Another reason to love broadband at home

The power went out at our house about 11:30pm last night; it was still out when I left for work this morning, and PG&E wasn’t making any promises about when it might be restored. I called them a few times during the day and their automated system had no information for me — so I started a ping going to my DSL router, and a few minutes ago, it started responding, letting me know that power has been restored. Now to find out if the food in the freezer and refrigerator is still good….I guess I have to wait until I get home to do that, though, since I don’t have an Internet-enabled refrigerator!

Two steps forward, two steps back

It’s Jeffrey’s fault. He’s a big Star Trek fan, and enjoys playing Star Trek games on the computer. Star Trek Starfleet Command III was released just before Chanukkah, and he wanted it — but his three-year-old computer didn’t meet the hardware requirements.

So I thought about upgrading his computer. I tried to get away cheaply with more memory and a processor upgrade; a local shop, Surplus Computers, sells trailing-edge components at reasonable prices. The slowest CPU they had was a 1.1GHz Celeron, and according to the website for Jeffrey’s motherboard, it should have worked. But it didn’t — so I went back and bought a new Slot 1 to Socket 370 converter. Still no dice; I looked around more carefully and discovered that his motherboard only supported Celerons with 128KB caches, and I’d bought one with a 256KB cache (and the other variety was no longer available). But there was a vendor who sold a special converter which would support the new processor, and I thought about buying it — but then I went on my trip to the land of snow and had other problems to deal with.

It’s my brother’s fault. He called me last week to ask what Jeffrey wanted for Chanukkah, and I told him Star Trek Starfleet Command III, thinking I’d be able to manage the upgrade. So a box showed up on Saturday containing the game, and I was clearly committed to doing an upgrade soon.

I looked harder at the option of buying the new converter, and decided it would be a mistake — I’d have to piggyback it on my existing Slot 1 converter, and I didn’t know if that would work. So I decided to get a new motherboard which would support a faster processor.

You can’t buy motherboards which take Socket 370 CPUs anymore, at least not at Fry’s, Central Computers, or PixelUSA. And the motherboards at Surplus Computers seemed to predate the CPU I’d bought, so I didn’t want to go that way, either (especially since they have a “no refund” policy). But Fry’s was selling a 1.7GHz Celeron with a brand new motherboard for only $90, so I decided to go that way and write off the CPU I’d already bought.

Of course, the Celeron in the package was a bare CPU, so I also had to buy a fan, bringing the damages up to $102 plus tax, but that still didn’t seem too bad — and the guy at Fry’s assured me that it would be easy to install. I’d never replaced the motherboard in any of my machines — I’d done everything else, even upgrading the CPU in the days of the 8088 and the V20 — but I was willing to give it a try.

So Saturday evening, I backed up some critical data from Jeffrey’s machine and started unbuilding it. That was easy; putting in the new motherboard was easy (though I found that the case didn’t have an opening for the built-in networking on the board). Installing the CPU was a little harder, mostly because the directions didn’t tell me I had to install the retention mechanism on the bottom of the board until after I’d already fastened the board down — but that only cost me a few minutes. And adding the fan and heatsink was easy.

Then I powered it up, and…nothing. No beep, no video, no nothing.

I unassembled the fan from the CPU and made sure that the CPU was properly in the socket; it was. Still nothing.

So I took out everything but the video card, the CPU, and one stick of memory — nothing.

By this time, it was late in the evening and I decided to sleep on the problem.

Sunday, I went to the web for advice. A quick Google on “no beeps” suggested taking the video card out, too, and seeing what happened. So I did, and nothing happened.

I wondered if I’d broken the speaker somehow, so I put the old motherboard back in — and the computer beeped, the video worked, and generally everything behaved perfectly.

A couple of more attempts got me no farther. So I drove back to Fry’s and exercised their return policy, which worked perfectly. The guy at the return counter thought that I might just have too small a power supply (250 watt), but I decided that I didn’t want to take the chance of running over the return period while experimenting and got my money back, instead.

Then I put Jeffrey’s machine back together the way it was and declared victory. Besides, his three-year-old video card probably wouldn’t have been up to the task anyway.

I guess we’ve got some shopping ahead of us. Hmmm…I wonder if I should just give him my one-year-old machine and get something good for myself?