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The Dead PC
Part 4

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!

ISA VGA Display Adapter. The Memory Is In Two Columns On The Left. The ROM Is The Set Of Two Components To The Right. These Components Are Particularly Likely To Become Loose In Their Sockets. Just (Gently) Push Them Back Into Place.

Next locate the memory chips -- the RAM. In most systems this will be SIMM chips, on some older machines you might have DRAM or SIPPS. Make sure that these are all properly seated, making a good contact. Do the same for all of the chips on the motherboard. Next locate the display adapter, the card that your monitor plugs into in the back of the system box. Take out the display adapter. Make sure that all the chips on it are also properly seated. Chip Creep is the phenomenon of components working themselves loose from their sockets. This is caused by the cycles of expansion and contraction as the system warms up (when in use) and cools down (when turned off). Re-insert the display adapter into the motherboard. Also make sure that all other components on the motherboard, ROM, cache chips, etc., are also securely inserted in their sockets. Check that all the cards are inserted properly into the motherboard. Make sure that all cables are properly inserted into the cards, the drives, and the power supply. The power supply is the component that the power cord plugs into on the case. A fan is built into the power supply.

It used to be that power supplies very rarely died. Unfortunately, over the past couple of years this has become a not uncommon problem - particularly in "plain label" systems. But do keep in mind that when the power supply itself fails to work (no power LED lit, no fan activity, no nothing), most often the video card or RAM are either not making a good contact, or one of those components are flakey or shot -- but not the power supply.

Possibly, but not likely, the fan in the power supply will die or fail to perform properly. In this case, the system will boot without incident, but will eventually halt. It may work OK in the cold, but die when the room temperature becomes warm. The safest thing to do is to replace the entire power supply. A qualified technician, on the cheap, could replace the fan inside of the power unit.

XT With A MFM Hard Drive. Note The Two Cables. The Wider One Is The Same Size As The Floppy Drive Cable

Also take a look at the cables. With older systems that use MFM or RLL drives, it is common for know-nothings to switch the hard drives 34 pin cable with the floppy drives 34 pin cable. The universe will collapse before a system boots with the cables switched. This was also a real popular way to sabotage a system. Most ribbon cables have a red line at one edge. This signifies pin one. In most cases pin one points towards the power connector. Some cables have edges or filled pin holes so that they can not be inserted incorrectly. If the cables are on backwards, the drive indicator light will stay on and the drive will not function. I've not observed any permanent harm to result. Power off the system and return the cables to normal.

Check for any obvious (and possibly improperly done) modifications. This could be grounding of floppies that don't require it or cut and taped power wires. See if any of the cables or wires are obviously frayed, worn, or kinked.

Now power Ol' Betsy back up. Hopefully, you were just dealing with a bad contact and you can get back to DOOM, those MPEGs, or some other important activity. If you still get nothing, carefully remove every card, except for the video adapter. When inserting or removing ANY card, cable, or device, the power MUST be off. Again, pull the plug to be sure. Leave the power supply plugged into the motherboard and into one floppy drive, disconnecting the power supply from the other devices (CD-ROM, hard drive, etc.). If you still get nothing try plugging the power supply into a different device, e.g. disconnect the power connecter from the floppy and put it back into the hard drive. If your system still is in brick emulation mode, you will have to get known good RAM, video card, and, if the power LED itself is non-existent, power supply. You will try these items one at a time until the trouble is isolated.

The video card is the most common item to die - causing the system to halt. Sorry to say, this is one of those cases where name brands do mean something. I no longer buy "Plain label" VGA cards. They are just too likely to fail.

If your video adapter, floppy interface, hard drive interface, et cetera are built into the motherboard, you will have to search the motherboard for jumpers or DIP switches to disable those features. You try this, just like you try anything, one at a time. A regular adapter\interface card is then tried. Before you touch any jumpers, make a chart of the current settings. If the jumper functions are not silk-screened, you can try a conservative process of elimination, but only after you have recorded the original settings. If a major brand, you can consult the manufacturer. If you don't have the manual, it's impossible to get information for most generic motherboards.

If the faulty subsystem can not be disabled, the most realistic option is to replace the board. If a standard board will not fit in the case, you should just get a new, standard, case to save yourself a lot of headaches. IBM has a repair\trade-in service for their boards. With the trade-in it's a judgement call, as far as the price goes. In most cases of a dead custom board, you will be better off to just cut your losses. Get a new clone board, compatible case\power supply and just pack in all your other devices.

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