Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Blogging — Rick Moran @ 8:24 am

My five year old Alienware PC burned through its power supply yesterday. And when I say “burned through” I mean the acrid smell of toasting electronics was quite prevalent in my office. It appears that I didn’t clean the air portals often enough and the machine finally screamed “enough” and gave up the ghost.

Could that have been the reason my machine was slowing to a crawl after a few hours online? (Blogger shakes his head and begins to cry).

The nearest rescue for my machine was 70 miles away. Streator, IL is a lovely town but it is smack dab in the middle of nowhere. We had to go to the Best Buy in Bloomington to get a new power supply. And, just in case, we got my Christmas present early - a new HP laptop that really is handsome and functional.

To make a long story short, we put in the new power supply but it still doesn’t work. It now turns on alright but soon after, you hear 3 distinctive beeps and then the box shuts off. The power supply is fine. The sound system and monitor are getting juice. Something else was affected by the burnout so we have to pack the box up and drive all the way back to the Geek Squad at Best Buy (or find a repair place that is closer) just to see if we can’t get it working again.

I’d say screw it except for the pics, the docs, and some programs that I paid for and now don’t want the hassle of having to remember which ones they were and go back to download them again. It is definitely worth fixing if only for the 1st class sound and video cards that make watching movies and listening to music such a joy. So for the foreseeable future, I am going to have to write using this very nice laptop that will definitely take some getting used to.

Ergonomically, it sucks the big one. My neck and shoulders already ache because I have yet to experiment and find a comfortable working mode. For someone online for 14 hours a day, this is very serious. My desk is built for a desktop and am limited at the moment because we don’t have a router so I can work away from my internet connection.

But that is the least of my worries. So far, no complaints about Vista. And I was able to import all my AOL bookmarks which is making life this morning a lot easier (couldn’t do it before using XP for some reason - or I never figured out how). Now I just have to download Firefox, Skype, and maybe one or two other “can’t do without” programs and I’ll be fixed for a while.

I will try to write something later if I can get more comfortable. Right now, I can stand being in this position for maybe an hour before I have to take a break.

Any suggestions, analysis of my computer problem, or just catcalls from the peanut gallery would be appreciated.

Rick Moran


  1. Laptops are great when you need to be mobile. If you’re going to still be tied to your desk, do yourself a huge favor and connect your PC monitor, mouse and keyboard to the laptop …. much, much more functional and comfortable. If you’re going to use the laptop long-term, get a docking station or port replicator that works for you model laptop. This way you can simply click the laptop in place to use all your accessories (printer, monitor, drives, mouse, keyboard, internet connection) and not have to constantly disconnect and reconnect all the cables.

    Comment by Michael S. — 11/17/2008 @ 9:15 am

  2. Ok, the PS fried and replacement does not get system back to pre-fry levels. That indicates either: a power surge that went through the PS and snuffed it or a fault in the PS. If you are using an uninterruptable power supply between your PS and the wall, then it is the latter. If you aren’t you now know why a couple hundred bucks in a UPS is valuable. Only plug a computer into a wall outlet to test and see if it works… otherwise a UPS is necessary. If the UPS checks out on another system, then it isn’t the fault… if it doesn’t then you have a power surge culprit and should see if it is still under the guarantee time of the company (usually limited to a couple of years and $25k in protection of hardware).

    Assuming it was a bad PS, it may have given a final hit to the motherboard, which is bad news. Getting a replacement motherboard for an old system is hell (that is what I do in my spare time when a system goes down, look for old technology). If you have a ‘known good’ system, move the hard drives to it so you can recover your data… you were backing up your data, right?… that you have been working on since your last back-up. If you don’t have a ‘known good’ back-up system for your older drives, then getting a couple of cheap external drive cases and hooking them into those will do you just fine - USB them and get the data from them.

    By checking your drives on a ‘known good’ system (a friend, relative or a second small system you rarely use) you will have a working system to analyze your dead one. Believe me, you want a ‘known good’ system around somewhere. It should be on a separate UPS, too.

    If your hard drives all check out, then you can either ditch the old case/mb/ps or get a brand new motherboard to burn-in for a 48 hour cycle (with memory and graphic card, etc.) and make sure it can support your old drives (mostly EIDE drives, is my guess). At that point you re-install your drives, change the BIOS to boot from the old master drive and pray: if the saints are with you the system will boot, see different hardware, start to reconfigure itself and tell you to contact the MotherShip for a new registration code (for XP… Win2K will be good to go as-is). Then you suck all your data over to a back-up hard drive or onto writeable DVD media which you conveniently bought a burner for. For the cost of motherboard, memory, graphics card, DVD writer, and making sure your case supports a standard motherboard type (ask Alienware) you will be good to go on a DIY project.

    Or go to MWave and add in a case, construction and burn-in costs, make sure it will take all your old drives and have them make it, burn it in and send it to you. Or phone their tech staff and talk with them directly. Nice ‘custom from standard parts’ outfit that know what they are doing. I buy a lot from them for pieces-parts and they did my last back-up system, which sits quietly and unused on another table.

    It sounds like the PS just lost a critical component (resistor most likely) and that overheated a cable, lost insulation and *zap*.

    Moral of the story: back up your data like it is a religion. External hard drive turned on ONLY for that is a good idea. Regular DVD back-ups are excellent and use CDs for incremental backups. If you have less than 64GB then a memory stick would do you well, too. I like the external hard drive as I can pick it up, walk to a new system, put it down, plug it in and go from that new system with very little set-up save for software. I use MS Synch Toy which is free.

    Always back up your data.

    Always have a UPS for your system.

    Always have a back-up system as one system is a single point of failure. It doesn’t need to be a supremo system, just *work*.

    Always set time aside to run your back-up when you are asleep.

    Always run a virus scanner.

    You are your own IT department and system administrator: do the things necessary to keep your customer up and running, even as a solo operation.

    Comment by ajacksonian — 11/17/2008 @ 9:16 am

  3. The solution for working on a laptop is to remember that “lap” is a word that no longer applies to the dang thing. The position needed to properly use this type of computer is laying on the bed, one knee up to support the “lap”top and the foot of the elevated leg wedged under the other leg to keep it from sliding. Trust me, I have figured this out through many hours of trial and error. I too am on the box for around fourteen or fifteen hours a day. This also gets the keyboard elevated and angled to a comfortable height. Plus, you can just roll over and go to sleep.

    Comment by Two Dogs — 11/17/2008 @ 10:21 am

  4. If you just want to save your data, and don’t care about the hardware, you can take the Hard Disk(s) out and put them in an external hard drive (either USB or Firewire) controller and use the drive as an external…

    Comment by Michael in TN — 11/17/2008 @ 11:44 am

  5. This is terrible! Hope you get back up and running soon.

    Comment by Shelby — 11/17/2008 @ 12:43 pm

  6. Ouch. Ajacksonian pretty much summed it up. Depending on the BIOS, it could be a memory failure. Because it is a 5-year-old machine, I rather doubt you’ll be able to find the right kind of memory (at least cheaply).

    I feel for you; I had a massive desktop failure a couple weeks ago caused by a dead MCP fan allowing the chipset to overcook.

    Until you get the desktop repaired (or more likely, replaced), if you have a USB keyboard/mouse, I’ve got an ergonomic solution for you. Plug that and the monitor into the laptop, and change what closing the lid does to do nothing. To do that last item, right-click on the power icon over by the clock, choose “Power Options”, click on “Choose what closing the lid does”, and change the option on “When I close the lid:”.

    Comment by steveegg — 11/17/2008 @ 1:34 pm

  7. Hook the keyboard, mouse and monitor up to the ports on the laptop. Put the laptop off to the side, just like your other computer and ergonomics will be just the same. Since it is a laptop, it might be a bit slower. All in all, if it is a new laptop you can do this.

    Comment by A Stoner — 11/17/2008 @ 2:58 pm

  8. Get a docking station for your laptop, then enjoy the comfort of your original KVM (keyboard, video, mouse). They’re relatively cheap, and it will save your back, neck and eyes (and wrists).

    Comment by lionheart — 11/17/2008 @ 4:48 pm

  9. Get a macintosh. They always work the way they are supposed to, are repairable if something goes wrong, and don’t harbor viruses. Of course, the MacOS is part of the vast left wing conspiracy that 54% of the voting public supports.

    Comment by chuck carlson — 11/17/2008 @ 5:35 pm

  10. Chuck’s right. Get a Mac. A couple of weeks with a Mac you’ll find your thought process becoming clearer. Two months and you’ll be a Democrat.

    Comment by michael reynolds — 11/17/2008 @ 6:16 pm

  11. ajacksonian’s detailed comment is pretty good.
    I’ll add that you should see if you can find a manual online for that model, and look up the beep code. It’s possible something connector or connection (e.g. memory) was dislodged during the power supply replacement.
    When tinkering with a PC, one early thing to try is reseating all connections. That’s usually worth a try.

    Comment by Bill Arnold — 11/17/2008 @ 6:16 pm

  12. First, try to clear the CMOS. Near the battery on your alienware you will find three metal prongs, two will be covered by a jumper. Unplug and move the jumper to cover the middle prong and the one previously unplugged. Leave for 15 secs, switch it back to the original position, and power up. The fact that the computer beeped is a great sign. No beeps after a fried PS means the mobo burned up as well. Doesn’t Alienware overclock their processors? If so this will reset the clock to the intended speed.

    If that doesn’t work, download a LINUX live CD distribution like Mepis, uBuntu, or the original hard drive rescuer, knoppix. Plug in an external hard drive or thumbdrive, put the live CD in the tray, and power up. If it works, just copy the files you want to the external memory.

    SInce it beeped, either of these should work.

    Comment by cotton — 11/17/2008 @ 6:33 pm

  13. All I can add is good luck. Computers are wonderful until they fry. Downloadable programs are great until you can’t find the numbers you need to download them again for free or if you have the numbers, you’re past the free redownloading time.

    Comment by Gaia's Child — 11/17/2008 @ 8:45 pm

  14. My husband, the computer geek extraordinaire, loves Alienware computers. He’s on his second one as the main computer. He carries an IBM Thinkpad for work, though - he’s an engineer. He has several laptops. He purchased my laptop for me as a surprise almost two years ago - it’s an HP. Now he says maybe my next one will be a MAC, so, who knows.

    Comment by Karen — 11/17/2008 @ 10:26 pm

  15. rick,
    cotton nailed it, if that doesn’t fix it and it wasn’t a surge, geek squad or any reputable pc guru should at least be able to save and transfer your data. keep the laptop off of your lap, bad things can happen down there with that much heat, two, your neck shouldn’t be in that position, the fellow suggesting the docking station is bang on. three if all you are doing is writing (listening to blog radio, and music) the fellow who suggested the apple is right on, much simpler, user friendly, WYSIWYG, that being said i am using the University’s hp laptop and I am happy, so hypocrite I am… good luck

    Comment by jambrowski — 11/17/2008 @ 11:20 pm

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