Reflections of a ModemJunkie

June, 1997

Dr. Debakey: Where are you now that I need you? - - a heart transplant for my p.c.

As my regular readers know, I believe in doing as much as possible with as little as possible.

It's been barely two and a half years since I abandoned my original trusty 286 in favor of the Pawnshop Special. I hadn't intended to abandon the 286 (after all it wasn't even 5 years old) but, somehow in the process of swapping cards into the "new" 386/40, I fried a couple of the old cards and cracked the motherboard. For the gory details see: The Pawnshop Special (I jump to Windows) (November, 1994).

I had intended to buy a "screamin' 486" but I passed the pawnshop, saw this old Magitronic sitting there and made an offer they could not refuse. It has served me well, but there are times when it is just too slow (not because of much that I want to do, but because of the software bloat that plagues us everywhere). So when a kind, gentle benefactor, a wondrous person indeed (who must remain anonymous) offered to send me a 486/100 motherboard, I jumped at the opportunity.

I eagerly awaited the mail. And then it came, all neatly packaged in plastic bubbles. I tore open the box. And there it was, with more jumpers than I had ever imagined and manuals, too. And notes and hints. And best of all it had lots of 30 pin slots so I could keep the 20 meg of RAM I had crammed into the old 386. Not only that but since it was a VESA local bus, I could move over my old cards.

I dutifully took the manuals to bed and tried to read them. Best cure for my insomnia I have found in years. Then I waited for a whole day off so I could do this all in one day. Remember, I am a user, a junkie, not a techie.

"This shouldn't be too hard," I said out loud. But, with experience as a guide, it was not without great trepidation that I opened the old box and took a look inside. After all, I was about to perform open heart surgery, indeed, a heart transplant, on a perfectly healthy patient.

First I removed all of my old cards. The ATI video, the I/O, the CD/ROM interface, the extra card with the 16550 UART and laid them neatly on a specially cleared wooden shelf (not on my metal desk like last time).

Well, these minitowers are nice, but the motherboard fits under the drive bay frame. O.K. I thought, just remove the drive bay frame and it'll be easy. Just a couple of screws to take out. But, NO! The frame is held in place with permanent studs instead of screws. I'll have to see if I can slide out the old board -- remember I cracked the motherboard last time. And I didn't even try to remove that one.

O.K. Lets just remove the plastic connectors that hold the board in place. But they expand when the board is installed-- they have to be crimped to fit through the bottom of the board. No problem, I have a PC tool kit I got for $6.98 at CompUSA back when it was still SoftWarehouse. But none of the tools are long enough, or strong enough. And my fingers are not skinny enough (Neither am I, but that is another story.) O.K. Now, what? I am just started and I can't even get the old board out.

I called Ron. Ron doesn't know much about computers but he does know circuit boards-- and he isn't intimidated by them. (See the November, 1994 story above. His soldering iron bailed me out that time.) Even though it was Memorial Day and his family had other plans for him, he was over within the half hour.

"Well," he said, after a few futile attempts to remove the plastic holders. "We could break them off." I cringed. Then I remembered seeing a plastic bag with new plastic pins in the box with the motherboard. So we broke off the old plastic pins and tried to remove the board. But there were also two screws that had to come out first. Then we carefully slid out the old board from under the drive bay with 2 floppies, two hard drives and a tape backup.

Although I had fallen asleep reading the manual there was one warning that my benefactor had alerted me to. The first sentence said that the voltage had to be 3.3 for the 486 CPU. The second sentence described some jumper settings. Nowhere was there anything but a leap of faith to indicate that the jumper settings would change the voltage, but we made the leap.

So. Now Ron and I peered at the motherboard trying to find the right jumpers. Eventually we thought we had. And they appeared to be set correctly - - after all the previous owner had used the same CPU. But we wouldn't really know until it was up and running ( - if - it got up and running). Since those jumpers had been correct, we didn't fool with any others. I could always change them later, I thought. They weren't as critical as the voltage regulator.

Then we installed a new heat sink and fan (but only after realizing that the black plastic around the CPU was the holder for the old fan and could be (had to be) removed first.

Then we heard my wife calling, "Lunch is on the table." If Ron can't resist helping with electronic problems, he really can't resist, good bread, cheddar cheese, liver sausage and Dijon Mustard. So, even though it was nearly time for the first of several barbecue parties his family had been invited to that day, we left everything on my desk and headed to the dining room. Soon, satiated but short of time, he had to leave and I was back up stairs. We had removed the old heart. Now it was time to replace it. Alone!!

Before I install it, I snap in all 20 meg of RAM from my old card. What a breeze. I remember the first time I added RAM and the problems I had. What a relief.

First thing to notice. The new board was at least an inch longer than the old one. (There sure are a lot of jumpers hidden by that drive frame...hope they are set correctly.) And I had to squeeze the new board under that drive frame.

Well, to make a longer story shorter, I did. Then I found the new plastic connectors and punched them into place. And then those two screws. Ah!! I don't remember any nuts holding them in place from when I took them out. And there are none in the bottom of the case or on my desk or on the floor. Oh well, once I screw in all of the cards the motherboard probably won't move anyway.

First, though, I connect the two power connectors. Which way do they go? Oh well, take a guess.

Then I install the video card (I decided to stick with my 16 bit 2 meg ATI Turbo so I wouldn't have to fool with the video drivers for now.) Then the I/O cards. A "new" 32 bit card for the floppies and the hard drives and an old extra one for the modem and the printer. Then the CDRom, the Soundblaster By now I have everything out of the box that came in the mail. I am getting confused between the new cards and the old ones. The neat, orderly, row of cards on the shelf is in disarray.

The time comes to plug it in. Heart in my throat, I plug it in. I turn it on.

Nothing moves. I think I hear a slight whine... but nothing. NOTHING!! Have I burned up the board. I know the RAM is in right. Then I look at those power connectors. And at the diagram in the manual. They have different numbers in the diagram. How was I supposed to know. White raised plastic numbers on white plastic. Once you know, they are easy to see. I had had enough trouble seating them without worrying about the sequence.

I reverse them and try again.. VOILA!! It boots!! I hit delete and set the CMOS (Yes, I had remembered to print out my CMOS info before removing the old board.) I reboot. It boots but won't recognize the drives. I check the CMOS. Replace the new I/O card with the old one. Nothing... Then finally, I remove the connectors from the drives and reconnect them exactly as they were. They must have come loose during the install because now the machine boots and the drives come up.

This is what is called success!!

And many things are really much faster. I can actually read WindowWatch Magazine in Adobe PDF format now. WordPerfect for Windows actually opens in less time that I can smoke a cigarette. (I haven't smoked in years but every time I load one of these new bloated new apps I want to again. And until now, I have had the waiting time.)

I still have to solve some IRQ conflicts and have a little fine tuning to go. Some times the printer doesn't work - - and sometimes Trumpet says my modem isn't responding. But slowly I am cleaning up the bugs. I hope I don't need to get at any of those jumpers under the drive frame.

But thank you benefactor.

And to the rest of you. If I can do it, so can you. It's upgrade time. Not to some P266 MMX machine but to something from just yesterday that will do the job.

Copyright 1997 Leonard Grossman

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