Thursday, September 25, 2008

Motherboard Upgrade from Hell

Recently my friend Walt and I found a deal at Geeks.com on a motherboard.  They had a deal on a refurbished Intel mobo with a 1.4 ghz Celeron. It also included 4 USB ports and on-board video and audio. Ready for the kicker? $39.99.

Now Walt has an old(er) IBM Aptiva 2174 with an Athlon running at 550 mhz.  And because Walt worked for IBM for a good number of years, talking him out of that Aptiva was, well, impossible.  I know. I've tried.  But the fact that this was almost 2.5x faster than the original Aptiva finally persuaded him to jump.

Enter the new mobo. After waiting for almost 10 days it finally arrived. So I backed up his user files for both Kubuntu and Windows 98SE (see my previous post) and started tearing down the Aptiva.  Unfortunately, I didn't think to take any pictures of the installation. Needless to say, both the old and new mobo's were ATX form-factor. 

In theory it was a simple matter of just removing all the cables and cards, moving the power supply out, and screwing in the new mobo. But as I've always said, "Everything works... in theory."  In practice, not so much.

First, the floppy drive had been having problems reading disks and was making a horrible noise when it tried.  It was OEM, so I figured it was just dead after 8 years.  So while I had the top off, I decided to pull it too, to be replaced later.

Long story short (too late), I couldn't get the new mobo to fire up.  Occasionally I could get an LED on the board to glow, but that was it.  Finally, I went and looked up the problem in the 'net and found out that vintage mobo's sometimes need to have a floppy drive and 1 mb of memory before they'll boot up.  So I put the drive back.  Nothing.  Then I tried putting Walt's original mobo back.  Still nothing.

OK, at this point I'm freaking, thinking, "DAMN!  I not only can't get this new board to work, but now I've fucked up his original board also!  Now what do I do?"  I gave up for a while at Walt's insistence and went to get some tacos.  Ate the tacos, still brooding.  What went wrong?

Finally, Walt asked what (at the time) seemed a lame question, "Are you sure it's plugged in good?"  Now my place has terrible outlets, often times the vacuum plug will just fall out of the wall socket, but the socket near the dining room table was (I thought) OK.  So I had, at this point, put the new mobo back in the Aptiva just before I gave up.  

Sure enough, the plug was loose.  I re-seated it after bending the prongs tighter and guess what?  Yep, the new board fired up perfectly.  Case closed.

The final thought here is this:  Even geeks like me need help from normal people sometimes.  My partner Pete always used to ask those sorts of "obvious" questions and often I would be dismissive.  But after a while I learned (after some of his silly questions turned out not to be so silly) to listen and take his ideas seriously.   In this case, Walt did the same thing.  And now he's enjoying a better computer because he asked a silly question.  Word.

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