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#1 Posted : Tuesday, January 29, 2019 3:32:41 AM(UTC)

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What is one of your most complex or difficult troubleshooting experiences?

A long time ago, when I was in highschool, I had a possessed Dell desktop -- or at least that was the initial theory (I should have taken this issue to the the First Church of Thomas Haden Church for their 'Problem Free Office Space Technolgy Exorcism'. It seems in his early non-millionaire years MR Church had his fair share of Compaq Presarios that were frustrating enough to warrent a forceful - yet perfect - voyage across the river stix via customer assisted technologicide).

This Dell would give harddrives the click of death within a few weeks of them being installed. This machine was under no heavy load, it was back when I was pretty much a basic computer user; forums, some light gaming, email, etc. Nothing to generate a death worthy workload.

The system was plugged into a powerstrip so it should have had some degree of surge protection. The harddrive failure did not come after a power outage or any type of storm.

Initially, I suspected some type of "electrical noise" coming down the powerline. As an example, consider when a blender is in use in the kitchen and those stupid lines come accross your cable tv (this was before the flatpanel revolution). I went to my dad who has a much deeper understanding of electronics.

As we were living in an older house, dad mentioned that sometimes older houses were not properly grounded and we should check the grounding post outside. the grounding post should have been a 6ft long copper post. However, in actuality, the post was alluminum, about 6 inches long and only 4 of those were in the ground. The house was not well grounded at all which can cause interference, electrical issues, shorts, fires, etc.

The alluminum rod was replaced by a 6ft copper rod, pounded deep into the FL sand. The Dell stopped destroying hard drives. A bad ground is murder on electronic equiptment and frankly, a fire hazard. If you have an old house its certainly worth checking your grounding rod.

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Mike Merola  
#2 Posted : Saturday, February 16, 2019 4:12:50 PM(UTC)
Mike Merola

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Hey Chess007,

This is a good topic. I'm a little surprised there aren't more bites to this as I'm sure we've all been through things that were either tricky, rough, stupid, and/or disgusting. Admittedly it's a bit hard to think of just one or two that stand out after years in the field, but I have a few that come to mind.

#1)  Back in high school when I worked at a local movie theater, one of my managers was chatting and complaining about her computer to another manager. Being young and zealous and seeing an opportunity I injected myself into the conversation, explaining that I was good at computers and would be willing to assist, though not for free. She delightedly accepted saying she couldn't find anyone to help out or they were too expensive, so a high schooler would probably fit her budget.

A few days later she brings in the machine, said as of that morning it won't turn on at all and smelled a bit burnt. "Probably a blown power supply" I thought... Wrong.

I took the machine home bring it up to my room start to take the side off when I hear a crunching. Not like active movement, but like something being squished by trying to slide the side off. I decide to take it outside by the garage (we had an air compressor) to blow out whatever was squishing.

Not gonna lie, I screamed like a girl as almost the entire case was packed with (dead) cockroaches. EVERYWHERE. Clogging the CPU fan, every other fan hole, it was almost inconceivable. After my lungs were thoroughly exercised, I blew the computer out very thoroughly, threw out the floppy drive and CD-Drive as the floppy drive had them inside and the cd drive was broken. The processor had burnt up since the CPU fan wasn't spinning (which once cleaned out worked just fine) and the power supply was definitely dying.

Fortunately I had some spare parts around since I was upgrading my old desktop to a slightly less old desktop, so I had a floppy drive, cd drive, and power supply readily available and I bought a used CPU off of eBay for roughly $25. I think I increased the RAM from 64MB to 128MB and cleaned up the hard drive, got the thing running like a champ. All within a week (fast shipping on CPU).

I return it to my manager, who was around 40 with 2 kids so seemingly not a dead-beat. I charged her $120, which I broke down. I don't really remember the exact amounts, but most of it was for hardware replacement and like $40 was "labor". She said that was fair given what was wrong with it. She had $25 on her that day and payday was at the end of the week and she would pay me then. Well, 2 days later she quits and disappears.

While it bothered me the lady stiffed me nearly $100, I can't say I was too upset at never seeing her again...

#2)  Another interesting one that didn't quite work out, but was definitely a non-standard journey began with a used server I bought from someone I bowled with a bunch of years ago.

He was replacing old equipment, I was just coming into my own and was getting what I could for my practically non-existent budget so that I could build and learn things that they wouldn't let me do at work. It was a SuperMicro board in a regular mid-ATX case, it had a single quad-core Xeon X3230 CPU and 8GB DDR2 ECC Unbuffered RAM, no hard drives, but plenty of room and cooling. I was excited to say the least, haha.

I opened the computer to put a couple of drives in and the thing smelled a little funny. The guy had a bunch of dogs so I thought nothing of it (it was NOT urine). I get everything set up and all is well for about 6 months or so. I go to reboot and the board won't POST.

I try different RAM, CPU, Power Supply, disconnected drives and expansion cards... nothing. I eventually take the board out of the case and lay it on the workbench and connect it back up like that so I could watch it as I tried to power on. There were some POST LEDs on the board and after Googling their pattern, it was reading NO CPU or BAD CPU.

I look closely at the back of the board and it was a little sticky, not like a glue, but like something had spilled on it. Upon closer inspection a large portion of the board was like that. And in certain spots near metal contacts rust was forming. Whatever it was was a little corrosive. I cleaned everything off best I could with Q-tips and/or chamois-like towel and some isopropyl alcohol and used an X-Acto knife clean scrape away some rust and clean up some contacts, separating things that were connected that shouldn't have been and tried again. I got further, it detected the CPU but claimed no video. It had onboard graphics that I used (it's a server, I didn't need discrete graphics). I tried a really old 8MB PCI video card and it booted up. Great, but that card was so old that the 24MB onboard graphics adapter ran circles around it. I had no other video card available, and there were no PCI Express slots for graphics, PCI and PCI-X only. I saw some more of the gunk around the graphics chip on the motherboard but it was too small to clean.

At this point I figured the board was nearly a lost cause. I was eyeing up a replacement board off eBay, same exact model actually for about $100 so I decided to go drastic.

Now, first off let me just say that while water and electronics typically don't go well together, there are exceptions. What kills electronics when they get wet is when electricity travels across paths its not supposed to and things that shouldn't be connected become connected. If there is no power and something gets wet, if it dries completely before power is restored (and nothing corrodes or raw material is damaged from getting wet) then usually things are ok. This is the idea behind the "phone in a dry bowl of rice" thing.

So I removed everything removable from this server board, jumpers, cables, screws, batteries, fans... and put it in the top rack of the dishwasher with no soap and no heat drying. I had read success cases online, the hot water dissolves what it can and rinses away. No detergents means no corrosive material on any components. The thing came through squeaky clean, I just leaned it up on its side and let it dry for about 3-4 days, occasionally turning it or using a hair dryer (no heat) to blow some of the water out. I used canned air to get into the tiny little spaces.

After the 4th day I hooked everything back up on the table and gave it a shot. Everything came back except the video... Cleaner board same result, except I noticed I put one jumper back on the wrong pins which just so happened to bypass the onboard graphics. Moving that, I tried again and surprisingly enough, after having been through a dishwasher, everything came back up and started working! I left the machine on/booted for a solid day, then multiple reboots, power tests... I wanted to make sure it was really going to work before I put it all back together.

After having declared a success and moving to disconnect it to put back in the case, I dropped a screw driver onto the board while it was on and shorted something out bad. Sparks, burned smell, popped capacitors, and finally a burnt out power supply. I had literally brought back a server board from the dead, with a freaking dishwasher, and then fucked it all up at the end because I dropped a screwdriver. Man was I pissed.

Anyway, after I stopped yelling, I just bought the replacement from eBay and called it a day. Almost six years later and that replacement board is still in use today as my oldest server and next one slated for replacement. It's a DC and hasn't caused any problems since then so I was in no rush to upgrade.


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