Friday, 9:04 AM: My Linux server goes blooey without warning. This means my site is down, the sites of several people I serve for are down, the source control for the project I’m working on is down. It’s a catastrophe. Software Boy springs into action.

9:06 AM: Call hardware guru. Get phone machine.

9:12 AM: Trying to restart the box with the case open, I spot the problem: the CPU fan isn’t working. OK, could be worse.

9:42 AM: Back from Radio Shack with new CPU fan, out $22.95 plus tax for an item that costs about eight bucks on the Internet. Another buck for heat sink epoxy at my local computer repair joint.

9:47 AM: Following the instructions closely, I manage to remove the broken fan and install the new one, jabbing a screwdriver into the motherboard several times in the process.

10:06 AM: Miraculously, the fan starts. The box, however, does not.

10:06 AM to 10:32 AM: Try to start the box a few more times; dead screen. Sulk.

10:33 AM: Software Boy’s got the problem sussed: the fan must have been broken for a long time, and the processor itself finally overheated. New processor, problem solved.

10:39 AM: Back to shop, where I discuss the matter with the Chinese repair kid, who agrees that it’s probably the processor. He generously agrees to sell me a new one, but suggests I check the motherboard to make sure it’s compatible. Do I happen to know the make and model of my motherboard? I do not.

10:54 AM: Home to check motherboard. Back to shop with the model number. Now the Chinese kid can sell me a processor, which he does, for $62.95 plus tax.

11:03 to 11:18 AM: Attempt to pry the new CPU fan off the processor. Fail. Enlist girlfriend, who finally succeeds, breaking off the fan’s handle and stabbing the motherboard with a screwdriver another half a dozen times or so.

11:19 AM: Install new processor, reattach CPU fan, reboot computer. Black screen: black despair. Gather up the computer and take it back to the repair shop.

11:28 AM: Chinese kid opens up the machine and notes that I’ve put the CPU fan on backwards. “What’s the matter with you?” he asks. He plugs it in, gets the same dead screen. He charges me $25 to leave it at the shop so he can figure out what’s wrong with it.

1:50 PM: Phone call from Chinese kid. The processor is fine, he reports, but I need a new motherboard. Decide against asking him whether it’s good for motherboards to stab them with flat-head screwdrivers.

2:02 PM: Back to shop to pick up computer. “By the way, your case is terrible,” Chinese kid calls after me as I leave the shop.

2:12 PM: As it happens, I have a spare motherboard laying around (don’t ask). Debate whether to install it myself.

2:13 PM to 2:47 PM: Prolonged sulk. Decide to install motherboard, since things have been going so well so far.

2:48 PM: Begin to remove old motherboard. Find out Chinese kid has removed half of my RAM.

3:12 PM: Chinese kid phones to report that he’s removed half of my RAM.

3:45 PM: Finally manage to wrench old motherboard out of case and put in the new one, this time installing the CPU fan correctly. Now it’s just a matter of plugging everything back in.

3:47 PM: Attempt to decipher Japlish instruction manual for new motherboard. Note dire warnings that pins must be placed at the proper polarity or “YOU MAY DAMAGE YOUR MOTHERBOARD.” I have one connector with a blue and white wire, one with a red and black wire, one with a green and white wire, and one with a black and white wire. There are no further indications of polarity.

3:48 PM: Ask girlfriend which is positive and which is negative. She suggests I call shop.

3:50 PM: Call shop. Chinese kid, stifling a giggle, explains that white is always negative and red is always positive.

3:53 PM: Plug in connectors and start box. For the first time today, a live screen. The new processor is recognized, and the screen hangs.

4:02 PM: Back to shop. Chinese kid returns my missing RAM and suggests I unplug all cards and drives and “refresh the BIOS.” OK, that’s software. I can do that.

4:14 PM: I follow instructions and sure enough, I get to the BIOS. I refresh it, taking all the “fail-safe default” settings.

4:16 PM: I plug in the hard drive and restart. Box recognizes processor and memory, and dies. Call hardware guru. Get phone machine. Call secondary hardware guru. He suggests I enter my exact hard-drive settings into the BIOS instead of using auto-recognition. This sounds like a lot of aggravation. I decide to sulk for a while instead.

5:26 PM: Instead of changing the BIOS settings, I opt for the magical approach, powering down the machine and trying again. For the first time today, Linux boots up. I shut down, replace the sound and network cards, and reboot. Black screen.

5:42 PM: I realize that I’ve jarred the video card loose when I replaced the sound card. I redo all the cards, screwing them down this time, and try again. The box boots up, I get Internet, and I’m home free. Almost.

6:08 PM: I reassemble everything, leaving only three screws unused, close the case, and set the box back up in its usual place. After I’m done I realize I’ve forgotten to reconnect the floppy and CD drives. I reopen the box, reconnect the drives, and actually remember to test it this time before closing the box. It works.

6:17 PM: Server back in place, with new processor, new motherboard, and new CPU fan. Everything is running. For the moment.

Now wasn’t that easy?

Aaron Haspel | Posted May 3, 2003 @ 12:52 PM | Code,Navel-Gazing

9 Responses to “The Adventures of Software Boy in Hardware Land”

  1. 1 1. Felicity McCarthy

    Holy Cow! What a lot of sulking went on there!


  2. 2 2. acdouglas

    Instead of messing with the Chinese kid, you shoulda contacted me. I would have provided you the solution to your problem in less than 30 seconds, and it would have taken you no more than one minute to implement: Buy a new box.

    See how easy that would have been?

    🙂

    ACD


  3. 3 3. Aaron Haspel

    Felicity: I figure when I’m dealing with hardware any work::sulk ratio over 2::1 beats par.

    AC: I would have had to open up the new box and try to make my old hard drive work with it anyway. No way around cracking the case this time.


  4. 4 4. ndderek

    I suggest you get A+ certification. Once you get that you may not need the Chinese kid. Or perhaps combining it with your other talents you’d command a big enough buck to have a spare box ready.

    I just reminded myself of the the first joke I ever heard about repair techs. I salesman, a systems analyst and a repair tech are out driving together when they get a flat tire.

    The salesman says "Well, time for a new car."

    The systems analyst says "Maybe so for there is a deeper underlying problem. If we were to fill the tires with foam rubber…"

    The repair tech has heard enough so he grabs the spare tire and starts putting it on each wheel until he finds the one that’s flat.


  5. 5 5. acdouglas

    "AC: I would have had to open up the new box and try to make my old hard drive work with it anyway. No way around cracking the case this time."

    Just out of curiosity, Do you keep full backups of your HD? If you did, restoring the contents to a new, blank HD is pretty much a piece of cake if you’ve used a competent backup application.

    ACD


  6. 6 6. Aaron Haspel

    Nah, just the data, not the OS or applications, so restoring would be a nuisance. But you’re right, I probably should.


  7. 7 7. Floyd McWilliams

    "I suggest you get A+ certification."

    Sounds like Aaron will soon be certified. Just not in the way you intended. 🙂


  8. 8 8. alexis

    This story terrifies me so much, as I sit here looking at my own computer, that I think I’m going to start backing it up today. Well, maybe this week. Well, we’ll see…


  9. 9 9. AskBigZ

    can’t believe you didn’t resort to my services – am i not a hardware expert?

    i recall those golden days at eredyne when professor krypton and dr senior server architect were rebuilding boxes in an effortless and suave manner…


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