[Techtalk] socks and building boxes

Telsa Gwynne hobbit at aloss.ukuu.org.uk
Mon Oct 29 10:04:49 EST 2001

On Mon, Oct 29, 2001 at 04:51:08PM +1100 or thereabouts, Sam Watkins wrote:
> On Mon, Oct 29, 2001 at 03:47:34PM +1100, Mary Gardiner wrote:
> > Another way to do this is to build your own, I've never done this and I
> > recommend you don't either until you've had some experience installing
> > RAM into a motherboard and so on.
> I've assembled heaps of boxes, it's not very hard, especially if you can dig up
> a tech-savvy person to help.  You can also save a lot of money if you get bits
> at a "swap meet" or whatever.  Just like lego, really.

I think having someone to help is a good thing. I think "not messing
with the only available box" helps even more. If it's a second box,
you can get on the net and ask when something goes wrong. And finally,
a lot of it seems to be experience: knowing which parts you can force.
My husband is the one I got most of this from, and in his case it's
simply years of doing this and understanding in far more detail
what's going on with the electronics (and thus, "be careful with
that" and "oh, just chuck that one down somewhere").

> (please don't blame me if you wear nylon socks and zap something!)

Okay, other things I have found trying to put bits together.

 o There are certain parts you want to touch as little as possible. 
I'm sure someone else can list them. I forget, so I play safe. Which
can be a problem. See below. 

 o I don't know about wearing nylon socks, but I do always run my
hands along the radiators to get rid of any static.
 oEven a single hair between new RAM and the contacts will be
enough to stop it working. You have to take it out, get rid of the
hair, and put it back. I've been here, and its a pain. 

 o Fans come with clips to attach them. Some of them are very, *very*
strong and hard to fasten, and require brute force. (In fact, some 
of the holders for other things are a bit recalcitrant, but fan clips 
are the bane of my life: I have *never* got one to attach properly.) 
It's extremely disconcerting to have to exert so much pressure to
attach them to something that cost lots of money. 

 o Similarly, I hadn't realised that cases, which are basically
pieces of metal, could be so shoddily made. You end up with a
card in place and then it doesn't quite line up with the hole 
on the back on the case where you attach the leads. And um,
I have been encouraged to increase the size of the hole as a 
result. And it works. 

 o On the same theme, I have cut myself almost every time I've
taken the lid off and changed something. I have been told that
some boxes need blood to run, and I'm not entirely sure it's a
joke these days :)

 o And despite all these bits you may need to push hard, you have
to be terribly careful not to damage or force the rest. Argh!

 o Attach chip to motherboard first, whilst motherboard is on nice
flat surface, not in the case. (When you put it in the case, it's
not flat against a surface: there are little screws or something
holding it a few mm above it.)

 o There are two types of screws in the typical computer case with
different threads. You can only force them into the wrong holes so
far, and then it's a bugger to get them out. I've got a CD drive 
which is effectively anchored by one screw because the prior
owner had forced the other screw and stripped the threading out
of the hole. 

 o Screws like to drop inside the case. They also like to wait until
you have one screw left and everything anchored down. Getting stuck
under the motherboard is their favourite place.

 o Jumpers are called jumpers because if incorrectly handled, they
will jump across the room. (You can't tell me there's any other
explanation for it!) I love jumperless boards now.

The first time I took a box apart and changed something, I felt
first fascination, then a vague "woo, I am doing something 
technical and hard 'n stuff", then utter boredom when we put 
the thing back together, checked, found something was wrong,
took it apart again, checked stuff, put it together, checked,
it still didn't work... (There is a *lot* of that, and it does
get very very boring).

But I did feel a lot more in control afterwards. "I know what's
under the case, and I put some of it there myself" sort of thing.
I really felt I'd achieved something.

It also made it very plain to me that "a computer" is "a collection
of bits". I'm not sure I can explain quite what I mean there, but
it changed my mental picture of things substantially.

It does get terribly boring though. The first few times were
exciting. "Ooh. I am being technical and stuff" and so on. But
mostly, it's boring. 

And finally, if you're confident of what you're doing, it's 
definitely the cheapest way to get a new computer. But you have
to have the confidence and the competence to be able to ring
up the vendor and honestly know that it's not that you broken
something: they really did send you a duff component when after
five attempts it still doesn't work. :)


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