winter's computers
found, loved, and nurtured for spring
my ugly geek secret

Monday, November 26, 2007

raising the dead

I've had a broken Mac Plus gathering dust in my collection for years. It's an all-in-one design with a high-voltage analog board (technical term: monitor guts) that controls the display and a one-piece motherboard (the computer itself). These Macs were fanless: wonderfully silent and cooled by convection, the case acting like a chimney. At least that was the plan. Excess heat and a couple of poor component choices on the analog board resulted in notorious problems like the analog board warping causing solder joints to crack.

This was the typical result.

I took my Plus apart recently to try to resolder some of the connections in the hope that they were just cracked. That didn't fix the problem, though, so I found a list of common problem components in the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ and ordered some replacements from Digi-Key.

I enlisted Donnie to help me out and to give him a bit of experience with soldering and electronics in general. The tube circuit can store something like 30 thousand volts even after the power is turned off, so the first step was to discharge it. Donnie wasn't too happy with the idea of doing this, but I had him stand on a step stool and with one hand insert a screwdriver into the grounding lug while I wedged another screwdriver under the anode cap and touched the two together. Had it been fully charged we would have heard a loud snap and seen a big spark between the screwdrivers, but — much to Donnie's relief — the charge had dissipated since I had last powered it up and we didn't notice anything. I was a bit disappointed.

A paper shield covers the solder joints on the mask side of the analog board.

I found that PC expansion slot covers work really well for popping the four buttons that held the shield in place.

Looking more closely, there was a clear bulge in capacitor C1 (top right), the likely culprit. Donnie heated up the capacitor's solder joints and I pulled it out.

The replacement part didn't look anything like the original which made me wonder if this was the correct part. It's just the package type, though, and the capacitance and voltage rating looked correct so we went ahead.

I bent the leads and popped the replacement capacitor in. With a little instruction, Donnie did an awesome job of resoldering the connections. That soldering iron is older than he is; I got it from my folks when I was not much older than Donnie is now.

The replacement cap looked a bit odd but the fit was okay. After trimming the leads, we put the Plus back together and powered it up. The screen was disappointingly black for a moment, but then...

It worked! Wow. I was rather surprised how well that went. We didn't even have to adjust the video circuits.

It won't boot, though. The floppy drive is dirty and possibly broken. I may have to replace it. I also have to dig up a keyboard and mouse (I think I've got both but the mouse has no ball... insert your own joke here) and connect the external SCSI harddrive and see if the SCSI CD-ROM I've got works. I may have to do a bit of shopping on eBay to get this Plus fully functional... or I may try something a bit more radical...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

getneckid

Model

  • NEC Versa VX
Introduced
  • 2000
CPU
  • Intel Pentium III (Coppermine), 450MHz
RAM
  • 192 MB
Video
  • ATI Rage Mobility-M
  • 14.1" XGA (1024 x 768) TFT LCD display
Disk
  • 18 GB harddrive
  • CD-ROM
Network
  • Wireless (CardBus NIC)
Operating Systems
  • Microsoft Windows 2000
Features
  • TouchPad
  • TV Out
  • Infrared
Formerly called balthasar and running Ubuntu Linux, getneckid was too slow and awkward to use as we had to sync my wife's phone via a second laptop running Windows, sync that laptop to ScheduleWorld, and finally sync ScheduleWorld to stinky. Also, for some reason, her web browser kept freezing up on her (I tried both Firefox and Opera). It looked like a memory problem but I wasn't able to resolve it or even prove definitively that this was the issue. I'm going to test it with the latest Ubuntu, but I never had the problems we when we used that laptop before. It seems to be some particular way she uses it, like maybe having both Evolution and Firefox or Opera open at the same time.

getneckid is still slow, of course, but documents load particularly slowly due to the virus scanner (Avast), a component not required for Linux. Opera was working well for her as a web browser, so I installed the Windows version. Overall it seems to be working well so far.

stinky

Model

  • IBM Thinkpad T20
Introduced
  • 2000
CPU
  • Intel Pentium III (Coppermine), 650MHz
RAM
  • 256 MB
Video
  • S3 86C270-294 Savage/IX-MV
  • 14.1" XGA (1024x768) TFT LCD display
Disk
  • 18 GB harddrive
  • DVD-ROM
Network
  • Wireless (CardBus NIC)
Operating Systems
  • Ubuntu Linux 6.06 LTS (Dapper Drake)
Features
  • ThinkLight, which allows you to see your keyboard in the dark (activated by pressing the leftmost bottom key and topmost right key)
  • TrackPoint (nipple mouse)
Formerly known as benvolio, I rebuilt stinky and moved the wife's account over (email, bookmarks, etc.) from balthasar. The kids have used this laptop to watch DVDs when we wanted to watch a less kid-friendly DVD on the TV. I've since moved the wife back to her former laptop getneckid — running Windows 2000 — as this simplifies syncing her phone.

she had weird issues on stinky as well: it froze often after opening links from Evolution. The web browser seemed to be the culprit, but I tried both Firefox and Opera and the same thing happened. I'm going to install the latest Ubuntu to test it further, and also to investigate the hibernate function which I couldn't get to work, even after I set it up on a FreeDOS partition (hibernation uses a file rather than a partition for saving the hibernation data) and confirmed that it will hibernate from FreeDOS.