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The Dead PC
Part 3

By Anthony Olszewski
Copyright 1997

These notes are only meant to illustrate how I go about working on a machine. I'm not encouraging anyone to work on their own system. In any event, if you do any damage, direct or incidental, you are assuming complete responsibility and liability!

The Blue CMOS Battery is Directly In Front Of The Motherboard Power Connector

After the cover is removed from the case, first off look for the CMOS battery. The CMOS battery can either be a little barrel shaped object, most often blue, about 1.5" long soldered right onto the motherboard, or it will be a pack that connects to the motherboard by two wires. If you see any evidence of corrosion on the battery (it will look like frost), check to see if the battery acid has come in contact with the motherboard. If your system uses a battery pack, the acid can drip onto the board if the pack is positioned right over it. The acid can also run down the wires. If the motherboard has been subjected to acid, it probably has to be replaced. If it looks shot - it is! If your problems are due to this condition, plan on replacing the motherboard. Realistically, motherboards can not be repaired.

This Battery Is Leaking Acid. That's WhatThe White Substance On The Top Is. The Corrosion On The Side And The Post Is The Beginning Of The End For This Circuit Board.

As a digression, unfortunately these batteries generally start leaking months before you get a CMOS BATTERY LOW error message. After a system is a couple of years old the battery should be inspected. If it is right on the board or placed right over the board, the battery should then be checked once a month. At any sign of decay, replace the battery. At three years, the battery is best replaced as a precaution. Remember, the whole point of this is to get rid of the old battery. If it is soldered onto the board, the three legs have to be carefully cut off at the battery. You will probably have to remove all your circuit cards to get at it. Sometimes the power supply and\or the drives will have to be de-installed. BE CAREFUL! It will be very easy to cut traces or to destroy the motherboard in some way. DON'T USE A SOLDERING IRON TO REMOVE THE BATTERY. Unless you're a real solder-iron jockey, it's next to impossible to solder components on or off of a motherboard (without destroying the board!). More importantly, A HEATED BATTERY WILL EXPLODE, DEFINITELY DESTROYING THE SYSTEM AND VERY LIKELY RESULTING IN PERMANENT INJURY OR DEATH! And you don't want to lower the resale value of your home for your next of kin.

If there are no pins for a replacement battery, you're left with two choices:

  • Leave the system on all the time
  • Clip the old battery out. Then carefully solder wires onto the stubs. Use these wires to connect a replacement battery.

In any event, find out what the voltage the old battery is before you toss it.

If the keyboard suddenly stops working and replacing it with a known-good one doesn't help, a leaking CMOS battery is a prime suspect. The CMOS battery is very close to the keyboard BIOS chip. If this happens, it's almost certain that the motherboard ha s to be replaced.

If the keyboard does not work and the battery looks good, then you probably shorted out the keyboard fuse. Look on the motherboard to see if it just pops out for replacement. It'll be just in front of the KB connector or between the KB connector and the mouse connector. This is the case with The IBM PS2 55SX 305 error code.

If it's a resistor you can: clip out the old one and solder a new one to the wire stubs or just solder a bridge of wire routing the signal around the dead fuse. Will it be possible to kill the motherboard if you bypass the fuse? Yeah, sure, but it's a lot easier. I'm lazy - it's what I regularly do to keep some dinosaur out of the junkyard!

If you go the workaround route, it's sometimes easier to pop the motherboard out and work on the underside. Make sure that you're absolutely certain where each component is located before you pick up the soldering iron. You want to try to solder onto wires, not onto the board itself.

The most common way to blow a keyboard fuse is to try to use a serial to PS2 converter on a straight serial mouse. Only mice that are clearly labeled SERIAL/PS2 are able to enjoy an alternative lifestyle.

If the battery and the motherboard look OK give the system a good sniff. If any lingering burnt odor is present start looking for a burnt component. This is rare. Before you do anything else, touch the cover of the case to make sure that you are not carrying a static charge. Zapping the computer components with static electricity is a great way to kill the motherboard for good.

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If the computer is full of dust, hair, and other assorted crud, clean it out! Just holding the system upside down, with the case off, will let most of the garbage fall out. A new, (unused with paint, varsol, etc) soft-bristle paint brush can be utilized as a miniature broom to clean off the boards. A vacuum cleaner does a great job on the fan in back of the power supply and the case cover. If you have access to a small air compressor or wish to buy those cans of pressurized air, by all means use them. Cheap is my catagory!

I love cats and birds, but they have no place around computers. Cat hair and feather particles work their way into a computer like the end of the world. Upon opening one victim, my first impression was that a rat had built a nest inside the case! It was just a buildup of cat hair. Cigarette, cigar, pipe, or joint smoke is as bad or worse. (BTW, from the smell inside of the case, I can immediately tell if somebody enjoys a few tokes while surfing the net! Verbum sapiente sat. Cops ain't stupid.) Studies have shown that tobacco smoke reduces the life of a system by forty percent! Multiply the price of your system by .40. That's how much you will eventually pay for the dubious pleasure of smoking near the computer.

Also, computers should not be kept on the floor! I don't know why it has become the fashion to put systems under or next to the desk. When kept on the floor, the computer's fan does double duty as a vacuum cleaner, sucking in all manner of filth and debris. The system is constantly subject to kicks and jarring blows. It's hard to insert disks or just look at the LEDs. Position a computer on a desk or sturdy table.

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