As mentioned on Twitter, I’ve had some computer trouble lately. And it now looks like not only my original boot drive is dead (gone from stalling to jamming up a different machine in POST), but my motherboard too (since it’s started acting the same with the new HD already!).
Current theories; SATA controller gone bad on one channel & damaged drive irreprably, or possibly (untested) PSU is failing & damaging random parts. Other drives are mercifully ok so far, as is replacement main disk now it’s in another machine. Still, keeping an eye on it.

I’ve spent a fair bit of today rebuilding the machine I had reserved for CNC use into a new workshop PC. I’m not going to bring it indoors because I want to feel like I’ve *gained* something in all this shit, rather than lost & partially clawed back. What I’ll gain is basically the ability to record from a webcam in the workshop. Not much of a thing, but it’s something that will be handy for my visible presence.

I will test the PSU indoors to see if it’s noticibly acting up, but I’m keeping my master storage drives disconnected from things until I have something I know’s stable or have a different backup arrangement.

Don’t chide me for keeping the wrong type or frequency of backups. I know I cocked up the last manual set I tried, and the reason it took a week from drive failure to installing a new one is because I was DAMN careful working out how to make my data innately more secure this time. Before my hardware let me down and threw the whole lot back into the skip of chaos where I have so much experience clawing my way along already.

Current plan is to grab the essential files off the drives, get things working again, back them up, then copy less essential files and do a staged set of tidying up.

Only small issue is there’s no printer down here. Old workshop machine may go indoors to be used just for printing receipts & stuff.

Things will be resolved when I can afford to replace the guts of the indoor machine, providing it’s not just the PSU.

Clearing up some old server folders and found some stats I accumulated about the CF-28 Toughbook. I don’t know why I had them bundled away under my business directories, so I’m going to dump them here quickly. I was interested in getting one at one point, but while they were very upgradable for a laptop, the base spec is now just too low.

Interesting thing though, if you’re willing to replace some of the soldered-on RAM chips and re-program the memory map chip, the mainboard chipset should have been able to get to a whole 1Gb!

Anyway..

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While it’s probably nothing special to many, I’m very glad when I can aquire replacement computer hardware. Especially when it’s free and in a better state than my existing stuff.

For a little while now, the workshop PC had been running on it’s secondary IDE channels only. It was a 1.8Ghz  P4, but with USB 1.0 and PC133 RAM. It crawled at most things and took a few minutes to start with little to load. It also didn’t cooperate well with the PS3 Eye camera I picked up a few months ago. The memory bus was slow enough it choked even once I got a dedicated USB 2.0 card for it.

Some kind soul donated a bunch of used machines to the London Hackspace a fortnight ago. Mostly older Dell machines and a few oddities. Nothing that could be expanded much (except the 5000 which got re-purposed by the space itself). After examining a few I selected to re-home a Dell Dimension 4550 with an 80Gb HDD.

Dell Dimension 4550

 

The case was marked as having a 31Gb drive, but I don’t know where that number came from.

I got it home and pulled it apart. Got it cleaned of dust and fluff and found some leaky caps on the mainboard, hidden under a cowling. They got replaced with some caps I pulled from some obsolete server gear some time back.

Bad bad caps, no motherboard for you!

After running it for a few hours on the original RAM, I started upgrading. I’d already replaced the epoxy(???) thermal pad with some good thermal grease. I had some 400Mhz DDR sticks around, which fortunately worked (though underclocked) even though the machine is spec’d for 266Mhz. That got the RAM up to 756Mb.

The official spec says the machine can take 1Gb of RAM, but it can actually take 2Gb. There’s just only two RAM slots.

All clear after the transplant

I swapped in the best AGP x4 card I had (which came from the former workshop machine; a GeForce MX4000 128Mb),  put in a better optical drive (which was capable of opening when the case was on it’s side, unlike the original), the USB 2.0 PCI card (because the PS3 Eye apparently needs an entire USB controller to itself) and added an extra hard-disk.

I spent a few hours transferring files around to get all the data from the previous two workshop machines onto this one, then juggled some more while I formatted one drive to do a clean install, then transfer data across and format the other. The 80Gb disk that was already in it was reporting some bad sectors in SMART, so it’s been relegated to the D-drive/storage-disk where I’ll stuff music and video capture files. Non-critical stuff.

(Yes, I’ll be annoyed if I loose a long capture, but I’ll probably just get some corruption rather than losing a file outright.)

The machine’s primary 80Gb was partitioned in two again for dual-booting. I got XP Home installed on one since I couldn’t find the old machine’s XP Pro key certificate and the Dell case already had a Home key sticker. I’ll get round to installing Ubuntu on the other partition once I decide which version to go with. 10.10 I didn’t like much.

It’s now in the workshop, running fine on the extra workbench I built last week. The PS3 Eye works fine with it and I’ve managed to successful do a test Livestream with it and record video to disk (though still need to find some on-the-fly compression that’ll work with the camera format).

Installed in place

It’s also whisper-quiet! :D

Only annoyance is the front-panel lights are barely visible. They’re so dim you have to kneel in front of it and concentrate to tell they’re on. If I get a free moment I *may* try to replace them with better LEDs, but for such a minor thing it’s really not worth it. If I really need to know if the HDD is running, I’ll be willing to bend over to see.

An additional bonus has been realising the old PC’s case is perfect for another project! My hope to build a desk from all that mahogany I have was also one to have a PC installed directly within the desk’s structure. The old case was riveted together with a motherboard tray held in with screws! A few minutes with the drill and I have the rear of the case with all the needed mounts and the tray to mount a motherboard on! I can plan more about the future desk around these parts. :)

I know the motherboard throttles the CPU fan to keep noise down, so part of me’s wondering if it’s that that’s fouling up. But then when it’s not been running at power-up manually spinning it has got it going, so it sure seems to be the fan itself.

Since it’s the only fan other than the power supply, I’ll hook a case fan to the CPU connector and the CPU fan to the case-fan connector. That should determine it pretty absolutely.

In the meantime I’ve got CPUID Hardware Monitor running on the 2nd monitor showing me the fan speed and CPU temp. The annoying thing is that I already have Rainmeter running, but it requires support-programs to be open as well to add those readouts to it so there’s no point.

It actually makes me want to switch over to Linux again, because I know something like Conky can have any system resource tied to it. Likewise it could also show the UPS status and more, all in a background monitor.

If I do some housekeeping on my boot disk, I may be able to dual-boot again. Hmm.

Indoors PC has started throwing up “CPU fan error” messages on boot, and an hour ago suddenly powered off, not reset. I’ve had the side of the case off and the fan’s looked like it’s going, so this is either a transient fan problem or something more serious.

I’m hoping it can be resolved by leaving the side off the case and keeping a close eye on the fan. If that’s all it is, I can jury-rig a repair with an old case-fan and some cable-ties. If it’s more than that, I’m in trouble because the parts are outdated enough that it’ll require a subtantially fresh build on failure.

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