2004-08-21

Mad Scientist

I realized today that I'm a bit of a mad scientist when it comes to computers.

A while ago I built up a computer for the kids to use. I called it a Frankenstein. It was built of parts of many of my old computers. Most of the parts were from a couple of dead computers that were thrown out at a job I worked at. The main case, power supply and motherboard were from a Gateway. The memory was a spare from another computer. The first hard drive came from small, dead rack mounted computer. The video card came from an old Pentium 1 computer I had around. The CD drive was a 2x CD writer that was an original drive from my main desktop. The monitor and speakers were from my dad's old computer. The sound card was from an old 486 I still had. And the network card I had lying around from some other project. It turned out to be a pretty good system. Eventually, I transplanted a hard drive as I'd upgraded my desktop unit. I also bought a cheap DVD reader drive, $10 after rebate, so the kids can play DVD movies downstairs. It is a pretty good system. It actually has a better CPU than my desktop. My desktop is a P3-450. The kid's computer is a P3-700. I even considered swapping CPU's, but the heat sinks were rather different, and the 700's didn't want to come off easily. Last year I got a new laptop that is now my main computer, and my old desktop is mostly a file server. It is also now my DVD burner.

But that isn't the latest bit of mad scientist. You see my old desktop stopped working a couple of month's ago. At first it just crashed all the time. Then after leaving it off for a little while, it wouldn't turn on again. This meant I didn't have a hot backup of my laptop and my pictures anymore. And I couldn't burn DVD Roms. This didn't make me happy.

I wasn't sure where the problem was in the system. So I tried a few different things. Swapping power supplies. Leaving most of the devices unplugged. Nothing helped. Eventually I tired the CPU from the Frankenstein. It didn't fit very well, but I made it work for a test. And it worked! So that pointed at the 450 being the problem. But as a sanity check, I tried the 450 in the Frankenstein. To get it to fit, I had to take off the heatsink. The system booted with the 450! I turned it off after the POST screen, as I didn't want to overheat the CPU. When I swapped the 450 back into my desktop, it worked. So I put it back together. Windows 2000 didn't want to boot up well, but windows 98 came up ok. Then I left it off for the night. It wouldn't boot up the next day.

I left the problem alone for a while. But last night, I decided to try something new. I had purchased a nicer video card for the Frankenstein so my Eldest son could play Age of Mythology. But to me, part of the deal would be trying to swap CPUs in a permanent sense. So I pulled the 450 back out of my dead desktop. It's heat sink came off pretty easily. But the 700's heat sink was a real pain. It had 4 plastic press on ridged pegs going through the CPU to hold it on. It took some careful application of force to get them off. I wanted to avoid cracking the CPU's circuit board, for obvious reasons. We swapped the heat sinks. I put in the 450 into the Frankenstein case. I checked that it would boot. Then we put in the new video card and got it configured with a little bit of complexity, and about 8 reboots.

Then I put the 700 into my desktop. It worked like a dream. It both cases, the computers recognized the new speed of the CPU with no configuration changes. I was surprised with my desktop, as it had a large collection of DIP switches on the mother board for selecting all sorts of speeds, including the CPU.

I got my system to boot up. Even Windows 2000 was happy. One of the first things I did was to burn a new DVD Rom of data I wanted backed up. Then I slowly synchronized data from my laptop to the desktop. My son and I played a few games of Age of Mythology, both separately and together. We enjoyed playing the Titan's upgrade I picked up the same time as the new video board for the Frankenstein.

But I realized early this morning what a mad scientist I had become. Yes, I had built a Frankenstein computer in the past for my boys. But the real mad scientist bit was the fact that I had effectively done a brain transfer from the Frankenstein to my old desktop to get it to work. And both seem to be running well!

It reminded me of the plot from Young Frankenstein. Of course, one might ask what each computer got in exchange from the transplant. Hrrrrrrrrr! :)

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