marahmarie: my initials (MM) (tech-no-mite!)

Me and Aesop here? We rock. Turned out the new video card I bought on Friday was purely defective. Got another one today (NVIDIA, at that, and much more up to date, AGP and all) for no cost (I guess to make up for the shop selling me a bad one to begin with). We were in and out in under half an hour and the card doesn't even need a driver to work perfectly at 1440 x 900. Me and Aesop gonna party now.

Here's to the next ten years, you indomitable piece of crap...I have to say, she runs really, really good for an old relic. Whip-fast with just an 128MB video card and some extra RAM. :)

marahmarie: my initials (MM) (tech-no-mite!)

As all 1 and 1/2 of you know, I came into a small windfall the other day - which got me thinking of doing some computer upgrades (since the wind didn't fall far enough to replace my computer outright). But, being ever-cautious me, before I got into that, I wanted to test my bad video card to see if it was bad, because I never believe myself the first time around. So I tested it and it was bad, indeed.

Bummer. Double-bumming was the fact that with the bad card back inside, the hard drives began spinning but there was no system beep and no evidence of the computer actually booting up. It was like Wow, my hard drives are spinning, that's nice. That and a quarter won't even buy me the paper. Of course the monitor remained pitch-black dark throughout this non-event.

So I took the card to the only two tech stores in town but it's so old neither one carries it anymore. I might as well have wheeled in a mainframe and said hey guys, got another one of these? The fact that my card is not just extinct but also, gasp, AGP, made the reps at Best Buy laugh and laugh - after one of the sales reps googled on an iMac trying to figure out what it was, at which point I lost all respect for everyone in there.

How I wish we had a Frye's...

From there I went to a local computer shop and just bought another graphics card, after a long day in which I explained to everyone - one rep at Staples, where I started out, three at Best Buy, where I went next, and two techs at the computer shop - that my computer would not boot up with the graphics card installed. The only person to buy a clue? Staples guy. He said that like my motherboard, duh, might be shot. I can't believe that out of six people - two of them experienced techs - Staples guy was the only one who got it right. Like the chefs at your local steakhouse not knowing how to cook your Filet Mignon, but with the counter guy at McDonald's, it comes out perfect every time.

Not that my video card isn't shot - it is. It failed to light up the monitor on the relic-y computer in the shop that, gasp, also takes an AGP video card, but the system booted normally otherwise. So I bought another graphics card, simply to rule out with Actual Proof In Hand that it's the new graphics card at fault. It isn't.

My latest theory is the chipset on the AGP slot (not the entire motherboard, obviously - but I'll need to replace the entire motherboard just to fix this) is shot. The new graphics card works - but the screen keeps scrolling at correct res (1400 x 900 - I also picked up a bigger monitor on the cheap) and was so dim I had to tilt it backward to see the picture. To doubly test my theory, I unhooked the bigger monitor and hooked the smaller monitor up, but it too became so dim I had to tilt it backward. So I took the card out, took the smaller monitor off, and hooked the bigger monitor up to the 32MB on-board video. Now I'm stuck with a bigger display set to 1280 x 1024 res, when I need 1400 x 900 and everything graphic-y online looks smushed and blurry, which is causing me significant eye strain.

A computer purchase isn't in my budget right now (new or used) but I've been looking at low-end used computers online anyway, thinking I'll save myself from installing another motherboard (I have a 20-page PC Mag walk-through to work with, but I've never replaced a motherboard and I absolutely don't wanna start now) and just buy another computer with more powerful graphics. Like there is any such thing at my price range - which is so low it's cringe-worthy - there is not. So I'm thinking, since I don't want to sink what little money I have left into someone else's underpowered mess that probably won't have the right video card, either, that I'll take the computer with me when I bring the video card back on Monday and have them do the motherboard themselves.

I still love this computer, I just can't deal with it anymore.

marahmarie: my initials (MM) (tech-no-mite!)

Just reminded myself via a comment I made tonight that I no longer have a computer. I have the last vestiges of a 2003 eMachines Frankensteined together years ago that's falling apart. I've gone from laughing over my broken floppy disk drive (circa 2005; still broken), paper clips that attach a cable to my hard drive (circa 2006; still attached), a new CD-ROM that hasn't worked right, if at all, since the day it was installed (circa 2007; still inoperable), the dial-up modem I ripped out to put a new video card in because the tower isn't big enough to hold both of them (circa 2008; still missing), the new wifi adapter that needed a pie tin to find the signal next door (circa 2009; no longer own it), mismatched memory sticks (circa 2010; 500MBs of Sanyo and Kingston that befuddle everyone who sees them) to the more serious damage that occurred this summer: I turned the computer on one bright sweltering morning to find my first-ever Haans 19" flat screen monitor looked dim (circa 2007; long gone).

Like "is there something wrong with my eyes" dim, like "maybe it's just all the sunlight" dim, like "maybe I'm just losing my mind" dim. After a half hour of generating my own Internet signal, using a seriously broken Linksys adapter and pure mind control (I've dropped it on the floor a thousand times; to this day I literally will it to work) I realized the page before me that took just 20 minutes to load was disappearing before my eyes. It wasn't just dim, it was being sucked into the back of the monitor so I could no longer see it. I got honestly upset at this point (and there's very little this computer can do to upset me, since it has 1) gone on fire, 2) burned out a dozen hard drives, 3) had the CPU overheat on multiple occasions) so I gently placed my hand along the top of the screen to pull it closer, only to flinch like I'd been set on fire. The monitor was hot enough to burn me. And even as I touched it, it went completely black.

I spent a ruinous morning wondering what I'd done to deserve such cosmic wrath as I fiddled with this and fussed with that, cursed and pleaded with deities and threw every peripheral I have across the room in fits of rage (yet every peripheral still works - even the adapter, which was already busted). I spent hours cleaning and blowing out the tower down to the last exposed nub I could find on the motherboard, and studied what was left of the screen (a mere shadow compared to a full picture; I had to stand at a stark 90 degree angle to it and tilt it upward to see it at all) when I wasn't lying on the floor watching my CPU and video card fans. Finally it hit me that the fan was working, but not the video card. This I could trace to the fact that the corresponding part of the motherboard had probably fried, perhaps from the video card being too powerful, or maybe there was static, or even a power surge I hadn't noticed (I'm on surge protectors and it was calm and sunny that day, but whatever).

So I went to my landlord's office to explain I needed a monitor to test my video card with to see which one was broken, but that I might have to borrow the monitor if it worked (he always has extras lying around). I hooked his monitor up and it didn't work, but it worked in his office, so I knew then my video card was done. Luckily, I have on-board video, so I hooked his monitor up to that - and it worked, which told me my own monitor might still work, so I hooked my monitor up to the on-board, but it stayed completely dark. Which told me my video card had not only burned out but taken my monitor's backlight with it, which in turn almost set the entire thing on fire. What a wonderful morning.

In the days and weeks since I've continued to use my on-board with the flat screen. I have other video cards but I can't find them and after pricing out the retro one I'd need for this rig (about $200 new) I gave up: I'll be able to buy a laptop, netbook or iPad for that soon enough, so why bother. I've been using Aesop as-is ever since, and while it works, it does not work with Web 2.0. The lack of a video card, despite 2GBs of RAM, almost 2GHz on the CPU and about 50GBs free on the hard drives, is making Web 2.0 pure hell on wheels. My mouse drags on every graphic or script-heavy page - like Photobucket (which is both), my own blog (too graphic-heavy for this bullshit), AOL's new non-classic home page (not that I visit that too much, just to plant an easy idea of what I go through in your minds). Stuff like dragging and dropping sidebar widgets on has become nearly impossible: my mouse fights me on every widget and the widgets fight my mouse and my head usually explodes before one page like that is done.

My on-board video is so not up to handling graphic-y, AJAX-y, Javascript-y Web 2.0 that for the first time in three years I had to re-install POP Peeper - not to write a tutorial for hapless AOL users, but to get my email, as in *all of it*, because my on-board video hangs on Yahoo's and Live's image and script-heavy pages (a single Yahoo email loads 95 scripts and 13 style sheets - I have a Firefox add-on that tells me things like that).

After four months of slogging along with Aesop the Half Computer here, there's two lessons I've learned: 1) never use a graphics card more powerful than your motherboard can handle, which was probably what (after over a year of almost daily use) led me to this cringe-worthy situation, and 2) if you ever meet a web dev or designer who doesn't sympathize with what those of us on old wrecks of computers like mine or on nearly powerless netbooks or dinky smartphones go through trying to download all their needlessly script and image heavy bullshit, you might want to ask them to buy a clue. I'll even lend them Aesop here if they don't get how bad they're making the Web.

marahmarie: my initials (MM) (tech-no-mite!)

The last time I had to format it (a few months ago) none of my XP OEM restore discs worked so I had to use a Vista install disc. I. Hate. Vista. I mean it's OK once you get used to it, and after many episodes of getting used to it over many years, it got to be like, "Fine (slow as shit), OK, (hate its looks) whatever (sucks donkey balls)" - it was bearable, I guess, if nothing else. It got me online.

Knowing I couldn't go back to XP, and barely able to take Vista, I tried Ubuntu Funky Fresh recently - or whatever the latest version's called (Fomenting Funk? ...oh wait, Edgy Eft). But it wouldn't let me find or use my wireless adapter and I connect through wireless (I don't even have an ISP) so Amazing Animal or whatever it's called was a complete fail.

Then my monitor did this thing. The AC plug keeps coming out when I yank the monitor (an old 19" Hanns) around. It's defective. It won't stay in. Nothing should just fall to the ground every time you touch what it's attached to. After falling out maybe 19 times this month, I lost 1440 x 900 resolution completely. I tried everything to restore it but it just went missing from the Personalize-->Display menu, and also disappeared from List All Modes.

So I checked the Registry (tinkering with video card values was how I've fixed it in the past) and saw most of the values under HKLM Machine and HKLM System for the video card (ATI Radeon 8500 - this computer is retro so it sports fashionable all-antique hardware) were set to 1440 x 900, while two were set to the new default res that my stupid computer chose for itself - 1280 x 1024. So I edited those values to read 1440 x 900 (using hex values - I have a way of doing the math to figure it out without actually knowing how hex values work) and rebooted.

Same damn thing. My favorite res, 1440 x 900, was still missing. So I tried uninstalling and re-installing the video card, updating the driver from the Radeon website with the Catalyst All-In-One version for Vista, performed a number of chants and incantations, and tried some other things, but none of them worked. So I decided to format C: for the thousandth time, thank you Vista and damn you to hell.

This is where it gets jiggy - and how I lost the entire day: my Vista disc no longer worked. Now I had a formatted, unusable computer with not a single disc in the house I could use to install any operating system (I had installed Ubuntu with Dameon Tools and never bothered to copy it, so I didn't even have Ubuntu to boot from).

I had a long, long long talk with God at this point. This honestly went on for the better part of an hour. I also seriously considered going to Staples and plunking a few hundred down for Windows 7, but I have to be able to pay my rent and my car is telling me to buy another one, so I can't realistically screw around with buying expensive stuff right now.

While God was enduring my outwardly silent part rant/part supplication/part prayer I turned the eMachines restore discs around and around in my hands, disgusted at how they haven't worked since 2008 or so. The scratches and various stains and pock marks were most likely at fault, I thought to myself as I looked at them again - and almost did a double as I saw they looked brand new.

They looked brand new.

I've had them since 2004, and they were used when I got them. As was the computer. They have never looked brand new.

I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so after letting out the biggest "wtf" my brain's ever burped up, I popped the first disc in - and it worked. Popped the second disc in - and it worked. Rebooted the computer - and it worked. Installed my wireless adapter - and it worked. Got online - and it worked. Everything. Just. Worked.

Except the display. 1440 x 900 res was still missing even after I switched operating systems, and I still can't find it. At least now I know it can't be anything in the Registry. The monitor connects with VGA and doesn't support DVI even though it came with a DVI cable, so it's not that. Every cable and plug is secure, so it's not that. I'm out of guesses.

Outside of that fly in the ointment, it went swimmingly, perfect, with a set of XP ghost discs that haven't worked in three years that looked like someone left them in the middle of a busy city street - or I thought they did, until I looked at them again this afternoon.

Which is not real, of course. Everything about this computer is starting to freak me out.

All I kept thinking while I was sure every install disc I had was shot was, "If I can't get back online he'll never hear from me again because I don't have his phone number, he doesn't have mine, we've never met and I don't even know his last name." And yeah, my phone sucks for Internet so I can't use it for anything like an email, which is the only way I can contact him, or him me. But yeah, after all this time, there's a "he" - I think I'm happy about that. :)

marahmarie: my initials (MM) (Default)

It might have been made in 2002 but this ornery eMachines still has a lot of fight. We warred from early Sunday afternoon until 5pm today. Ultimately, after a near panic attack and a break to eat dinner and drink as much red wine as I could, I believe I have won.

Like most battles with my computer it started over nothing. I have an ATI Radeon 8500 video card with 128MB on-board RAM. I wanted to upgrade to a generic video card with 500MB on-board RAM, so I took the ATI card out, popped the generic card in, screwed everything back into place, plugged the computer back in, pressed the power button, and...


Holy mother of God. OK. So I unplugged the computer, took the cover off, unscrewed everything, put the old video card back in, screwed everything back into place, plugged the computer back in, pressed the power button, and...


Rinse and repeat for five minutes. I realized that maybe it was my hard drive(s), since I took those out while I was in there to replace a 30GB drive with a newer 300GB drive. I couldn't do it because I don't have the right "splitter" - the new drive is SATA and my computer takes ATA; you have to do a lot of fancy-ass shit to get SATA working that I can't do without the right accessories.

So I took the hard drives out and switched the cables around since I wasn't sure which cable went to what in the first place. While I was in there, with my head under the hard drive mount, I looked up and saw I'd knocked another cable out of place when I disconnected the hard drives. So I reconnected it, screwed everything back into place, plugged the computer back in, pressed the power button, and...


At that point I gave up, waved a white flag at my computer, and promised it I would kick its ass in the morning. Except I overslept so I didn't get a chance until early this afternoon.

I tried to run Windows Memory Diagnostic, but it took me over an hour to find and download an ISO burner that works on my machine - that would be ImgBurn. After I burned the image, I spent another twenty minutes unable to boot from it. I checked my BIOS settings but there wasn't much to do; the computer already has the first three boot slots set as "Boot From CD-/DVD-ROM".

I went back to Microsoft's User Guide; it said to boot from the MemDiag image you need cdburn.exe, and to get cdburn.exe, you have to download the entire Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit. At this point I was saying, out loud, to no one but myself, "You have got to be fucking kidding."

So the Battle of Mount RAM began...

My computer is designed so that to remove the memory sticks you have to first remove the video card, because it's in the way, laying right over the clip on slot 1, so this started out bad and got worse from there. I popped one stick out (the older stick), plugged the computer back in, pressed the power button, and...


So I took the other stick out (the newer one) popped the older stick into the newer stick's slot, plugged everything back in (after I adjusted the video card, which may or may not have gone in right), pressed the power button, and...

IT "JUST WORKED" (for a second, it was like having a Mac).

I bounced the sticks back and forth for a few minutes to determine that a) both slots worked and that b) both sticks worked. Everything passed my archaic tests with flying colors. Windows was able to do successful RAM tests on both sticks, no matter which slot I used.

The strange thing is, the computer could recognize, test and use either stick when inserted one at a time but it could not do any of that with both of them inserted at once. And the only stick it could not successfully use was beyond my ability to figure out.

I have a program on my computer, Astra32, that I got for free on the other day, and it too found and recognized both sticks of RAM - one is an old 500MB Infineon stick, while the other is my newer 500MB Kingston RAM.


So I went to find my boyfriend, who was on the front lawn, helping a neighbor with his bike. Since I'm almost better at computers than he is - even though he's the person who taught me when I was all green and newb that pressing the power button would never hurt me - I expected to hear a litany of, "I don't knows". And I sure did.

"But ask him", he said, waving a hand at our neighbor. "He knows computers." I tried to not burst out laughing remain polite; the neighbor doesn't look like he'd know his way out a paper bag, not even with a flashlight. "What's the problem?" he inquired.

Upon hearing it, he thought the motherboard was shot, since Windows recognized both sticks and both memory slots worked, but only one stick of RAM would work at a time even if both were in there together, and there was no way to parse out which, if any, stick had failed.

Upon further discussion he was convinced the north controller had failed. I wouldn't know a north controller if I fell over it but he says if it got cracked or damaged during yesterday's battles (Mount Video Card and Mount Hard Drive, respectively), that was it...pop a new motherboard in or do without half a gig of RAM, since adding new memory would not help.


I don't know about anyone else, but I don't usually stockpile old eMachines motherboards. So I did what I usually do when I'm out of luck: I gave my boyfriend my most un-seductive, "I will drill holes through your skull with my eyes" glare until he said, "I know I have more RAM laying around the house; let me go find it for you."

A few minutes later he was back, waving around a half gig of Kingston RAM. While he was gone our neighbor and I discussed my mismatched RAM (Infineon and Kingston sticks) which should not have worked together for the last two years but somehow did, so I was happy to see my boyfriend had at least produced the correct brand name. But I still didn't know if my other Kingston stick worked.

Under the grip of a full panic attack, thinking I cracked my motherboard yesterday during the first two battles, I popped the Infineon RAM out, popped the "new" Kingston RAM in, plugged the computer back in, pressed the power button, and ...


"I can't take any more," I said, throwing myself on the floor and pounding my head. "I cannot do this."

I popped the RAM back out, reseated it, and powered up this cranky bitch of a computer one more time. Apparently I did not crack my motherboard, because both sticks of Kingston RAM work fine now.

That's when I took a break, had dinner, and drank until I was just tipsy enough to stop having flashbacks.

But the computer is still laying around in pieces; the cover is off and there are loose screws and cards everywhere. I don't care. I'm on strike until the memory of what led to my hard-won victory finally passes (or at least until tomorrow).