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Friday, October 19, 2007

A Cracked Window

This has been an interesting week. And by interesting I mean utterly crappy. So crappy that it warrants a rant, so here I am. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 11, 2007: A 512 MB stick of RAM that I had ordered arrived on my doorstep and I was happy. I now had a total of 1 GB of RAM for my system! Programs would run faster, better, harder, stronger. I had the technology. So I shut down my PC, opened up the side panel, and plugged that sucker into one of the two open RAM slots on my motherboard.

Now, being the paranoid person I am after having a power supply literally blow up on me (not big, but a transistor did blow up inside it), I always keep my finger on the hard power switch while powering on after changing any hardware in my PC. So, with my finger on the switch, I powered up andnothing happened and my PC booted up as usual. Of course nothing would happen, it's just a stick of RAM. Installing more RAM is the absolute easiest way to upgrade a PC and there's no way I would screw that up.

So I watched as Windows booted up nice and fast thanks to the extra RAM. I geeked out, opening up programs just to see how much faster they'd start. Then I started up Guild Wars to see how much smoother it would run. Loading into the outpost where I had previously logged out was no longer a thirty second affair and starting up Firefox while GW was running was so very much faster. I was in heaven. I opened up my quest log to see what I could have Amelia, my cute elementalist, burn and plunder.

And then the shit hit the fan. But I didn't yet know that the shit had hit the fan. Sure, GW crashed and I was a bit worried, but everything else was running nice and smooth. I started GW back up with no problems, picked a quest, and began a swathe of destruction across the land. All seemed well until about ten minutes later when GW crashed again. It was time to check out this new RAM and see what was up.

I downloaded and burned a Memtest iso to a CD, rebooted, and began running it to check for memory errors. I was still trying to be optimistic at that point. Unfortunately, "that point" was when I smelled something burning and saw a whiff of smoke drifting out of my PC case. A mad scramble for the hard power switch ensued.

After letting the PC sit for a bit, power off and the cable unplugged, I cautiously peered inside. I didn't see any damage. . . . Maybe some dust had just gotten onto my CPU's heat sink while I was installing the RAM? There was that optimism, clinging desperately to life. I pulled out the new stick of RAM and looked it over. There, towards one end, one of the pins was scorched and blackened.

"Fuck." I'm usually a well-mannered person who rarely uses obscenities. But my PC is one of the few things that can really make me swear, and there was just no other word for the occasion. I looked back into the case, examining the slot that the RAM had been init was melted around the burned pin's contact. More obscenities as the fact that permanent damage had been done to my motherboard sunk in.

I took comfort in the fact that I still had two RAM slots left that didn't appear to be damaged, and I didn't really need a third. Seriously, I don't how the optimism had survived that long. But it died a horrible, horrible death when, my finger once more on the hard power switch, I turned the PC on and watched as it froze during the initial memory test.

Now, as you should know from my previous post, I had planned a Lucky Star marathon for that coming Saturday, only two days away on the 13th. I was looking forward to it immensely and would not think of missing it. It wasn't optimism that drove me to hours of testing, trying in vain to get my PC to start back up, it was denial. But eventually reality reared its ugly head and I had no choice but to accept that either my motherboard, my RAM, or both were fried.

As it happened, we had another motherboard sitting around which we were going to use in building my mother a PC, and she had also ordered a stick of RAM to be used in said PC. My eyes turned hungrily towards them and I even considered using them without permission. After all, it was me and my brother going to all the trouble of getting parts, and I was already letting her use my PC for things. But, being the awesome guy I am, I decided that I should ask anyway. And she said yes!

A new hope filled me, and with renewed vigor I set about removing my motherboard and replacing it with the other. Now, for everyone who hasn't put together a PC, this takes a while. You have to detach all the cables connected to the board, remove the graphics card, the RAM and the CPUand you have to be careful with themthen unscrew the board from the side of the case. And then do it all in reverse to hook up the new board, which takes even longer than taking things apart. At any rate, it was about 1:30 AM when everything was finally put together, and I had been scrambling to get my PC working again since about 4:00 PM when my board and RAM fried themselves.

I had already resigned myself to the possibility that I might have to re-install Windows if I couldn't boot into safe mode to remove the old board's drivers, since it was unlikely that I'd be able to boot up normally using them with the new board. I'm no stranger to re-installing Windows, and I still had all of Friday to do it before the Lucky Star marathon. What I hadn't considered, though, was that the new board wouldn't output any video signal to the monitor.

That's right; no video signal whatsoever. The board had on-board video, a slot for an AGP 8x graphics card, and a slot for a PCI-Express graphics card. I spent most of Friday screwing with the thing and none of them would get video to the monitor. I went to bed very angry that night after using my brother's PC to let people know I wouldn't be able to do the marathon after all, and I woke up rather depressed the next morning.

Thankfully one of my friends came through later that day with a spare motherboard he had sitting around, for which I'm extremely thankful. Its specs weren't as good as either of the others but it would be better by far if it actually worked. We had more fun Saturday night unhooking the second board and replacing it with the spare, only to find that Windows wouldn't even boot into safe mode. It was a step up from no video at all, but it still didn't work. We spent yet more time trying to strip out the old board's drivers through the recovery console to no avail and finally gave up, once more around 2:00 AM.

The next day I set about reformatting my C drive and reinstalling Windows. And it worked! I had a bootable PC again! For a brief moment I was happy again, despite it being two days late for the marathon. I started updating Windows, simply content to have a working PC at all. And then I found that, somehow, a large number of files on my D drivewhich should not have been touched during the reformatting and reinstallation on C drivehad become corrupted due to errors in the partition's file system.

The worst part was that I couldn't even tell which files were corrupted without viewing them entirely. It felt like I was being screwed by everything that could possibly go wrong and this was one last slap in the face. I wanted to kick the crap out of something but I calmed myself and began salvaging what files I could and making a list of things I would need to replace. The next day I backed up what I could, reformatted D drive, and started again nearly from scratch.

So now here I am, eight days after the initial meltdown, with most of my oft-used programs reinstalled, Lucky Star redownloaded, and uTorrent running full-bore to replace the other files I lost. I'm planning to do the Lucky Star marathon on the 27th now, same plan as before, and would love for anyone interested to join in. And if my computer dies right beforehand again I might just throw it through my window.

No, seriously. That window has needed replacing for years.

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