Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Computer rehab - a complete case study

This past summer, I was in camp. I had my computer with me but it wasn't much fun without my good, ol' friend, Internet. Other folks, who were also living in the family house, actually did have high-speed connections but I didn't feel comfortable using their computers for more than a quick email check. It was disconcertingly depressing. Finally, at the end of July, I decided that I was really being ridiculous and I should just splurge the forty dollars it would take to hook up.

The cable guy came to run the line into my corner of the FH. Of course, he needed to finish the thing by configuring it with my computer. For some reason, though, my computer seemed to be in a deep sleep. When I tried to power up, some of the lights would blink at me and then roll over and go back to sleep. I continued to poke it, yell at it - I even thought about pouring ice water on its face! - all to no avail. I borrowed someone else's laptop to finish up with the cable guy. So now I had an internet line but my computer was out. I was sure it was a temporary illness.

Over the next few days I hoped for a spontaneous recovery. Clearly, the AC adaptor was not managing to charge the battery. I thought it was because the power port had shifted slightly so as not to allow the plug to fit completely into the port. So I was trying to figure out a way to shift it back. I started to take apart the laptop - at least that's what I thought I was doing when I took out the screws in the bottom panel of the casing. I realized that taking apart a computer was not that simple. I consulted with the resident camp geek who suggested that perhaps I should shave down the rubber around the plug to see if it'll fit into the jack better that way. When that didn't work, he gave me his opinion that I was in big trouble because the power port is supposed to be soldered to the motherboard which is a major part to replace. Not very encouraging.

I won't even go into the whole saga with Dell "customer service" because Blogger might crash from the length of the post and the whole story is just too distressing. I'm working it all out in private therapy sessions.

A few weeks later, in preparation for going back home to the city, I called to cancel my internet service. To vent my frustration to the friendly voice on the phone, I mentioned that I hadn't actually used the service because my computer was in a coma the entire time. Well, whaddya' know? The voice told me that, if that was the case, my fee would be waived entirely. What a nice voice!

When we got back to the city, I made some phone calls to various computer doctors. They were all charging a hundred bucks just to look at my computer, may cost more to fix it, and there were no guarantees. So that route was out of the question. I did some of my own research online (at my neighbor's house) and realized that my problem was a fairly common one. Apparently my power port jack had loosened from the system board a.k.a. motherboard and would need to be soldered back on.

The next step was the resident yeshiva geek (that would be Chofetz Chaim yeshiva) who said he'd be happy to do the job. He said that the actual soldering job was a matter of minutes but disassembling and reassembling the computer would take a really long time and would have to wait until he had a large block of time to devote to the project. When I asked if he thought I could do that part by myself he said he couldn't say but if I wanted, I could give it a try.

And try I did. He wasn't kidding when he said it would take a long time. It was painstaking labor, really. I started getting a little concerned when I realized that not all of the screws were the same size and that the parts didn't seem like they belonged in any particular place. Since I couldn't name a single part, I couldn't intuitively know where it would belong. So I came up with the idea of taping the screws to a paper and labeling them using such descriptions as "to the right side of the rainbow-shaped copper thingie next to the round silver things that look like alien antennae". I also took pictures right before I took things apart so I would know what it was supposed to look like when the time came to put it back together. That bright plan met its death when I ran out of space on my memory card and it was way to late to wake my neighbor up to empty the memory onto her computer. That was really neither here nor there because, eventually, I got stuck. That is to say, I couldn't figure out what to do next and the system board wasn't out. I went to bed, exhausted (mostly emotionally).

The next evening, unwilling to concede defeat, I tried to find instructions for taking apart the computer online. Turns out, Dell actually has service manuals for just this sort of thing available online! I found the spot where I was up to in the disassembly process and took it from there. At long last, I was able to lift the system board. I learned the hard way that, in order to take out the motherboard, everything must come out. No exceptions.

I wrapped the system board in a ziploc bag and then in a towel for cushioning. The computer recommended a static-free bag but how the hell I'm supposed to know what that is, much less where to find it, is beyond me. I sent it off with Dovid to yeshiva.

Word came back that the power jack had all its tabs torn off and could not simply be soldered back on. It would have to be replaced. A research project on the various models of power jacks and the computer models to which they belong, a trip to Ebay and several days waiting for shipment followed. The jack was sent to yeshiva. A day after Yom Kippur, my system board came home with a new power jack soldered on. (I also got some feedback from one of my yeshiva contacts that the computer geek thought I was absolutely nuts. When I called him on it, he amended it to "persistent." Is that a compliment? I wasn't sure. I have a sneaking suspicion he just meant weird.)

At this point, I had an array of (hopefully) healthy laptop pieces:

The final operation took about an hour. When the final stitches were in place, I checked around and, thankfully, there were no extra parts or screws still lying around. I went home, dug up the AC adaptor, which had been gathering dust from lack of use, and plugged my laptop in. A bright green light shown right next to the charging battery symbol and, boy, was it beautiful.


PsychoToddler said...

Well, when I write this kind of post it usually generates 0 comments, but I'm proud of you!

Anonymous said...

Wow, reading this post was mind boggling and for the mechanically nonchallenged and I admire your fortitude and steadfastness. You are some SMART DAME!!!!
Did you ever wonder why its called the "Motherboard"? The essential piece, what makes it all come together, juggles all parts and merges it into one. Sounds like a MOM!!!!

Ayelet said...

PT: You're so kind to save me from such an awful fate.

Ezzie said...

LOL! Ah, Dell. Though they owe me well over a hundred dollars, trying to get it from them is so frustrating I never bothered. How sad is that?

LittleBirdies said...

Gotta give you credit. I work in computers and I'd be scared to do it myself.