High-wire act



  • I teach a hardware essentials course at a local technical college one night a week. One afternoon, a few hours before class, a student asked me if I could look at her computer since it would not boot. Thinking that this would be a great "real-world" experience to troubleshoot and potentially fix a mystery problem, I heartily agreed!

    She brought her machine in to class and I set it up on the cart in front to plug it in and see if I could figure it out before thee class got there (to lead them in the right direction). The first thing I notice is the power supply seems loose. Very loose. Almost as if it was dangling....

    I plugged the machine in and turned it on. The machine started up but would not POST - in fact, it sounded like it was surging, like vvvvvrrrrrRRRRRR...vvvvvvvrrrrRRRRR...vvvvrrrrRRRRR.

    "Ah ha!" I thought to myself. "A bad power supply!"

    So I crack the case and see this:

    Yes, it is a wrong-sized power supply held in the case by a series of zip-ties. The obvious problem was that the case required a proprietary power supply, but the repair person decided to cut a corner and "fit" a standard power supply in the case by any means necessary,

    It turned out that the woman brought the computer into Nerd Patrol (obfuscated) to fix what was originally a bad power supply. Not having the proper one on hand, the Nerd in Charge zip-tied this one in for her,  made the connections, and promptly charged her $150 for the honor.

    So I dug deeper.

    I slid the power supply out from its zip-tie suspension rigging and quickly substituted another power supply, choosing to rest it on the case rather than zip-tie it back in. The computer still makes the surging noise and I notice now, with the original power supply removed, that the zip-tie hadn't been enough to hold it in place. So, instead of hovering precariously over the top of the CPU fan, it decided to rest on it. The CPU fan, now having to contend with the relatively heavy chunk of metal on top of it, ground itself into the heatsink, where it promptly lie dead, its spinning days over.

    The processor beneath the fan? Probably zapped. It was hard to tell for sure, but it probably has done its last floating point calculation.

    The only thing we could come up with was that the CPU fried enough to take the motherboard with it. VRM perhaps?

    In the end, confronted with those pictures, Nerd Patrol refunded the $150 and gave her a USB enclosure in which to rescue the data from the now-orphaned hard drive.



  • Wow.  I'd feel tempted to press "Nerd Patrol" for a new CPU + Mobo as well.  I'm sure they'd claim that part wasn't their fault or responsibility -- there's always small claims court.



  • She had already gotten a new PC. She was only worried about recovering her data and, later, recovering the money for the original repair.

    In their defense Nerd Patrol was very accomodating. 



  • To me, it appears that this solution (which I do agree is bad) would have worked had the case been oriented vertically.. not that that makes it an acceptable solution for a customer. Of course, TRWTF are cases that require proprietary power supplies.



  • Not to mention is also appears to be trying to blow|suck air into the side panel, isnt that meant to be the other way around? And this is why we avoid these people.



  •  I wonder if Nerd Patrol told her she should get a new case when she originally brought it in...

    Also, did you show this to class? It seems to me like an excellent example of what not to do.



  •  In fact I did. Some fo the students helped with swapping power supplies and yes, they noted that the fan was pushing air right up against the very solid side of the case. Really helps cooling though. Really.



  •  Ehhh... I've done this before.  However, it was always the customers option to either pay Dell/HP/IBM/whatever $250 for the power supply, which, out of my feeling bad for the customer, I'd install for free, or paying me to force-fit a power supply.  I'd personally have done a better job, though.  I usually would sell a new case with a standard PSU and force-fit the parts to the new case (they'd usually fit reasonably well).  It's all up to how much the customer wants to lay out, some wouldn't want to buy a new case, some wouldn't mind, and some would just say "Junk it, give me a new PC--this time with STANDARD parts!"

     Then again,the only time we'd charge $150 for a PSU repair was if the PSU was $110 (Our decent quality ones were usually about $50 - $60, so no, that price would be pretty rare).  The most fun foreign->ATX PSU conversions involved figuring out the voltages on the old PSU and their weird-ass connectors and soldering that old connector onto the new PSU (I've only had to do this once!).

     For a fun side-WTF, there were some horrid Compaq computers sold about 10 years ago that had no PS2 ports, just USB.  Which would have been fine, except the BIOS sucked so badly using a USB keyboard in DOS for more than 1 minute caused the keybaord to lock up.  So, to install windows 98SE (~10 years ago, remember!), you had 1 minute to get anything you wanted done and get the install happening.  Not fun.  They were HELL to figure out how to open, as well (weirdly enough, there was an "access port" though the side of the case to get at the PCI cards).



  •  I've done this before: that is, fitted standard PSUs into non-standard cases. But, at least, I've always done it with care, a drill and some aviation tin snips. Thankfuly, non-standard PSUs aren't used much these days - there isn't enough profit in PCs to pay for this stuff anymore - and the systems that use them are rarely worth repairing now.



  • @citking said:

    I slid the power supply out from its zip-tie suspension rigging and quickly substituted another power supply, choosing to rest it on the case rather than zip-tie it back in. The computer still makes the surging noise and I notice now, with the original power supply removed, that the zip-tie hadn't been enough to hold it in place. So, instead of hovering precariously over the top of the CPU fan, it decided to rest on it. The CPU fan, now having to contend with the relatively heavy chunk of metal on top of it, ground itself into the heatsink, where it promptly lie dead, its spinning days over.

    The processor beneath the fan? Probably zapped. It was hard to tell for sure, but it probably has done its last floating point calculation.

    The only thing we could come up with was that the CPU fried enough to take the motherboard with it. VRM perhaps?

    It's hard to say if that hardware is recent enough, but processors have had a builtin overheating protection for quite a few years now.  Also, recent motherboards are smart enough to check if the CPU fan is spinning before doing a full power on.  I've seen this feature in i965 and P35 chipsets at least.  So it's possible, at least in theory, that the only fault was the broken fan, and the rest of hardware was fine.

    Obviously, you're the one with the hands-on experience here and I'm just speculating based on a few information scraps. 



  • @tdb said:

    It's hard to say if that hardware is recent enough, but processors have had a builtin overheating protection for quite a few years now.  Also, recent motherboards are smart enough to check if the CPU fan is spinning before doing a full power on.  I've seen this feature in i965 and P35 chipsets at least.  So it's possible, at least in theory, that the only fault was the broken fan, and the rest of hardware was fine.

    I'd be more concerned about the physical effects of having excess weight resting on part of the heatsink -- things like a cracked core or broken mainboard traces.



  • @citking said:

    In the end, confronted with those pictures, Nerd Patrol refunded the $150 and gave her a USB enclosure in which to rescue the data from the now-orphaned hard drive.
    IMO that was not enough.  They should have refunded the price of her new machine, assuming the purchase was in response to this one dying, which was 100% their fault. 

    "So you brought in a broken machine and now you have a really broken machine!  Give us $150"



  • @belgariontheking said:

    @citking said:

    In the end, confronted with those pictures, Nerd Patrol refunded the $150 and gave her a USB enclosure in which to rescue the data from the now-orphaned hard drive.
    IMO that was not enough.  They should have refunded the price of her new machine, assuming the purchase was in response to this one dying, which was 100% their fault. 

    "So you brought in a broken machine and now you have a really broken machine!  Give us $150"

    I figured that the original PSU of the old machine had fried, and that prompted the purchase of a new one.  She wanted to get the files off the old one, so she had to get it in a working condition, thus the trip to Nerd Patrol.  So she already had a new machine before Nerd Patrol broke the old one.  Perhaps the OP can confirm or correct this?



  • The processor, an early Pentium 4, did have thermal protection. But with a hot power supply sitting an inch above it, no air circulation, and what I can only describe as a poorly-laid out Sony Vaio motherboard, it was destined to die. it's hard to tell for certain what really happened.

    She bought a new machine after the one in the story died again. Rather than pay another $150 to repair it she decided to spend more on a newer machine that was faster. She just wanted to see if we could fix the first one so she could copy her files off onto a USB drive or something to put on the new one. So the purchase of a new machine was pretty much prompted by the death of the old one. 

    When I told her Nerd Patrol should credit her money and give her an external USB drive enclosure for the old drive (she didn't know those would work for her) she chose that option. The manager was very friendly and helpful according to her.

    Hope that helps.

    Oh, and for those who have used a non-proprietary power supply in a proprietary case I can see why you would want to do that after initially consulting about the cost of the proprietary power supply with the customer. But, replacing a proprietary power supply with a universal desktop power supply without consulting the customer and charging $150 to do it is pretty unethical. Give the customer a choice. If she had consented to this being done I'd have little sympathy for the plight she went through.


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