More DIY

August 5th, 2011

In July, we built our second computer in the college’s Computer Making Club, and it works just fine. Core i5 2400 CPU, ASRock H67M mobo, 8 GB 1333 DDR3 RAM, 1 TB HDD, Blu-Ray reader. Not bad–the most powerful rig in the school, and it cost ¥50,000 (the semester budget for the club). Using last semester’s (the one interrupted by the earthquake) funds not spent on a whole computer, we could buy 3 Full-HD monitors and an SSD with the spare change. Maybe next semester we’ll trying SSD caching on a Z68 mobo.

Today, students from last semester’s club wanted my help building two computers for their friends. They bought roughly the same equipment as I listed above, but they really wanted smaller cases. We got all the parts, in duplicate, and spent much of today building the computers–I worked on one while the students copied my moves on the others.

We finished, and then did a test start–and nothing. Dead. No power, no lights, no fan movement, nada. We checked and re-checked the wiring, then checked it again. Everything was OK. Tried different cables. Tried both computers. Tried alternate arrangements for the power switch connectors, even tried using a paper clip on the leads. Nothing. I brought the club’s new rig, the one built in July, and ran that rig’s power supply wiring to one of the new mobos–nothing. We must have tried a dozen different things and nothing worked. For all we could see, we had two computers, both completely DOA.

Which didn’t make sense–two different computers dead in the exact same way? One rig having a dead part I could understand, but two different ones, having the exact same fault? I began to suspect that the students were sold defective parts–but that didn’t sound right, either. Even a dishonest distributor would not sell one person the same defective part twice.

We checked the instructions–but one of my main gripes about the computer world is that documentation sucks. As it did with this case–it said very little at all. Really fracking annoying.

Salvation came from a half hour of Googling the case, then the mobo–and I found someone who had the same problem and solved it by removing the motherboard from the case. Wires attached, just lift it from the case mount, and it worked, so the post went. So we tried that.

It worked.

From there, it was a simple matter of working backwards. If we set the motherboard down in the case, unscrewed, would it work? Yes. How about if we added this one screw? Yep, still works. Another one added, in that hole? Works. How about adding one more screw, here? Bango, no power.

After looking into it later, it seemed that a lack of insulation and the way the board was set up caused the mobo to be “grounded out,” whatever that means. This case was apparently designed so poorly–and did not include fiber washers–that in any case of this design, screwing the mobo in place on one side causes a ground-out. What’s more, they included a rubber “bump” which could insulate the board and didn’t mention what it was for. It’s listed in the parts, but no mention of how or why or when or where it is used. Seems to me that if your design so regularly causes power loss via “grounding out” and you know this well enough to add a part to deal with it, then you goddamn fracking better well mention it before your customers spend hours figuring it out, or worse, spend days ordering new parts.

So, because the case maker screwed up the design and failed to note it in the instructions, we spent two hours agonizing over the whole thing. Major pain in the ass. Sometimes you just want to find the corporate offices and kick these idiots.

Once we figured this out, it went like a breeze, although the BIOS showed a core CPU temp starting at 40°C and climbing to 55° or so, just in the BIOS. I read some posts saying this was relatively normal, and both rigs had the same readings, so I let it go but warned them to install the hardware monitors and keep an eye on the temps.

Not too shabby a day, but I could have done without the useless anxiety and frustration. All part of the DIY experience, I guess.

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