Thursday, January 14, 2010

And Boy It Is Good To Be Back

A couple of months ago my computer started occasionally making a grinding noise.
I figured it was probably the fan on the power supply, but as it would go away after a shutdown and restart and go long stretches of time before it would come back, I resolved to not worry about it too much and that I would eventually get around to replacing it if/when it started recurring more frequently.
Monday night my screen flickered a couple of times and Windows informed me that my graphics driver had crashed and recovered. I knew there was a new driver available, so I decided that on Tuesday I would install it.
On Tuesday I came home and found that my computer was at the login screen, as it had installed some automatic updates and rebooted. I logged in, then went downstairs to watch some TV. Some time later I got back to the computer and was greeted with this:

Not good. So I logged in and found that my desktop looked even worse, and that there was a message saying that Windows had recovered from an unexpected shutdown. Straining my eyes to make out where things were through the crappy low color and low resolution and the assorted lines, I downloaded and installed the new graphics driver, then rebooted.
When the Dell start up screen appeared, looking just as terrible, and it was failing to display anything at all on my Cintiq, I realized that this wasn't a driver issue.
Looking online using one of my other computers, I confirmed that the graphics card had gotten fried, and that the most likely culprit was an overheating power supply.
So I realized that if I had replaced the power supply back when the problem first made itself manifest, I would have only had to replace the power supply, whereas now I had to replace the power supply and the graphics card.
So I did some more Googling and finally determined, after reading a lot of conflicting theories, that any ATX power supply would work in my Dell. Some people said that Dell uses a proprietary power supply, others said they didn't. Finally I found some people for whom it wasn't just a theory, as they had the same system I do and had replaced their power supplies with non-Dell versions.
I didn't really do much research on graphics cards. I'm not a gamer, so I didn't need the latest and greatest. My primary concern was that the replacement, like the card it was replacing, had two DVI connections to support my two monitors.
Last week Scott and I had decided to actually go to a movie - The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassas - in lieu of Riff Trax night. As the only time/location that worked for us was a 7:10 showing, I asked him if he wanted to come up a bit early and help me replace the power supply and card before the movie.
He ended up getting here a bit too late for us to do that before the movie - especially since I still had to buy the parts - so we met Casey, who was also going to the movie, at the Best Buy in Sterling, where I bought the parts. We then ate dinner, went to the movie, then Scott and I came back to my house to do the replacement work.
(Note: Scott did pretty much all of the work.)
The power supply did fit, though not perfectly - it's a bit small, but that's preferable to being too big - but there was an issue with one of the connections to the motherboard. The old supply had a four-pin connector plugged into the motherboard, a four-pin connector that the new power supply lacked. However, Scott noted that the eight-pin connector looked as though it was designed to plug into that four-pin connection on the motherboard - four of the eight pins had the right size and shape, and the other four would just sit off to the side not connected to anything. We weren't sure if we should proceed. Was that an intentional, generic design, so that the cable could plug into motherboards that had an eight-pin or four-pin connection? We didn't know, but decided to be bold and plug it in and just hope that it wouldn't fry anything.
Putting in the card - an ATI Radeon HD 4850 - was something of a comedy of errors, as we were conviced that it wasn't seated properly, but the bulky fan and heat sink case around the card prevented us from pulling the card back out, as it wouldn't let us move the little lever locking the back of the card in place. After fiddling with it for a while, we decided it looked like maybe it really was solidly in place, and to take the machine back upstairs, plug it in, and hope for the best.

Below are some shots - one really blurry - of the Radeon card, with a quarter as a reference for scale. The thing is huge:

After plugging in and turning on the power supply - the new power supply has its own on/off switch - the light on the motherboard turned on (as it should), and nothing exploded, so I turned on the computer itself, which booted up normally.
I'd only plugged in one of my monitors for the initial trial. The image was free of all of the artifacts that were present with the old card, so that was also good. The resolution was terrible, but that was fine and was what we expected, as Windows was using a generic VGA driver. As soon as Windows loaded, it said that it had to restart in order to apply the changes made (Windows had installed an ATI driver; again, to be expected).
It shut down normally, and then started back up...but there was nothing displaying on the monitor.
Eventually I shut it down, restarted it again, and the same thing happened; the computer started up normally, but wasn't displaying anything.
After a lot of fiddling around we found that the monitors weren't getting a proper connection, as the plug was catching on the side of the case at the opening for the ports. Scott managed to get them securely connected, and both monitors began to display. I adjusted the resolution and display settings, and, voila! Back in business.
In frustration while working on the computer, Scott said, "Computers suck! Why do we even like them?"
I wasn't able to provide an answer.
Later, I let out a frustrated sigh/groan, and Scott asked, "What was that for? The computer, or life in general?"
I said, "Life in general, I guess, but then again, that computer pretty much is my life."
This morning on my drive in to work, I was listening to Liz Phair, and the song Fine Again came on. As I was listening to it, I realized, with considerable amusement, that the song pretty much provides the answer to the question that Scott posed.
And so, I will close this post with a video of Liz performing a song about me and my computer. (Note: While Liz sounds fine, the audio for this video isn't great, and the audience is pretty obnoxious, but it's the only one I could find.)

1 comment:

Merlin T Wizard said...

What I didn't tell you was that I was suffering from video card envy as I installed that behemoth. I just don't have a computer that would fit it...

Also, computers suck.