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Upgrade Nightmare: The Parental PC

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My parents' Celeron 800 was getting a little long in the tooth, so I figured I'd upgrade their PC as a "welcome home" present.

I got them a new AMD Sempron 2400+, 512MB DDR RAM I had left over from my last upgrade, a new Gigabyte motherboard, and a Radeon 9600SE. They had a reasonably newish hard drive, so no need to upgrade it or the case. Cheap components, but still a respectable upgrade.

I figured it'd take around two hours to upgrade the whole thing, tops, so I arranged to go around to their place at 7:30, have dinner, and then start work.

The old motherboard came out in about 20 minutes flat, and the new one went in in about 5 minutes. So far so good. About 4 cards came out, only one new card went in, and it was the optional AGP video. That's progress.

All the components were reconnected, I had a quick run through connecting the Front Of Case stuff (power, reset, speaker, USB), and then hit the power button.

Nothing. Bugger. At this point my parents perk up and start helpfully standing nearby and watching with concerned expressions.

The CPU fan wasn't moving, which basically says "screwup". Still, I've had similar problems before, and they've been fixable (eg, loose expansion card, bad connection, short)...

I unplugged everything except the FOC stuff - still nothing.

Flash forward half an hour of plugging, unplugging, plugging, and so on, and I'm troubleshooting what I think is a short, part of the motherboard touching the case. It never works when screwed in, but always works when not.

I'm working through one more iteration of "screwed in", adjusting the last screw, next to the power supply. The live, I forgot to turn the power point off power supply. The one with the soft-off switch only.

There's a loud Zap, a flash of purple-white arc flames between screwdriver and power supply, a surprised yelp from me, and then nothing.

Smoke wisps up from the power supply, bringing with it the smell of ozone and burning component. My parents are checking I'm not shocked or anything. I'm cursing my own stupidity (keep the case grounded by being plugged in and switched OFF! Plugged in and switched OFF!), and wondering where I can get a power supply from at 9:30 at night.

My parents had had some problems with their old case while in the US, and the tech (who didn't know what an Event Log was or what "Disk" errors meant, but was happy to recommend Windows 2000 over XP for unspecified reasons) had diagnosed the "case and power supply and motherboard" as being the problem, so had replaced it all. My folks, paranoid by my instruction, had actually had the old case shipped back here. So, I tool a look at the power supply, and - wouldn't you know it - it's perfect. The case on/off switch was sticky, but I guess $US300 to fix it was reasonable*.

After swapping over the power supplies, I'm able to put power through it, and also notice that I've misread the manual on the USB port front. So I plug the USB connector in the other way around, and whop! Power.

Then, of course, there's the Stop 0x7B that XP puts forward when working with a completely different hardware platform, but we're now at the point where we should have been about two hours ago.

I just reinstall XP using the Repair option (40 minutes), but it wants Activation. Bugger. I reinstall XP SP2 in Safe Mode, but it still wants activation (I thought there was meant to be a 3 day grace period post-SP2, but apparently not), and there's no Internet connection yet.

Dreading reading numbers to someone, I call Activations on 13 20 58, and am pleasantly surprised when the whole thing is done by telephone keypad, with no mess, no fuss, and no miscommunications. No Humans, in other words.

Finally, at 11:30, we're done. Or So I Think.

The printer, an OfficeJet T45 All-In-One Fax, Scanner, Kitchen Sink and Copier, no longer works. It bitches about a communication problem. The Print Troubleshooter can't find a problem (and it even prints from a command prompt), it's only the custom HP stuff that doesn't believe the printer is connected, please try another cable.

I wandered out at about 1am, the printer still broken. I'd tried SPP, EPP, ECP, port jiggling, cable unplugging and replugging… nothing worked. The parallel port was very near the screw that got fried. Very near. Support forums seem to indicate that other motherboards have had similar issues under Windows 2000/XP with the same (aging) printer, but I'm not sure. I can never be sure.

My parents took it like losing a child. There's something about people of that generation and printers that I just don't understand, but there it is.

The next day, I ordered them a new one (USB- the sooner the parallel port goes away, the better) for only $200 from HP (no Fax, but they didn't use it anyway).

So, lessons learned:

 - ALWAYS turn the power to the case off at the power socket, or the power supply, while working on the innards. Earthed-but-not-live. Earthed-but-not-live.
 - If you're not seeming to get any power, check the USB connectors are plugged in the right way around. The manual may help.
 - Always multiply the estimated time taken to upgrade a parental unit's computer by 3. Be happily surprised if you go under!
 - If you're upgrading a PC, consider upgrading the printer at the same time.

Sigh. Still, it works really well now. Apart from the printer (new one isn't delivered yet). And my parents still look at me funny.

Comments
  • What a nice son you are! ;)

    And yeah, I wouldn't have wasted any time troubleshooting the printer. My time is too valuable, the parallel port needs to die, and USB printers are so cheap anyway.

  • Boy are you a cheap git, you sure cheaped out on that rig.

  • Yes. All up, the parts cost about $AU250, not counting the RAM price when I bought it.

    Could you be more detailed with your accusation? What should I have got them? :)

  • OK, update on the stupid parallel port situation.

    The printer works perfectly attached to the parallel port. It seems the OfficeJet T45s have enough in common with the OfficeJet R45s that the WinXP-included signed driver works for either (you just don't get the multifunction bits).

    So now my folks again have a colour printer. It's just the HP T45 driver that believes (knows?) there's a problem.

    Nice*.

  • Why is it that things only cactus up when someone is watching? I once swapped room and board with a friend for a "Sure I'm look at your modem for you, no problem!" Fast forward to 4 hours later. I'm blaming the ISP and then very quietly sneaking out the bathroom window.

    At least it's not just me.

  • You fit through a bathroom window? Luxury!