NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Installing New Components
by Vinny La Bash, May 2002
Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc.

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Years ago, when I decided it was time for a new PC, I built my own. In those days it was possible to save hundreds of dollars with a "home brew." When you successfully booted up for the very first time, "The Thrill of Victory" took on a meaning all its own. Things changed, time passed and one day it no longer made economic sense to build your own machine. Except for dedicated hobbyists, no one builds their own automobile anymore and the PC went down that same congested highway.

You're most likely not going to build a PC from scratch, but maybe you will buy that brand new digital doodad. All the PC magazines have published rave reviews about it and all your friends are wondering how they ever managed to survive without it. You're all ready to rip the packaging to shreds and install it. Stop! Cease! Desist! Halt! Before you do anything else, rein in your enthusiasm and do some groundwork. You want your installation smooth and as trouble free as possible. Surgeons carefully prepare before surgery and you need to prepare for your upgrade.

Follow these simple rules before rushing in where angels fear to tread, and your chances of attaining PC Nirvana will improve dramatically.

1) Always allow yourself plenty of time. If you think the job will take two hours, schedule four hours to allow for unanticipated roadblocks. Even the simplest installations can run into problems. Sometimes a straightforward expansion card installation can become enormously complicated by a stripped screw. Not only do you have to take Murphy's Law into account, but keep in mind that Murphy was an optimist.

2) Back up your system before making any changes. I don't care how simple you think the job is. Too many tears have been shed by not doing a complete system backup first. Power failures can occur at any time. Don't rule out a meteor strike.

3) Make sure pets and children are kept away from the open PC. Toddlers are insatiably curious about everything. You don't want a pet or a child cut by an exposed component with sharp edges.

4) Make sure computer and peripherals are ALL unplugged, and never touch any exposed components in your PC without "discharging". Discharging happens when you touch something metallic to remove static electricity. One accidental jolt of static electricity has been known to fry motherboards and reduce grown men to quivering blobs of jelly. Small dogs and children sometimes don't do well when jolted by static electricity. Neither might you.

5) Turn your PC off and leave it off for several hours before opening. Internal components can get very hot during operation. Allow sufficient cooling off time before starting any project that requires removing the covers from your machine.

6) Have the right tools handy. Many PC manufacturers have made the upgrade process much simpler than it used to be. If all you're doing is installing a board in a PCI slot, you may not need anything more exotic than a screwdriver. A new motherboard installation could be somewhat more complicated. At a bare minimum you need a Phillips screwdriver and a pair of needle-nosed pliers.

7) Follow all the installation instructions to the letter, since even "insignificant" steps that may seem unimportant can turn out to be essential. The manufacturer went to the trouble and expense of printing the instructions for a reason. Ignore the printed instructions at your peril.

8) Don't dither about consulting an expert if you get stuck. World-class physicians don't hesitate to ask for a second opinion. Why should you be any different?

9) Make a startup diskette. It takes only a few minutes and can save your butt.

How to avoid common problems and what to do when they happen anyway.

After you have installed your new component, place the cover back on your PC and reconnect everything. Turn on the PC and make sure it boots. If your system crashes before Windows even begins, STOP! Turn off the PC and unplug it. Take the covers back off and check for loose wires and components that may not be properly seated in their sockets. If this doesn't remedy things, it's time to bring in a professional. Unless you know exactly what you're doing, you can cause a great deal of damage beyond this point.

If the component is a Plug 'N Play device, Windows should recognize it during the boot process and install drivers automatically. If you need to install software, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

If Windows snubs your new hardware, go to the Control Panel and select the Install New Hardware icon and follow the instructions. If Windows continues to ignore the device, go to the manufacturer's Website. The fix may be as simple as downloading the latest driver.

Once the hardware and software are installed and everything seems to be fine, monitor your system for a few weeks. If problems pop up, go to the manufacturer's Web page and see if there are any updated drivers on the site. If there is no restriction against any non-profit group using the a FAQ section, explore it. You may find some good information or troubleshooting tips.

You can also go to the Control Panel, select the System icon, and then select the Device Manager tab. Your new component should be listed under the appropriate device heading. If you see an exclamation point, then you have a problem. If that's the case, press the [+] symbol to open the device's "directory." Now, right-click the device and select Properties. You'll find a series of tabs and choices depending upon the product type. Go through the tabs and see if any error messages appear. You might be able to fix the problem at this juncture. If not, make a note of the specific errors and look in the manual or contact the manufacturer for instructions.

Have a plan before you upgrade. At a minimum, back up your data, and install current drivers for your hardware. The more thoroughly you prepare, the less likely trouble will ensue.

This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs. Copyright 2001. This article is from the December 2001 issue of the Sarasota PC Monitor, the official monthly publication of the Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc., P.O. Box 15889, Sarasota, FL 34277-1889. Permission to reprint is granted only to other non-profit computer user groups, provided proper credit is given to the author and our publication. We would appreciate receiving a copy of the publication the reprint appears in, please send to above address.

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