Hardware, Technology

It’s those little stupid things that get ya…

October 30th, 2005 by Jeff | 1 Core Dump

A few days ago, we bought a new dual-layer DVD±RW drive for Diana, our main desktop. I already had an older single-layer DVD±RW in that machine, which replaced the original CD±RW that came with it. Over the past year or so, I’ve really gotten into the digital video editing scene, including putting some shows & cons footage online for loyal Keenspot PREMIUM Faulties. I’ve grown to find the 4.7GB of the ol’ single-layer discs limiting. With our mammoth 57-inch TV, anything less than the highest quality video encoding looks pretty bad, and you can only squeeze about an hour and a half on a single-layer disc before the compression really starts to show. Dual layers give you twice as much space. Plus, it’s always geek chic to have the latest tech.

Obviously, I’m not all that squeamish about putzing around in the guts of my machines. I consider myself more of a software geek than a hardware one, but I’ve done my share of case cracking over the years. I’ve installed countless memory modules (or “sticks” as they seem to be more popularly called now), optical and hard drives, expansion cards, and other internal doodads. As previously stated, I’ve already swapped this particular drive bay once, and now I was about to put in a third drive into that particular bay. So I went into this with the assumption that this would be a relatively simple procedure. I know what to touch, what not to touch, and what goes where when. Easy enough.

But it’s those little stupid things that get ya.

I’m not sure what possessed IBM to lay things out this way (Diana is a business-style ThinkCentre tower), but there’s very little room to maneuver in there. The way things are positioned, I had to unscrew the power supply from the back of the case and swing it down onto the floor just to give myself enough room to access the back of the old drive to unplug things. I always thought I had small hands for a man, but that’s never been a benefit here. I carefully unscrewed the power supply, placed the screws in a safe place, then delicately removed the screws holding the drive to be removed in place. Pop! And out it comes. Slide the new drive into place, plug everything back in, screw it in place, then return the power supply to its slot, and everything’s finished. Time to install software!

Then I find out we need the serial number to mail in the rebate. Figures. Time to crack the case again.

The serial number, of course, is on the top of the drive, so it has to come completely out so we can read it. I carefully unscrew the power supply, swing it down, put the screws somewhere safe, unscrew the drive, unplug it, pull it out, and write down the serial number. Mission accomplished. Now it’s a simple matter to throw the guts back into the cadaver and sew it back up. I plug the drive back up and start screwing it back into place.


Suddenly, my screwdriver slips, and the screw I have oh so very carefully kept in a safe place to keep it from being lost drops from its hole. Sure enough, the power supply is positioned in just the wrong way so that the large hexagonal grating that provides valuable airflow is facing upward. I’ll give you three guesses where the screw went.

At this point, I’m not sure what to do. I know my way around a motherboard enough to know the CPU from the memory from the hard drive controller. But I’m not about to go cracking the box of a power supply. That’s a dangerous place if you’re not sure what you’re doing. I picked up this blue-gray metal box and listened as the screw tinkled as it slid back and forth inside it. Each merry jingle–not unlike a happy little holiday bell–sent twinges through my stomach. I tried to jostle the power supply around like one of those little games where you try to roll the ball through a maze, hoping the screw would roll back toward the large grating and I could roll it out or at least grab it with one of my mini gripping tools. Eventually, there was nothing but the sound of silence.

By now it was getting late in the evening. We had to go to bed so my wife could get up early. (The poor dear had to work most of Saturday and part of Sunday.) So in hopeful desperation I put the system back together, closed the case, plugged it up, and turned it on. And then there was the most sickening clicking fan noise I had ever heard coming from a computer. I quickly turned it back off and unplugged it. Something was hitting a fan somewhere, and now I didn’t have time to research it. In resignation, I started to get ready for bed. I think it was only the allergy medicine I take nightly that let me sleep.

Saturday, I woke up in a better mood. I went out for a much-needed haircut, then came back determined to cure Diana’s ills. My sweetie was not as busy as she thought she would be, so I was able to crawl back under the desk without disturbing her. I cracked Diana’s case, but left everything plugged up. Hesitantly, I pushed the power button. There it was, that disturbing clicking… but not coming from the power supply. One the power cables to one of the drives had been twisted around during all the shuffling, and was now touching the CPU fan. Sure enough, I powered her down, moved the cable out of the way, hit the power switch again, and the noise was gone. Crisis averted.

Well… for the most part. I never found that stupid screw. It’s still floating around in Diana’s power supply somewhere. However, she’s been running for a few days solid now without incident, and she doesn’t really move around much. With any luck, that screw has tucked itself into a corner somewhere and will never be a problem. Then again, I’ve never been one to believe in luck.

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