Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Father, The Son & The Upgrade

How Dad's love survived a pain in the ASCII.

The job was supposed to take a couple of hours, a steady hand, and minimal mileage. One day later, we were frustrated but hopeful. Two days later, we were frustrated and capitulatory. Three days later, it was finally done, leaving me flummoxed at why my PC upgrading experience failed so spectacularly.

I'd upgraded my father's PC before, a couple of years ago, taking him from an aging Dell Pentium II to a cutting-edge AMD 3200 system. Now, after looking at an electronics-store ad and talking about it, we agreed to move him up to a top-line system for a dirt cheap price by swapping out the motherboard, processor, and memory. Gathering the parts required an hour-long journey from Upland, California to Industry in the usual Los Angeles traffic.

I cleared a space on Dad's workbench and got to work on New Years' Eve. And then, as I noted in my journal:
When I got all the parts together this afternoon and started to put the new AMD quad-core processor into the motherboard, it just wouldn't drop in like it was supposed to. Thats when I took it out and noticed a pin was bent in the middle. Rather than try to unbend it myself, Dad and I took it back to [Store X], where they exchanged it for one with no bent pins, no questions asked. We inspected it and left satisfied.

Late this afternoon, I tried again. It still wouldn't go in. Maybe something was blocking it in the slot. But the slot looked fine. I looked at the chip.

Not again, I groaned. I saw another bent pin -- this time on the outside.

Neither Dad nor I wanted to make another trip to [Store X]. I decided to try to bend it back, using a steady hand, a small screwdriver and a magnifying glass. Dad held the glass while I did the ever-so-gentle bending. After a couple of tweaks, I finally got the chip in the slot with no forcing. With that settled, putting the fan on the processor was a snap, literally. I installed the memory, mounted the motherboard inside the new case we got Sunday and screwed everything in solid. I connected the case wiring and mounted the extra hard drive Dad just bought. It still awaits a smoke test, but that can be done tomorrow.
I thought the hard part was over. I was wrong. Here's my chronicle from the next day, New Years' Day.
I'm still trying to get Dad's computer upgrade to work. This morning started out promising. I had the motherboard set up in the machine, and all I had to do was put in the hard drive and the DVD drive (one of them, anyway). I get it all wired up, turn it on, and I get nothing. Not even a POST.

It may be the power supply, we figure. It's one of the older types that has only a 20-pin connector instead of a 24-pin connector. So we head over to [Store Y] and spend $40 on a nice new one with plenty of cables and wattage and pins. I install it, wire it up, and turn it on again. Again, nothing. No POST.

Not wanting to go out all the way to [Store X] again, we take the board in the box to [Store Y]. They look at it, and they think everything's okay, but they want $80 to do a diagnostic. They also tell us that ECS motherboard we put in there is a cheap motherboard and prone to flakiness. Looks like we're going back to [Store X] again. So Dad and I go back there for the third time now in four days.

Our first stop is their service department. After making us stand in line (not telling us we had to stand in line in the first place, or showing us where the line was), they again wanted money just to do diagnostics on the board. After talking with them about it, they said why not just exchange the board and the processor again. So I pick out a better motherboard, and we go to their exchanges department, where they part out the motherboard we're exchanging and take back the processor.

More waiting, more people punching things into sales computers, more paperwork to sign. But the process is moving forward. Then we have to go to the checkout line to claim the new processor. First, the wait is long: at least fifteen minutes with the gargantuan line. Then we get to the register, and the guy behind the counter first takes the paperwork back to do the exchange, then comes back and says we need to go back to the computer department to claim the processor, contrary to what we were told by the exchanges guy.

I'm getting tired of being shuffled like a deck of cards. "We've been sent three different places already," I said.

Dad is getting tired with the waiting, and he pulls rank.

"This guy," he says, referring to me, "is with 60 Minutes!" A bit of a stretch, but the guy got the hint. He went back and got the goods himself.

Then another guy, presumably a supervisor comes back and says we can't upgrade to the better motherboard, even if we're willing to pay the difference in price, because it's being sold as a bundle.

I'm ticked. "We have done everything you have asked us to do," I said. "We have been here three times in three days."

My Dad's willing to go with another ECS motherboard, if I'm not. Finally, to my chagrin, he exchanges the motherboard with the same model and talks to another supervisor, telling her all we've been through in the past few days. She says we can get the processor tested out before we leave, and we take her up on that offer.

More waiting. The guy in the exchange department tests both the processor and the motherboard. Both check out okay on the bench. Finally, it looks like we're getting somewhere.

We get home around 6:30, three hours after we ventured out again. I put the processor back together with the motherboard, rewire and remount everything. I flip the switch.

Nothing. The darn thing just refuses to POST. Darned if I know why.

It doesn't matter to me that the thing POSTed on the bench at [Store X]. I need it to POST in the case, screwed in, like it's going to be in the real world. Maybe it's shorting out in the case. I unscrewed it and tried to boot it with out it making case contact. Nothing. But I have a feeling that this is a poorly designed motherboard/case combination and I wouldn't want it for a system.

After much venting and frustration with Dad on this, we've decided to go back to [Store X] again, with the board installed in the case and get them to either make it work or give us our money back -- and with no charge for the diagnostics, either.
One day later, we finally had it working, only because my Royal Father took it to a place down the street from our house, with service people who knew what they were doing. He shelled out $120 and the system booted up, justifiably fast. I added a few other drives and cards to the case to finish the upgrade. Somehow, after this labyrinth of headaches, Dad figured he came out ahead in the deal.

This is not the father-son bonding I wanted over the holidays. The Queen Mother was not amused, advising me that I needed to enjoy my time off from the stress of the newsroom rather than trading it in for stress over a computer. The Royal Father didn't hold a grudge, thanking me for all my futile efforts. I've repeatedly fixed mysterous PC issues before, usually within an hour or less, so overall my track record proves I'm no hack.

He continues to depend on me for tech support, and I know in a couple of years, he'll eye another upgrade. I pledge I will carry it out and get it right this time.

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