NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2003
A Computer Adventure - Final Chapter
by John Hoffmann, CAUG
(click to email author)

I usually buy a new computer about every four or five years. Then I order the cutting edge stuff even though the prices at first are outrageous. Anyway, I am at the front edge of technology for a while and definitely on the short side of technology at the end of a buying cycle.

Cable modem would become available soon and it was just about time for a new computer. I use the computer for word-processing, Internet browsing plus e-mail. I also do graphics, sometime using three programs simultaneously, and I use a C++ compiler and the Microsoft programs like Excel and Access. Therefore, I wanted a fairly elaborate computer setup.

I went shopping around the Internet and got the idea to have a computer built. I did not want to mess around with power or motherboards so the barebones approach appealed to me. A lot of companies wanted to sell what they had in stock but I wanted to specify all components by manufacture and model. I finally found a company in California that would do that and guarantee the computer for one year. I approved a few minor, equivalent component substitutions after some back and forth conversations.

I bought the new computer in early 2001. These were the early days of the Pentium 4 CPUs. I requested an Intel motherboard (I don't think third party Pentium 4 motherboards were available yet) and the more expensive and faster Rambus memory. This way, all the "working" parts were Intel or Intel-sanctioned and although rather new, I hoped to avoid incompatibility problems.

Everything was looking good. I filled up the remaining three empty PCI slots with add-on cards I wanted on my computer. The two USBs were also in use. The computer was loaded up; I think I would call it a workstation.

Cable modem became available in mid-2001. I upgraded the Windows 98 SE to Windows XP Home Edition in 2002.

Everything was still looking good as the warranty ran out. Then, I found my computer had shut down overnight (I normally keep it on all the time and use an UPS). A reset usually restarted the computer until one day it would not restart. It would try to startup for about 15 seconds and then shut down. The two case fans would not run although the power supply fan worked fine.

Computer repair is not my thing so I got some professional help. Initially the repair man just reset the boards and the computer would run OK - fine for one week at which time it would not startup. Time for some serious testing. Diagnostic tests on components checked out OK. It was hard to repair a computer that would run sometimes. The Intel motherboard has lots of shutdown routines to protect the board. These appeared to be halting the startup.

The repairman dug into the specifications of the Intel 850GB motherboard and found out I did not have an Intel-approved power supply. I originally specified a 300-watt power supply remembering that power requirements were being lowered to reduce heat in components. Power supplies usually come with the case. After viewing the case on the Internet, I approved what was suggested - all I knew about cases is that they should be ATX certified. Intel requires a minimum power of 250 watts and loaded up computers should have 300 watts (or greater) of power. The Intel approved power supply has a separate 12-volt lead that feeds a voltage module.

The final repair solution was to install an Intel-approved power supply that delivers 350 watts of power. The various diagnostic testing cost more then the power supply. I have no idea why the old power supply performed well for over a year.

Everything is working fine now. The repair guy solved a challenging problem. He is a CAUG member, recommended by a CAUG member..

I wrote a nasty-gram to the company that assembled my computer.They could not know I would load up the computer but surely missed the boat by installing a power supply that was not Intel-approved. This might be considered a subtle miscue but it failed my computer. I have had no response from them yet. They are making noise like a turnip.

In spite of one serious problem, I would do it all over again.

John Hoffmann is leader of the Digital Camera SIG and also does the cover page artwork for this newsletter. Email: mhoffmann@stx.rr.com

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author. This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an Internationalorganization to which this user group belongs.

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