Friday, August 24, 2012

The Fossil Project, Part I: First Computer Disassembly/Re-Assembly Experience

Hello, all.  It's been a while.  I've been working on a new pet project to learn some things about computers that I didn't know before, so I'll have plenty of blog posts in the near future relating to that.  This is the first one.

It begins with a machine.  Specifically, this is the computer I used as a kid to play games like Ping & Kooky's Cuckoo Zoo and Richard Scarry's Busytown, and my father used it for whatever mundane things people did with computers that didn't connect to the Internet.  I think it had some kind of extremely basic CAD software and Microsoft Office.  Parts of it are probably fifteen years old (or more), but it's been upgraded over time to have a zippy 133MHz processor, and it ran Windows 95 pretty okay.  I'm past-tensing the software because now it's running FreeBSD, but that's a story for another time.

Anyway, I was a counselor for my church's Youth Camp this year, and I needed to choose a topic for my teach-me group.  Every year there are several little four-day classes that the youth get to attend during the week, and for my first couple of years as counselor I did jewelry making.  This year, for various reasons, all kinds of possibilities were opened up to me.  Comic-book drawing and objected-oriented programming for junior highers were high on my list until I got an email asking me to do the junior high counterpart to the new senior high class on disassembling computers.  I'd never disassembled a computer before, so of course I said yes.

For reasons fairly beyond my control it ended up getting canceled (and I ended up assisting with archery), but this was the beginning of the Fossil's resurrection.  My dad decided he was officially finished with this computer and that I could allow junior highers to pull it apart if I wanted, so a couple of days before leaving for Youth Camp I began the process of learning to disassemble and re-assemble a computer.  Thank God my dad helped me or it would probably still be in pieces on the kitchen table.  Here's the saga as I tracked it with pencil and paper in real-time on 31 May and 1 June, 2012 (with minimal corrections to grammar and the like).  Several bits of information are missing because I forgot to write them down, but you get the idea.

Day 1

20:42 - Il commence!
21:07 - I should have made notes about what ATA cords go where.  I just wanted these stupid ribbons out of the way (this computer is way pre-SATA) but I'm going to be upset by the time reassembly begins.
21:14 - Power supply plugs into the motherboard via two separate plugs that look the same except for the colors of the cables.  I hope I don't fry it on reassembly.
21:25 - Just removed the tape drive.  Tape drive.  Tape.  Drive.
21:32 - The guy who designed the end of the cord that connects the CD drive to the motherboard should be punched in the head.  It's nigh impossible to unplug it from the motherboard because you have to squeeze it from the front and back instead of the sides.  With a pair of needle-nose pliers.
21:43 - The floppy drive...oh, you're laughing.  I'll wait.  Yes, the floppy drive's card is connected to it by a jack that has a tab on the bottom of it.  It must be pushed down with a flathead screwdriver.
22:08 - I let a How I Met Your Mother rerun distract me, but I am now removing expansion cards.  I lack an antistatic wrist strap so I'm touching grounded metal like a superstitious person.
22:19 - There is a dead spider in the case and I think I can remove it using toothpicks as chopsticks.
22:22 - OH DEAR LINUS IT'S ALIVE no, I'm just kidding, it's all dead and crunchy.
22:29 - Onto the RAM.  Two sticks are different from the other two and they don't alternate.  I don't understand.
22:45 - Ohhh the CPU is under the fan.  On a side note, I was expecting to see a chipset with a northbridge and southbridge and basically nothing looks like the layout shown in the PC Builder's Bible from 2008.  My dad was sort of helping - answering questions - but now he's watching King of Queens and I'm flying fairly solo.
23:07 - I'ma just leave the motherboard right where it is.  Commence reassembly!
23:54 - Cards are in properly, I hope.  RAM is in.  Floppy drive is in, but I can't say I'm going to test it.
0:56 - I'm actually guessing where things go at this point.  I should have taken better photos of the ribbons.
2:02 - Giving up for the night.  Somehow 5 drives were connected in here.  I think.  Maybe one wasn't.

Day 2

20:46 - Il commence - deux!
20:58 - Mysteries of unconnected cords - solved!  Between my dad and I we figured it out.  I think.  We'll test it shortly.
21:13 - Moment of truth.
21:15 - Oh eff.
[We turned it on and literally nothing happened. At this point I received a phone call from someone at church.]
21:17 - ahahaha the teach me group is canceled.
21:22 - Oh an idiot, the power supply was plugged in incorrectly (off by a pin).  Now it turns on, but the hard drive won't talk.
21:34 - Drives now spinning (ribbon was backwards in motherboard) but nothing on screen.
21:49 - Got distracted by Santana's no-hitter - first in Mets history!
22:06 - Unplugged all the drives except for one hard drive, and the BIOS finally works properly.  Wish the C drive were labeled.
22:18 - Starting Windows 95!
22:24 - The motherboard is racist.  White is master, black is slave.  I will always remember this.
22:38 - Plugged in the other drives.  No BIOS.  Come on!
22:43 - Unplugged tape and CD drives.  Works.  Next!
22:47 - Tape drive != problem.  Must be CD drive.  But why!?
22:49 - Oh cool, my hands smell like ATA ribbons.
22:52 - Ah yes, plug in CD drive -> BIOS turns into the robot from the Asimov story "Runaround."  Or maybe that's us.  Maybe the CD drive was the issue the entire time.  We will die on Mercury's surface.
22:57 - The CD-ROM drive's ribbon goes in backwards relative to the hard drive ribbon, which is right next to it.  Powell and Donovan.  That's us.  Except less intelligent.  On the plus side, I didn't kill any components!  Mission accomplished.

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