site, so I don't know what I'd be missing. I decide to shoot for 9 pm, which is when filk concerts usually are in full swing.

I try uninstalling the new audio drivers and replacing them with the original ones. No change, except the mixer GUI is a lot better on the new drivers. I'm thinking maybe a better mike would work. I think I have good mikes in one of the spares boxes in the closet. Nope, not there. Try the storage room out on the patio. I have to take everything out of the storage room to get to those boxes. After I go through them all, I remember throwing out all my old audio stuff. I think about making a run to Radio Shack, then remember I have audio cards in the closet storage boxes, maybe that's a better idea. And going to Consonance is an even better idea.

Saturday morning. I sleep in till 10:30. Shower and dress, but before heading to Consonance I disabled the on-board audio and plugged in a Hercules audio card which is one of two that has optical output to be found in the spares bin. It has a +20dB mike booster, which works fine.

Saturday night, The surround sound test fails - it sounds the same on all the speakers no matter which speaker is highlighted, but then I remember this test is no good, since the optical output doesn't go through the mixer. I pop a Tata Young CD into the player (the Judy Garland one I was listening to is simple stereo) and hear what I want to from the 6 speakers.

After I'm done on LJ I'll record a voice letter to my aunt & uncle in NYC. Uncle Dave has serious eye problems, so I talk my email to them, instead of typing. I've sent his ophthalmologist instructions on how he can do the same for his patients. The technology is cheap and easy, and all you need is a simple mono 6kbps file to get telephone-quality sound.

The original board is still going back to ASUS on Monday, because it also intermittently refused to boot up all the way, but a bug report on their audio drivers will be added to the to-do list. 
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