A Favor for a Friend

A friend of mine brought his computer to me. It was, of course, broken, which is why it now sat on my workbench awaiting my attention.  That’s the problem with knowing something about computers, people are forever asking questions because for such a common item, people find them mysterious. Actually, so do I. Or, better said, I find the people who design them to be mysterious because I am, as I fix computers, forever asking myself “what the hell were they thinking” as I do battle.  Like putting an unnecessary screw in such a place that it requires complete disassembly of the case to get at it.  Or designing a case that like an unsolvable Chinese puzzle, sends the technician to an asylum twiddling their lips making bubble noises after days of relentless attempts to open it. Oddly, this time it was a simple matter to open the case which made me think that the designer must have some experience with other case designs and found them as distasteful as everyone else did that deals with objet d’computoire.

In this case, I was able to quickly get inside, locate the issue, and declare the computer officially dead and in desperate need of recycling. But, economics as they are, my friend was not in a position to overpay for a new computer –or even pay a fair price, so I was conscripted to rebuild it.  I have many, many computer parts and assemblies that I’ve collected over time, and so I delved into my stash. I needed a motherboard, a processor, a video card, an ethernet card, wifi card, and a handful of other hardware items like the little adapters on the computers backside that holds USB jacks and media cards. I decided to use the case that so lent itself for simple disassembly, so I had that going for me. I would also use his DVD player but his disk drive wasn’t recognized as functioning on my test bed, so I went out and bought a one terrabyte disk. Parts in hand, the rebuild took me a mere couple of hours of swearing and gouging the backs of my hands on sharp case edges.

When I was done, I had a computer on my hands with some pretty decent components; it should be, I figured, a real runner. All I had left was to put Windows on it.  What with the way that some  manufacturers cheap out and don’t send along a CD or DVD with the operating system on it, instead parking the files on a hard disk partition, my friend didn’t have a regular copy of Windows 7. I did, but it was for a 32 bit computer and I just built a 64 bit machine. So I figured I would go off to one of my favorite, albeit questionable, sites that offer copies of various operating system versions for download. It is assumed that the downloader has a right to use the software by virtue of having purchased it lawfully. Since my friend’s copy of Windows croaked on his dead hard drive, I figured he qualified.

The software took its bloody time downloading and then even longer reading the CD I crafted with the download. Four hours later I had a desktop showing a login prompt. Yay! Except that nothing worked. The copy of the software didn’t have the drivers specific to the Dell motherboard I was using.  As a result, none of the fancy stuff I installed was recognized. Thus it became time to do the Driver Dance; a lengthy, tedious, frustrating and annoying two-step that could go on infinitely, if not for either luck or the death of the installer. You see, the copy of Windows 7 I downloaded was apparently for a different system than I was using. Which makes sense, what with all of the unrelated parts. So I called my friend and explained that he was going to have to just by a generic copy of the O/S from his favorite vendor and trot it over. This would get me a lot closer, at least close enough to recognize the basics like keyboard, mouse, drives, USB and networking.  Once he dropped it off, I spent another hour waiting for it to be absorbed by the computer and could go on to final driver tuning.

Back to the Internet, I downloaded a couple of driver collections that would no doubt have the drivers I needed, and sure enough, they did.  I went on to load software he had installation disks for. These were his various apps from a variety of software authors. His data, at least the parts he backed up, could be copied into place later, something the owner could do on his own. With those out of the way, then I needed to set up his mail, connecting the computer to his accounts at his ISP and Google.  As much a mystery as the computer is, mail server setup seems to be another area that most users are unfamiliar with and need help to get it going.  In the end I’d spent almost 12 hours and a couple hundred bucks, but he had a computer that had the features and speed of a system four times as expensive.  I am a hero and all’s well that ends well.

My phone rang and coincidentally, it was the wife of my friend. She had bought her husband a new computer as an early Christmas present and wanted to ask my opinion on her purchase.