I hate computer hardware

I’ve forgotten how much I hate computer hardware.

Three weeks ago today I was working at my computer and heard a loud POP, loud enough that I remember ducking for cover. I wasn’t able to figure out where the sound had come from and after a bit I dismissed it and continued working.

The next morning I was working away and my computer spontaneously rebooted. Now that’s annoying. To make matters worse it continued to do so. There was nothing in the log files that might indicate what the problem was. I know that brown outs can often cause this and since we just moved into the new house I thought we might be having some minor electrical issues. Determined to get it resolved I head off to Best Buy and purchase a UPS ($130). Nope – UPS doesn’t fix the problem, the machine is still rebooting. After literally hours of frustration I determined that the problem was my dual-head AGP video card. The loud sound that I had heard the night before was one of the capacitors exploding. I removed the card and was reduced to using the on-board video with just one monitor while I awaited for a new video card to arrive.

Early in the next week (two weeks ago) the new video card arrives ($40). I pop it in and as soon as it boots up into graphics mode it reboots. Damn. I’m guessing that when the capacitor exploded it screwed something up on the motherboard such that no AGP card will work. Reverting back to one 1600×1200 monitor is totally out of the picture and a thought that was not even entertained (I did mock the thought for just a bit, but didn’t entertain it). As anyone who has ever used dual monitors before can attest (my mother being one of them) once you go dual-head you never go back.

Because my computer is a work computer and since it very clearly isn’t functioning correctly I submitted for a replacement. This is where I was concerned about things getting tricky. IBM has a policy that desktop systems are only replaced once every 3.5 years — and they’re trying to push it to 4 — to minimize expenses and prevent people from requesting a new one every year. My system at the time was 4 days less than 3 years old so it was almost to the 3.5 mark but note quite there. If your computer is nonfunctional they’ll fix or replace it regardless of how old it is, but I wasn’t certain that “I can’t use both of my monitors” counted as broken. Luckily the person who approves all desktop replacements for Tivoli use to be on my team several years ago and after I explained what was wrong he said to just order a new one and he would approve it. And so I did.

Now we wait another week and a half for processing and shipping and the machine arrives last Friday. In a box that looks like it would house a laptop and not a desktop. I open it up and there is indeed a desktop in the box, obviously designed by the creators of MicroMachines. This thing is microscopic. It does, however, already come with a video card that supports dual-monitors. Imagine my shock! So I sit down to plug in my keyboard and mice and – lo and behold, it has no PS/2 ports. Anyone who knows me will likely recall that I’m a stickler for my input devices. I am a passionate user of the Microsoft Natural keyboard (the original, not the Elite or the Media) and the Logitech TrackMan Marble trackball (the original, not the one with the scroll wheel). In fact, I’m so passionate about my input devices that I have a spare keyboard and two spare trackballs should some unforeseen event befall my existing ones. The spares are vital because they don’t make either one of these input devices any more.

I get online to see if Best Buy has a PS/2-to-USB adapters and yes, they do but it has such horrible reviews on Amazon that I’m not going near it. Another brand has rave reviews but is not available in any stores we have here in Denver so I’m forced to order it from Amazon ($30). It gets ordered and I plug in a spare USB keyboard and USB mouse to get by and cross my fingers that the ordered device works as designed.

Meanwhile I work at getting the new computer set up. The video card is being very persnickety and I fight with it all day Saturday. Eventually through enough research I figure out that the supplied ATI video card will not support a dual-monitor set up at full resolution. And really, this doesn’t overly upset me because I’ve come to absolutely hate the ATI card with a passion – their Linux support sucks so bad it could suck a monkey through a garden hose. Running two 1600×1200 monitors at 1024×768 resolution is unacceptable, end of discussion. You’re thinking “so you just used the new video card you just bought, right?” Alas if it were only that simple. There are two problems with the new computer that prevent me from using the already-purchased video card 1) the new machine uses PCI Express (PCIe) and the already-purchased card is AGP and 2) because the MicroMachine case is so small, the video card must be a low profile card and the already-purchased card is full-height. So Saturday afternoon I get online to order a replacement video card. Finding an nVidia PCIe low-profile video card is more challenging that you might think but I did find one on Amazon ($60). Fed up at this point I order it for 2-day shipping.

While I’m waiting I’m also trying to figure out why the new computer seems so slow – slow like molasses in December. On Sunday after several hours of research I determine it is because the new machine has SATA drives but the BIOS is set to present them as IDE drives giving me a non-blazing 3MB/s transfer speed. I’m not a speed fanatic, really, I’m not, but the computer was virtually unusable at that speed. You can’t just flip a switch in the BIOS, however, because 1) the initrd kernel image doesn’t have the AHCI module to support SATA and thus won’t recognize the drive and 2) the fstab file references /dev/hd* when the SATA drives are going to be presented to the kernel as /dev/sd* drives. All of this is determined by trial-and-error-and-research (rinse lather repeat) and involves many cycles of rebooting, adjusting BIOS settings, and editing configuration files. Finally I master the beast and my drive now transfers data at 61MB/s.

Monday and Tuesday I work entirely from my laptop as the new machine is unusable and yet I’ve already transferred everything to it from the old machine — there’s no point in going back to the old one. Today, Wednesday, both the PS/2-to-USB adapter and the video card show up. 10 minutes later the new machine is 100% operational with dual-screens supporting my full monitor resolution and working input devices.

Three weeks, $260 (out of my own pocket), and many frustrating hours later, I finally have a working computer again. This is why I hate computer hardware.

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I'm a gay geek living in Seattle, WA.

12 thoughts on “I hate computer hardware”

    1. I’m sure Vista was the OS that was already on the computer when it arrived (I don’t know for sure, never booted it up). It wouldn’t have solved the video card limitation or the PS/2 issue however and I’d be stuck with a M$ operating system although I would have been able to avoid messing with the SATA issue. Then again I think if I had installed the IBM Linux OS afresh instead of copying my old drive to the new one (via netcat and dd) I would have avoided that particular issue too but only if I had installed the OS after figuring out that the BIOS needed tweaking and doing said tweaking.


      1. I was being facetious. No one would *seriously* suggest Vista. Well, maybe Shaun. :)

        Me, I’m excited over my new Hairy Hard-on. Er, Harpy Hadron? Ubuntu 8.04.


      2. I know — just using you as a sounding board to making sure I had my comeback straight if I’m ever telling this story and Benjamin mentions something about it all being a “Linux problem”. :)


      3. I asked for a faster machine at work on Wednesday (mine were 2 years old), had one on Thursday, plugged in both monitors, and everything just worked. Running Vista, of course.


      4. Hairy Hedgehog

        Have either of you had any trouble with 8.04, btw? Matt upgraded this weekend from Gutsy and it crashed mid-upgrade, twice. Makes me hesitate, but I’ve not had trouble with upgrading in the past.



      5. Re: Hairy Hedgehog

        I’ve never run Ubuntu. My office PC is running an IBM layer on top of RHEL 5 and the other Linux servers I manage are all running a back-level version of Fedora (because they’re working as-is and I have no desire to upgrade an OS remotely :)

        Regardless – best of luck with the upgrade!


      6. Re: Hairy Hedgehog

        Only trouble so far is the flaky connection at my Grandma’s that discourages me from actually downloading the new version. :S So I’m desperately awaiting my disc in the mail. I’ll let you know how it goes when it finally arrives.


  1. thanks for the laugh!!!

    I’m still laughing after reading this!! In my head, I can see you getting pissed off like it’s a real life movie! Cracking me up…sympathy for Benjamin! On a serious note, scares the heck out of me that my computer will really crash any day now which will inevitably cause me to go through the same pain. Except of course, it will really be you going through that pain all over again. Sorry :)


  2. You pretty much hit upon a point which makes me not entirely 100% happy with my current laptop – the ATI video card. If ATI came out with good drivers (at least Nvidia quality) so I could do everything in Linux (save for a few specific windows only programs), then I’d be happy and content. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait another few years before I hit the hardware refresh cycle again before hoping for an Nvidia card.


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