My Computer problems explained

I've been receiving hundreds of emails from readers asking me why I haven't been blogging much lately. Well... actually I haven't had ANY emails, but I'm sure some of you are wondering.

Well... maybe one or two of you.

As some of you know I run Linux, specifically Mandriva 2006. I ditched Microsoft back in 2003 and I'm quite happy with my move into the scary world of independent computing.

I still had Windows 98 running as a secondary o/s when I wanted to play some games (like Virtual Cricket and Red Alert), so I had two Hard drives on my pc. A 40gb running Linux and a 10gb running Windows.

I need to point out, too, that I built my computer using 2nd hand parts. I learned to do this through trial and error and, although it is frustrating making all the normal mistakes, it's made me know modern technology a little bit better, and saved me money as well. Rather than spending a few thousand dollars every few years to buy the latest cheap desktop, I spend a few hundred dollars every year doing gradual upgrades.

But I occasionally get lazy... and about 6 months ago I bought a new minitower case, a new 450W power supply and a second-hand motherboard with a Pentium III 667 CPU. They sat in various places in my study gathering dust while I continued to use my P3-600E.

So, a few weeks ago I started fooling around with the Mandriva program that sets up the Computer's peripherals. I realised that the monitor had been set up to be a generic 17" monitor rather than being an AOC brand monitor. Although AOC drivers were packaged with the Mandriva software, the specific one for my monitor (7F) was not present. I can't remember exactly what I did, but basically I ended up telling Linux that my monitor was something else.

I then re-started the computer and the whole linux set-up display appeared as usual. Then it suddenly found an error in the monitor and the next thing I know I am sitting at the Linux command prompt. This is something that even Trinity from "The Matrix Reloaded" can actually use but I'm fairly ignorant.

So, no graphical user interface for me to go in to (yes I did reboot [shutdown -r now] and try again but the same thing occurred). What to do?

Well, I had a spare 40gb HDD sitting around somewhere. Why not rebuild my PC and reinstall Windows 98 and Mandriva 2006?

So off I went. Out comes the dusty minitower case and the screwdriver. And when I say dust I mean dust. Not only was there dust inside the PC I was using, but there was also dust inside the stuff I wasn't using.

I discovered a number of things along the way - or maybe "rediscovered", I don't know. But after screwing in the motherboard to the minitower case I sort of began to wonder if it was healthy to have the rear side of the motherboard in direct contact with the metal of the case. I then checked my previous case and found that, what do you know, I was supposed to put in metal stud-screw thingies to keep a gap between the motherboard and the case. So out comes the motherboard and in goes the stud-screw thingies.

I then jam in all the boards - an ethernet card, a video card and an IEEE card - and then the three 128mb RAM sticks. I then screw in the CD and DVD drives, the (very very dusty) Floppy and three hard drives (2x40mb, 1 x10mb). Cables get plugged in. And then comes the difficult part:

Working out where the various internal connectors go.

You see, on the motherboard is a section of raised pins, and the case has a set of connectors. These connectors have things like "Reset", "HDD LED", "Power" and so on. On the motherboard itself is a small diagram which shows which connector goes where - except that in this case it didn't work for some reason. I had plugged all the connectors in but the diagram on the m/b was confusing and didn't match all the pins available.

So what was the problem? Was it the way the connectors had been put in or was it something else, like the power supply or maybe even a faulty motherboard (I had bought on it on ebay and hadn't checked to see if it worked yet.)

I decided that the most likely candidate was the power supply. So I checked the back. "Max 230v" says the back of the power supply. The cord says 250v. Oh dear. Could that be the problem? I'm no electrician, but I was fairly certain that it shouldn't be. Maybe the power supply was stuffed too?

So then I removed the power supply and put in a power supply from Tom's old computer (Tom is a friend and gave me his old pc after he bought a new one). I connected it all up... and no result. "Hang on", thinks me, "maybe Tom's PC had a problem with the power supply?". So I remove Tom's old power supply and put in the power supply from my previous PC. All in and connected... no result.

This process took about an hour and a half - in which I basically concluded that the power supply was fine and it was something else that caused the problem. Hands filthy and brain annoyed, I began to problem solve again.

So I went back to the connector pins. I began to experiment by putting the power switch connector into different pins. After a while of doing this, the computer suddenly turned on when I hit the power switch. I'd done it!

I then checked the pins with the diagram provided on the motherboard itself. It didn't seem to fit. According to the diagram I had put the connector into the section marked "HDD LED" which didn;t make sense. Why would the computer turn on if I had put the connector into the wrong pins? Realising that I had more pressing needs, I began to set up the PC in earnest.

I'd heard over the Linux grapevine that if you wanted a dual boot windows 98/Linux pc then the trick was to install Windows first and then Linux - if you installed Windows second then Bill's beast chews up the Linux files that have already been installed.

So off I went. It's July 2006 and there I was installing Windows 98, with all the advertised promises of something called "The Internet" that went alongside the standard Microsoft installation procedures. Installation successful - except that the hard drive that I had used was Tom's old one and it still had all his software still available on it. Never mind, I'll deal with that later.

So then I install Mandriva 2006. A simple procedure except that once it had been installed it kept taking me to the command prompt rather than the GUI. I realised I probably needed to erase the HDD and start all over again.

But how to do it? How do you erase a complete hard drive? I tried using the windows 98 Floppy and tried to do an FDISK but it kept comign back to me and saying "You don't need to format it because it's formatted already." Thanks Bill. So while in DOS I go into C/: and type FDISK and it says "can't do it because FDISK is on the C drive and so you can't erase the program you're using to erase the disk you fool".

So I fiddle around with the BIOS and insert a Knoppix Live-Linux CD. I boot up and I have Linux available on a CD that runs everything. I try to format, or at least erase the hard drive, but for that I need the Root password for Knoppix.

At this point everything goes into the too-hard basket. With Knoppix I can still access the internet and get emails so I go back into lay-zee-mode and start playing around with Knoppix.

Then, about 4 days ago, I decide to check out the CMOS settings. I then discover that a section of the CMOS on this motherboard is dedicating to overclocking. With the promise of a faster computer just a few keystrokes away, I begin to play with the FSB settings, increasing it from 133mhz to 143mhz. I reboot, and find that my P3-667 is now a P3-715.

Ah the joys of uninformed overclocking! I then discover that I can increase the FSB up to 200mhz if I want to, with the chance of having an even faster CPU. Not wanting to blow my CPU up, I increased it to 160mhz and rebooted.


Oh. Everything turned on, but the screen remained blank. It was as though I had managed to stuff up my situation even further. I even assumed that I could enter the CMOS commands blindly to reinstall the original bios settings but to no avail.

So I set my poor sore brain into gear again to problem solve. I assumed that the problem with its failure to boot had everything to do with my stupid attempt at overclocking - and since the changes had been made in the bios, then the only way to change them back to normal again was manually - ie by doing "something" to the motherboard. But what?

There's connector pins everywhere all over the motherboard - all of them can be covered with a Jumper Block. But what to do?

Again, it was trial and error. Put some jumper blocks on, switch on. Take some off, switch on. No luck whatsoever.

If you've ever looked at a Motherboard, you'll notice that it is a confusing mess of electronic components, lines, strange letters and so on. Some motherboards have information for their users actually printed on it and, just like the connector pin problem above, the motherboard had some information for me. A little diagram in the middle of the board showed that if "SW1" was set at "open" and "SW2" was set at "open" then the FSB would re-set to 133mhz.

Of course, for someone like me who is illiterate in these matters, it meant little. Exactly where were SW1 and SW2? I saw some surface-mount stuff nearby that had "SW1SW2" written on it but there was nothing resembling pins for a jumper block to go.

I need to point out here that I was making a huge leap of faith - that there was, in fact, a solution to the problem that could easily be done if I could just put a jumper block on the right set of pins.

I decided that maybe one way to re-set the bios would be to remove the lithium battery - if you look at your motherboard you'll probably notice the lithium battery - about the size and thickness of a coin - sticking up somewhere. I tried hard to remove it but couldn't because the ethernet card was too close. I had been dreading removing the cards but decided to do it in this case, so out went the Ethernet card and then out went the battery.

As I stood there looking at the battery I looked back down to the area where the ethernet card and the battery once were. In that area I suddenly noticed a jumper block sitting there on a set of pins I had not seen before. Excited, I put the battery back in and then removed the jumper block.

With trepidation, I turned the computer back on - except that it didn't even turn on this time. Although the problem wasn't solved I had somehow managed to prevent the PC from even turning on - which to me was a bonus. Not knowing what to do, I then put the jumper block back on, and then powered on again.

Power up, screen on, booting. Back to Knoppix.

I'd done it! It was that one stupid set of pins hidden by the ethernet card that was responsible for re-setting the bios. As I sat there I then noticed another drawing on the motherboard - a drawing of where the connector pins go to from the case... a DIFFERENT one to the one I had been consulting. It was then I discovered that the power connector was actually in the right place.

So, which motherboard is it that makes it difficult to re-set the bios and provides badly placed diagrams for people to be misled by? None other than the MS-6309. After getting the internet up and running again I found some quite unfavourable reviews of the board - the most scathing being the way in which the board's design made it difficult for tinkerers to re-set the bios.

Now that this is all out of the way what should be the most stupid thing for me to do? How about bidding on ebay for a Tualatin 1266mhz CPU? Yeah... I'm a glutton for punishment. According to the official site the motherboard can't support it, but other sites reckon I can....

1 comment:

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Dude, you need a Mac.