HARDWARE WARS

     In the summer of 1999 my computer was giving me problems at an increasing rate. The last straw was keyboard failure. I'd already had to replace the floppy drive, the CD drive, and one or two boards inside the three-and-a-half-year-old machine. I decided to scrap it and get a new one. Plummeting computer prices encouraged me in this decision. I almost missed the days when my trusty Tandy 1200 lasted me more than ten years! Of course, by the time I upgraded to a new machine from the Tandy I could no longer find replacement parts or new software that would work on it.

     I did my research and settled on a... Never mind the brand, I didn't fully exhaust my service options with it, so if I name the company I bought my new computer from I could get into legal trouble. Suffice it to say this brand got the occasional high ranking from PC World magazine, so I felt fairly confident in buying from them. AMD K6-2/350 chip, 64 meg of RAM, 6.4 gig hard drive, 32x CD drive, Word Perfect Office 2000, Corel Draw 9, lots of other goodies. Way under a thousand bucks. I figured I'd be set for years to come.

     Wrong guess, paleface. It died on me in January.

     After doing everything I could think of, I broke down and called service. Service wants you to go through its automated "expert system" before you talk to a live human. Expert. Okay, I don't claim to be an expert. Expert. Hhmpf. Most of what it wanted me to do was check connections, things I'd already done. Finished with the expert system, I lived on hold for awhile until a live human came on line. The tech first walked me through checking all the connections -- again. He had me check the various boards, which I'd also already done a couple of times. At length he concluded that it was the motherboard. Since the machine was under warranty it was free, no problem. Right?

     My computer has an ATX box. They sent me a motherboard for an AT box. If you don't know the difference, feel lucky. No way an AT motherboard can be contorted to fit inside an ATX box.

     I called service again and explained the problem to a different tech. Know what he did first? Right! Had me go through all the connection and board checks again. Final resolution? Send the machine in for service. Four-six weeks turnaround. AARRGGHH!!! I had a deadline to meet, I couldn't afford to be down for that long. He proposed a solution, actually one that had already crossed my mind, buy a second machine. With two, especially if they were networked, I wouldn't have to worry about my only machine going down. I bit. AMD K6-2/500 chip, 128 meg of RAM, 13 gig hard drive, 44x CD drive. Less than I'd paid half a year earlier. Under the circumstances, no shipping charge. The new machine came, the same tech walked me through backing up the old hard drive onto the new hard drive, then I sent the old machine in. Fat City, right?

     Bet you've figured out the routine by now. The first machine came back in less than two weeks. New motherboard. Nice. Reformatted hard drive, which wiped out all the software I had installed and set to how I wanted it. Close to awful. Older version of Win98 installed, which wouldn't let me upgrade with my existing CD. Closer to awful. Well, I was using the (not much) newer machine, so that was a minor annoyance rather than a major problem and I let it ride.

     The memory on the new machine went bad. I didn't have time to fart around with service, deadline you know. So I went out and bought a new chip. Then the motherboard went. Service sent me a new board. No matter how I set the jumpers, it wouldn't recognize that it was using a chip faster than 350mH. Nothing would work. The deadline was looming closer, so I said to hell with it, switched back to the (not much) older machine, reformatted the HD so I could use the newer WIN98, reinstalled everything, and got back to work. Made the deadline, mailed off the manuscript. The next day the (not much) older machine went down. Two computers, neither one would work.

     One other thing I haven't mentioned: The 44x CD drive on the new machine also went bad. It damaged both of my WIN98 CDs and another CD before I realized it.

     Well, no deadline this time. I called service to get the 500mH machine fixed. They sent me not one but two replacement boards. Guess what? Neither one would configure for a 500mH chip. I mixed and matched and discovered that the 350mH chip on the older machine was what had gone. Damn! The warranty on that machine had just expired. I tracked down a 500mh chip and installed it. No good, the motherboard had also gone. I tracked down one that not only would fit an ATX box would configure for 500mH and bought it.

     So here I sit with two 500mH computers, one of which I fixed out of my own pocket. The other is a dummy because three different motherboards wouldn't configure for 500mH. The RAM chip went bad, and the CD drive is defective. It's still under warranty. I want to send it back in for them to make right. We'll see.

     Sometimes I want to hurt my computer.


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