Member Rara Avis
I typically have two computer systems sitting on my desk. Isis is my main machine, an older Pentium 3, and Xena is a newer Pentium 4 that I use for testing and which will one day become my main machine (if I ever find the time to configure it and move all my data). Two days ago, this past Wednesday, Xena up and died. I was busy, so my only immediate reaction was to curse a bit.
Yesterday morning, after answering my email and making a few responses in the forums, I decided I best resolve the problem before starting my usual work day. Powering down the machine, then bringing it back up, resulted in the faint whirring and clicking that indicated the hard disk was loading Windows, but there was nothing on the monitor to indicate I had a live computer. Maybe the monitor, a ten-year-old NEC, had died? Thinking that would be easy to test, I powered down both systems, then swapped the monitors between Isis and Xena. No joy. Xena still whirred and clicked, but refused to give me a screen. "Well," I said to self, "It's obviously not the monitor."
I was wrong. I discovered I was wrong a bit later, when I tried to bring Isis back on line and got nothing but the same black screen I saw on Xena. When I moved the NEC monitor from Xena to Isis, the problem had moved with it, and that's exactly the kind of behavior you look for when troubleshooting hardware. But, uh, even though the problem moved with the NEC monitor, it didn't leave Xena. And when I reconnected the good monitor to Isis, I still got only a black screen.
The NEC monitor was the problem, as a multimeter soon verified. But it wasn't a blown tube or nonfunctioning electron gun, which are the more usual failures. Rather, the output signal was about twice the standard voltage. When it died, it fried the video card in Xena almost instantly. And when I swapped the monitors between my two systems, I gave it the opportunity to fry the video card in Isis, too.
I confirmed my guess by swapping an old PCI video card into both computers, replacing the fancy AGP cards, and both came up immediately. I only had 16 colors, at 640 by 480 resolution, but I was 99 percent certain my guesses were correct. I needed to buy two new video cards ASAP. Of course, I had spent most of the day reaching that conclusion, and the nearest place to buy computer parts was Kalamazoo. I figured an hour to get there, ten minutes to buy the cards, an hour to return home, then maybe thirty minutes to get the machines back together.
I think I hate gamers.
I know the computer industry has changed a lot in the few years since I entered my Walden phase, but no where has it changed as much as in the arena of video. I found cards that had more memory than my computer, cards that would display two different screens on two monitors simultaneously, cards with S-Video and RCA jacks and, I swear, I think I saw one that had a built-in cappuccino machine. I spent close to two hours, at three different stores, learning about a whole new industry, pushed to the cutting edge largely by those who love to play video games. Thoreau never had to deal with this kind of crap!
Thursday was wasted through absolutely no fault of my own. Everything I did, I felt, was a reasonable reaction to the whims of fate. Friday, however, can be blamed on no one but me. Had I simply bought two new video cards, I probably could have been back on line last night. But I already had the skins off the computers, I was already at a computer store (three of them, in fact), and it just seemed to make sense to perform a few "other" upgrades at the same time. I definitely needed a new CD unit to load the video drivers, because the one in Isis was so clogged with dirt after three years it could hardly spin. More memory. A second hard disk. A 10/100 network interface card to replace the old 10 NIC. A USB hub. About the only thing I didn't buy was a monitor to replace the NEC that had started all this. Unfortunately, I couldn't find one with wheels and a tow bar, and that was about the only way I'd get one home in the Miata.
So, I spent all day today playing surgeon. I never did get Isis to recognize the second hard disk (not even as a primary), and I don't know if that's because the HD is a new standard my old computer doesn't know about or because the HD is bad. I'll try putting it in Xena latter. Since I don't yet have a monitor for Xena, there's no big hurry to get her off life support. Soon?
All of which is to say that if you've emailed me in the past two days (as about 600 of you have), please be patient while I do a little catch-up. With my schedule, making up two lost days could easily take a month.