The tale of Dac’s broken computer

It’s 2am Sunday morning, and somewhere in Canberra Dac is feverishly engaged in conflict with computer generated bad guys, aided by a friend, in the never-ending fun land of City of Heroes.

My on-line friend has just berated me because my logical choice of a pathway between one end of a huge zone (Independence Port) and the other end, involved some twisty turny antics — The VIP pass to Pocket-D club, a trip to Talos Island to sell enhancements that have dropped during the previous mission, at the appropriate stores, to maximise profit, then a trip on the tram from Talos to Brickstown, and zap across to the Independence Port tunnel way at the south end of IP. I was 30 seconds slower than him (he just went straight there), and he said that it was a was of time being complicated when I could have gone straight there too.

That puts me in a bit of a bad mood, because I hate being called ‘wrong’ when I wasn’t wrong at all — I maximised my influence (money in CoH) gain, and he just offloaded at a discount rate at the nearest shop (Magic origin, south of IP).

We get inside the instanced mission, and we’re fighting Circle of Thorns mages and other beasties. I’m hot and bothered, it’s 26C in the computer room, and 56C inside my computer case, where the fans haven’t been cleaned since last summer.

BANG go the headphones, the screen goes black, the computer whirrs down to silence.

But the room lights are still on, so it wasn’t a power failure. “Oh, perhaps it overheated and the motherboard protection circuit kicked in, like it did last week”. The power light on the case is still on (highly unusual).

I press the power button for four seconds, and nothing happens.

So I yank the power cord out of the power supply (it has no on/off switch), and then put it in again.

Press the power button on the front of the case — nothing. Oh oh.

Then the smell of the magic escaping smoke assaults my nostrils. Something BAD has happened.

2AM on a Sunday morning is not the best time to go problem solving, but I went partway down the track. I took the computer to the kitchen table, and did the sniff test — definitely some burned circuitry/electronics. The power supply has a strong smell, so I remove it, and the fan is all clogged up.

The original case-mounted fan is so gunked up it can’t spin. The graphics card fan is also full of dust, as well as the heatsink. The CPU heatsink is a fluffball, no wonder the CPU was overheating earlier in the week.

Take out the fans to be cleaned, dust off the motherboard which is full of dust. The clouds of dust get into my sinuses and set me on on a sneezing fit, and the after-effects of dust exposure are still hassling me on Tuesday, with puffy eyes, and a tendency towards allergic sneezing. Grr.

I deduce that without a power supply (I have no working spare) I’m toasted, retiring for a troubled night’s sleep.

Val has about 50,000,000 things planned for Sunday, so I plead ‘broken computer, trip to computer place to get new power supply?’, and she’s quite understanding — the closest place is AB&T computers in Phillip, who are closed on Sundays. Next stop is Dick Smith Powerhouse at Woden, and miraculously they stock Thermaltake 420watt ATX power supplies for a somewhat reasonable $99. Turns out to be quite a good power supply, with nine molex connectors, two SATA power connectors, a floppy disk power cable, and even a power-supply-fan-speed thingo to connect to the motherboard, so some monitoring program (Motherboard Monitor) can read the speed of the power supply fan.

Get it home, and proceed to dust out the fans and cards and stuff, which exacerbates the previous night’s allergic reaction — mucho washing of hands and face to try and alleviate the dust problem; doesn’t help that it’s 38C in the bathroom, and 36C outside. Fortunately the air-conditioners keep the rest of the house a nice 24-25C or so. It’s still damnably hot.

Val has chuffed off to one of her engagements (leaving only 49,999,998 or so other appointments to go for the day), and I’m alone to curse and swear at my computer.

Which I didn’t do!

The new power supply fitted perfectly (sometimes the holes for the screws don’t align with the case, y’know), and the connectors reached far enough (full tower computers have a real problem with ‘short power leads’ from the power supply). Everything looked fine, plugged it all in, and took it back to the computer room, eliding the ‘switch on smoke test’ in the kitchen, because that would mean unplugging the linux box monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Hook it up, power it on — I get a Power On Self Test screen, but then nothing happens. IDE detection just sits there, ominously silent.


Truck the computer back to the kitchen table/workbench. Trundle in the monitor, keyboard and mouse (in case). Hook it up and apply power — POST screen, but no drives.

Unplug power from two hard disks and try again

DVD reader and CD/RW were detected instantly.

Plug in one hard disk drive, and I get some spurious detection of an 8550MB drive (it’s supposed to be an 80GB drive, not an 8GB drive). Unplug that drive, and plug the other one in — POST screen sits there forever.

So my C: drive is suspect. Remove it from the case (have to take the other side of the computer case off to access screws, I hate that), and do the sniff test “PHEW” very stinky smelly burning electronics smell. This is one dead drive.

Well ok, I’ve lost my C: drive, at least my D: drive with The Game (City of Heroes, I mentioned that earlier) is still kind functional. But I don’t want to FORMAT D: drive to install Windows XP on it, so I need another hard drive.

The only one I can easily access is a 30GB drive we got in 2003 or so for Backup purposes — an experiment where we both got 30GB drives and had them mounted in a ‘removable rack’ in Val’s old computer. Her old computer died some time ago, and when we replaced it, we didn’t put back the removable case thing because it was just too much of a chore, was unreliable, and involved turning the system off and redetecting hard drives, adding things in Device Manager, rearranging drive letters, and generally a Big Pain In The Arse. My 30GB backup device was donated to our friend as a new system drive when his hard disk went the way of the dodo, so this one was still left around. Since then I had purchased a USB2 external drive, with a couple of 200GB drives, which we use for backup purposes.

However, since it’s Val’s 30GB drive, and she’s not home, I can’t be sure if I can zap it and make it into a C: drive, so I relax in front of TV and sleep for a long long while.

When Val gets home at 4, she leaves me asleep. At 6pm or so I wake up, she graciously donates the drive to allow me to get on my feet.

7:30 I’ve plugged in the new hard drive, connected it up, and moved the computer back to the computer room.

Dig out the Windows XP CD, and boot off that. It detects the ’28GB’ drive (don’t you just love drive manufacturers measuring storage in millions of bytes, and the computer reporting in powers-of-two ‘mebibytes’, so 30,000,000,000 bytes is 28Gebibytes, you get my drift I’m sure), but it’s a ‘dynamic’ disk (qv the entire bullshit about ‘removable’ drives in Windows XP systems). I blow it away, format it as NTFS and begin the tedious 45 minutes of installing Windows XP.

That goes swimmingly — eventually I’m up and running with ‘basic’ video, and no network. Dig through my collection of CD’s and find the motherboard driver CD, run the install, which fixes the on board network so Windows recognises it.

Set up the network to talk to the Linux box (which purrs along happily with no monitor, no keyboard, no mouse), and then I can download the video drivers from Nvidia (40Mbytes, a 5 minute download). Install the video drivers, and YAY, no more 60hz eye-hurting flicker. It’s starting to look like a computer I recognise. Now to find out what’s happening with the D: Drive.

“What D drive” say Windows. Device Manager shows nothing. I had noticed that the IDE detection was sometimes not noticing the Secondary Primary drive, othertimes reporting an 8550MB device.

Another reboot, and still no D: drive, it seems it was toasted to. Both 80GB drives gone the way of the Dodo. Oh well.

At least I had a full backup from just 6 weeks ago. My first full backup in a year I might add, so quite nice really.

Hook up the external IDE and recall that I had backed up ‘System State’ (all the Windows directory, hotfixes, service packs, and the registry), so I thought I’d restore that.

Bad idea.

Upon rebooting, the system struggled to load, but went into a Blue Screen of Death endless reboot. Oops.

“No problem”, sez I, I’ll just fix the operating system by reinstalling over the top of the current one.

That didn’t work out too well, ending up with a further endless-blue-screen-of-death reboot cycle.

Nope, I’d have to BLOW AWAY the entire thing, and start from scratch.

It was now 9:30pm and I was totally pissed off, so I retired to watch TV and grump about stupid fucking computers to myself.

A short digression:

I got my current computer in Feb 2003, and vowed that it would have to last until at least 2007 before I got a new one. Thats probably the longest period of time I’ve ever run a computer. In that time it has toasted one other (no name) power supply, and taken out the motherboard as well. My Nvidia 4600 ‘state of the art’ graphics card died, was replaced with an ATI card, which also died 2 weeks later since the fan stopped turning and it constantly overheated. A replacement card did EXACTLY the same thing. So I got a Nvidia 6600GT, and it has been working just fine. Even so, I’ve been looking at new systems over the years, the trend from AGP to PCI-E video cards was very swift, leaving us AGP owners out of the loop entirely. No big deal, spending $800 on a current video card, when you can get a more powerful one for about half the price in a year or so’s time, seems a bit daft even to a nerd like me.

I can’t justify a whole new computer at the moment, immediately pre-christmas, prices are somewhat inflated, and will immediately deflate early next year, so I’ll just put up with my aging system. Besides that, there isn’t anything that leaps out and say “this is a marvellous improvement”. Reading guides (such as the new system guide on Ars Technica) has shown the trend even over the past year to be quite wide in what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’. I’m worrying over Microsoft’s Vista, since it seems to have such a lot going for it, but is lacking in critical driver support. It needs some more time in the market before it’s going to be usable, that’s my professional opinion.

Back to my tale. Next day, 5:30am I get up and decide to have-at-it.

Boot up the Windows XP Pro CD, Blow away the existing hard disk, install from scratch. Load motherboard drivers. Re-establish network settings. re-download the video drivers, install those. Copy the SP2 from my external backup, plus about 10GBytes of ‘essential’ stuff (my 30GB system drive is -so- limiting when my two backup files are 60+Gbytes -each-). Install service pack 2. Install my Claw controller. Get everything running nicely, and it’s about 8:30am and I’ve rebooted the system at least SEVEN times.

Then it’s time to fire up City of Heroes updater and see if it recognises my copied files. Nope :(.

I let it start to download the 2.2Gbytes from NCSOFT, and then abort the process, copy the game files from my External HD to the ‘new’ location, fire up the updater — it dutifully checksums the 2.7Gbytes I have in the folder, and decides it needs to update some 260Mbytes — fair enough. An hour later it’s on 290Mb/260MB (that’s right, 30Mbytes MORE than it thought). At 12 midday its on 560Mbytes/260Mb, and is obviously going to download the entire 2GB of stuff anyway. Grr. Have some lunch, come back, and it’s done about 1GB, and still has lots to go. Fortunately Val suggest we go to see the latest James Bond flick (wow, I’d never seen -that- torture before!), and when I got home the update had done, and City of Heroes was accessible! Yay.

Then I had to configure my Claw controller with the myriad of binds I have set up (which were all gone), but effectively I was back up and running, some 12 hours after setting off on the journey. Sheesh.

So thats my tale.

Merry Christmas to one and all. 🙂


2 thoughts on “The tale of Dac’s broken computer

  1. josh

    I dunno Dac, with all your stuff blowing up it sounds like you could benefit from running against a UPS to smooth out your power supply.

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