Coin Winners: 15 Worst User Upgrades of All Time

Alan Fackler

In July’s "Budget Upgrade" issue, we extended an offer to our loyal readers: Tell us about your best/worst PC upgrade story, and earn yourself two of the kick-ass, custom-made Maximum PC coins we featured on the cover of that issue. We had no idea what we were in for.



Hundreds of submissions later, we emerged traumatized. Drained of all emotion. We laughed. We cried. We got angry. We felt your pain. And, in more than one instance, we literally had no idea what the hell you were talking about (but thanks for trying!).

Alas, as you have no doubt guessed, the majority of the submissions weren't aflutter with touching, heartfelt stories about successfully upgrading a GPU or processor. No no. There were a few of these—and we promise to publish them next week—but not many. And you know, to be honest, we prefer it this way. We know the heartache of breaking a PC in the process of attempting to improve it. We also know the grief we give each other when it happens.

Don't get us wrong, a lot of these stories were hilarious-- full of D'oh ! moments and stupid mistakes. But some of the winning entries were absolute horror stories; the type that make tech nerds ball up in their seats and bite their lower lip. You know the look a die-hard sports fan gets on their face when their home team loses? That's the look we had while reading through some of these.

That being said, we humbly present the 15 Worst User Upgrades of All Time. We wouldn't be able to do so without all you guys. Thanks for making this happen.

#15:  Test Before You Mod

So back in the beginning of 2009, I decided to upgrade from my aging Pentium 4 system. I decided on going with a Pentium Quad Core setup, bought a motherboard and cpu combo from a e-tailer, and other components to follow. Well, allowing myself to get caught up in an overclocking frenzy, I decided to Lap my CPU (sanding down the processor to enable a better contact with the CPU cooler) while waiting for my other components to arrive in the mail. So once I actually received the remaining components, I put my computer together, powered it up, and got nothing (and I mean not even a POST beep!). So, after several troubleshooting sessions (which included phone calls to each of the components manufacturers) and replacing EVERY component over the course of two months (even the power supply), it finally came down to being the processor. Either it was bad to begin with, or at some point in my lapping I screwed it up. So, after two long months, several phone calls, and about $1000 dollars, I finally had my whole-computer upgrade. Lesson learned and my advice to everyone: test EVERY product before doing any type of after-market modifications (otherwise you have to buy a new one)!

-James Baker

#14:  Don't Make Decisions on Percocet’s

I was reading the July 2010 issue and saw that you wanted people to send in their best/worst PC upgrade stories and thought I'd send my 'horror story' along.

I had built a computer back in 2002 it was a Soyo SY-P4X400 Dragon Ultra MoBo, socket 478 P4 2.4GHz and 1GB of RAM. It worked excellent until April of last year. I woke up one day to find that all the fans in my computer were running yet there was nothing on the monitors. I then opened up the computer to find that the plastic retention bracket that was holding the heat sink to the CPU had cracked and caused the heat sink to separate from the CPU thus frying the CPU and MoBo while I slept (I've got a picture of the CPU here if you're interested, http://twitpic.com/39tig).

I should mention that I had broken my ankle February of last year and was on Percocets at the time and that could have explained the
following: Once I found out that the MoBo and CPU were dead I then ran to the internets and found a used MoBo similar to the one I had (although it was the step down from the one I originally had) and a used
P4 since the only OEM P4s that I could find where incompatible with the MoBo. I put it all together once the parts came and I ended up having to reinstall Windows, but once that was done the computer was working fine for a while until I started hearing low fast beeping and then random restarts. This went on for a few days until it wouldn't even POST. After doing some investigating I couldn't come up with anything and decided to just retire it since I was still on workman's comp and didn't have much more money to put into it and it was about 7 years old then.

So since that day in April I've been stuck using a MacBook Pro (which I recently had to put $330 into since the graphics chip died) because I am now unemployed and too poor to build a new system. Although I do have Windows 7 on it so it's a little more tolerable.

I guess the moral of my story is that it doesn't pay to be on pain killer while trying to do an emergency 'upgrade' otherwise you'll be stuck with a Mac and OSX. If I wasn't on pain killers I most likely would have been thinking clearer and would have spent $300 - $400 on building a cheap PC for the time being.

Anyway thanks for reading my ramblings and as you can see I could really use the "handful of coins" so I can get off this damn Mac.

-Chris Stanton

#13:    "Oh the Irony"


I am a student in high school without a job, so most of the money I get for upgrades comes from either birthday/Christmas money or from repairing computers.  This is how I got the money for my best upgrade (which also ties into my worst upgrade). I bought a EVGA GTX260 SSC Edition graphics card the week after they came out (to replace an old ATI X1550).  About six months later I bought another one and put it in SLI.  Overall this upgrade cost me about $500 and is by far the best upgrade I have done so far.  But now comes the bad part.  Recently (about three months ago) I bought a new Cooler Master HAF 932 case, AMD Phenom 9850 (to replace an Athlon 64 X2 6400+), and a Corsair H50.  As I was taking the parts out of my old case to put in the new case, I started unscrewing the last screw holding the motherboard to the case, but instead of the screw coming out, the standoff screwed out.  This bent my board in just the right way to effectively kill my second PCI-E slot.  Now I may be running a quad core, but my second graphics card (which cost me a little over $200) will not work (yes I troubleshooted to make sure it was the board).  So my best upgrade ties into my worst failure.  Oh the irony.

I hope you enjoyed,
Devin Pierce

#12:   Even PC Technicians Forget the Basics

I am an educated, tried-n-true PC technician of 12 years.  From the very beginning of my technical career "the signs" were saying that maybe I shouldn't be one.  Right out of college, I became a self-employed in-house pc technician.  My first customer's diagnosis was an OS reload and memory upgrade....no problem.  I had done this a hundred times in school and at home.  I formatted the pc, installed XP, added the memory and........nothing.  Remember those pesky anti-static wrist straps that your teacher absolutely insisted you wear?  Yeah.... I fried her mobo with a little bit of static.  Todays lesson kids, listen to your teachers and touch the case before playing inside your PC.

-Joshua Gillette

#11:   The Magic Smoke

Greetings MaxPC Dude/ette:

Well, to begin with, this story happened back in my "greenhorn" days of geekdom.  I was still absorbing every copy of Maximum PC like it was my life blood (oh wait...) and I was working for a computer company as a tech support guy.  (hint: Udder Devices).  At that point in time, I remember that my primary computer was having problems.  I thought perhaps something on the motherboard was dead, but I wasn't completely sure.  I bought a replacement motherboard and began the laborious task of taking the system apart, taking the old board out and putting the new one back in.  Except, unaware to me at the time, the new motherboard was also dead.  Stupid DOA parts.  After piecing the system together and installing everything as it should be, I tried to power it on.  It would turn on, but absolutely no POST beeps - even with the speaker installed and no video. Deciding to troubleshoot it further, and totally ignoring one of the cardinal rules of Athlon in Socket A trim's bylaws, I  removed the heatsink and the CPU, re-inserted the CPU, but figured that a quick power on to test a seated processor wouldn't hurt.  I then proceeded to power on the system, looking for issues that might pop up.  Well, without a heatsink installed, another problem made itself known pretty quickly as I'm sure you've now realized.  You could say that my issue made itself known in the same way that one of Casper's uncles snuck up on you and farted in your face.  Except in my case, it was really stinky and as later proven by THG's Athlon videos (where they remove the heatsinks and see what happens to the poor chips) I had indeed let the magic smoke out of my beloved TBird 1.0 GHz Athlon.

I even took some photos of the chip with your issue as a backdrop and have included them in this EMail. Feel free to post them in a future issue if you pick my story.   I keep the CPU for two reasons. First, I'm a tech packrat, as I hang on to everything I've ever used, and two, because I want to remind myself to always install a heatsink on a Socket A CPU.  The first reason is also why (Brown Nose Alert!) I never throw an issue of Maximum PC away.

So, please see the attached photos and laugh at my bad geek experience.  It took me a couple years, but I laugh about it now too.



And yes, the magic smoke smells as bad as you can imagine. It's not much, but like a mom seeing her toddler touching a hot stove, the realization is instant.  If you've never had it happen to you, count yourself lucky. Blech!  Keep up the great work, and it's great to have you back in the EiC Chair, George!

-Ben Pearman

#10:   A CD's Not a Record, Dude

My first upgrade to my very first PC now seems ridiculously easy. Back in the early '90s, however, adding a CD drive to my new IBM PS/1 486sx PC seemed quite challenging. As I recall the unit was a 2x Sony SCSI drive that the IBM outlet wanted $20.00 to install. The drive came with instructions and the salesman threw in a few tips and a copy of King's Quest as well and off I went with the PC and the drive. I should say now that I didn't have a CD drive of any kind at that time. Clueless describes me as far as CDs went.

I got the case open, hooked up the drive and the power connector. Things were going really well at this point. The next few steps went just as well. The driver was installed from the floppy and sure enough, there was the CD icon on my Windows 3.1 desktop. A faint smile broke through the nervousness and I plopped the CD into the tray, dreaming of playing King's Quest at last. Clicking on the CD icon brought no response. The drive seemed to know there was a CD in it but it didn't seem to be able to read it. Sensing a failed driver installation, I installed it again. Same result. I did this several times, well... a few more than several actually. In a very short time I had CD drive icons all over the desktop but the drive still would not work.

Heartbroken that my new computer seemed spoiled, I lugged the whole thing back to the IBM outlet and asked them to reload everything so that my desktop was clear again. The salesman told me not to worry about any fees, that he wouldn't charge me. As I waited for the guys in the back to restore the software, I happened to watch as another salesman demonstrated a CD drive to a customer. What really caught my attention was the way he inserted the CD into the drive...shiny side down, label up! I guess you know where this is headed. I figured the a CD was like a turntable and made sure that the side I wanted to use faced up. Makes sense, right? I'm not sure how many shades of red I turned but when the tech came out with my computer I mumbled thanks and meekly headed out the door. As I drove home I remember thinking, "Where does it say which way to put a CD in a drive?" To this day, I don't remember ever reading that anywhere!

As things turned out, the IBM PC was great. I switched the SX to a DX with an Overdrive chip and actually installed two CD drives back when two optical drives were unheard of. I used one for music and one for whatever application or game I was using. Although I have made other mistakes this first one stuck with me but I've moved on and am now the local guru when it comes to computers. I've even had a few letters published in MaximumPC and I've been a regular since about the third issue of Boot.

You guys are the best and I plug you every chance I get. Keep up the good work!
-Brian Mahoney

#9:   Don't Blame the Merchant!

Here's my true upgrade story:

"DOA Athlon XP's"

In the early 2000's I decided to put a new motherboard /cpu / memory combo into my old PC chassis.  The high end CPU at the time was the Athlon XP (I think a 2200+), so that's what I mail ordered along with a new MB to match.  I had only assembled older 386 based systems years prior, so wasn't familiar with modern CPU's and their extreme heat sensitivity.

Imagine how upset I was when I found the CPU, despite getting to an initial beep and BIOS screen, suddenly froze and would no longer even beep/post on boot up.  I figured I had a DOA defective chip, so immediately called my mail order seller, a reputable firm that's still around.  They rapidly sent me a replacement chip free of charge, no questions asked.

When this second chip did the exact same thing, I began to think I was being taken advantage of.  Clearly they were shipping me bad quality merchandise!  I yelled at the seller, who reluctantly sent me a third chip, but made me pay return postage.

I got the third CPU, and was fuming at the mail order company who had gypped me out of my postage as I installed it, when I noticed something odd while clamping down the factory Athlon heat sink.  There was a raised ridge on one side of the MB mounting platform, and a matching indentation on the bottom of the heat sink that I had not noticed in the prior installations.  Only then did the light dawn that I had reversed the heat sink the first two times, such that its flat side rather than its indented side sat on that ridge.  The result was the heat sink never made contact with the CPU!  This Athlon model could only run about 10 seconds before frying if it had an improperly seated heat sink (as I found out).

When I seated the heat sink on the third CPU correctly, it worked perfectly.  I very embarrassedly revised my opinion of the seller as a great seller, and I still patronize them today.  But, I have to shamefully say, I never did admit my own incompetence to them!

- Dan

#8:  RAM Works in Mysterious Ways


About the time of early 2010, I decided, no matter what, I had to have 8GB of memory for my aging DDR2 /Core2Quad system, after the migration to Windows 7 64bit. So I purchased two additional 2GB DDR2 sticks from a eBay seller.

After the new sticks arrived and I happily chose a weekend to install them onto my board and turn my PC on -- the system could not boot! Immediately, a whole bunch of bad thoughts started running through my mind: "Dang the eBay seller! I'll give you negative rating and extremely bad comments!" and such. Nevertheless, I started to run a trouble shooting routine.

Before going into how, ultimately and mysteriously, I managed to complete the upgrade, the four sticks are exactly the same -- Same brand (Crucial), same model (Ballistix), same size --- heck, even the serial numbers are all equal. The only difference was the older set were from NewEgg, and the newcomers were from eBay.

Since I knew that the older sticks work, I took them out and put the new ones into slots the older one previously occupied, and turned my PC on -- Oh my god, it booted and ran straight to the Windows Desktop!!! Why? How? Huh? So the eBay seller was not at fault!? I switched my suspicion to the motherboard, maybe the previously unused slots were at fault? So I moved the two sticks to the other pair of slots. Guess what, the system once again booted all the way to Windows Desktop! Then I started to wonder: Maybe I damaged the older sticks when installing the new ones? So I took out the new pair and put back the old pair to where they had been in my PC for a little more than a year -- once more, the system booted correctly! Then I started to think maybe there were some sort of dust or dirt in the slots, so I took all memory out and made certain nothing was in the slots nor on the memory pins, and put all 4 sticks back in, and turned my PC on --------------- Heck, the system failed to boot again! Now I started to think: "Am I destined to use only 4GB of memory?"

At last, out of desperation, I decided to slot the sticks in the way that an old stick would pair to a new one--- and you guess it: Now my system booted with 8GB of memory!

Frankly, this upgrade experience was not my best nor worst, but it became a mystery making me start to believe  that PC components truly have their own temper!

-Hao F. Chen

#7:     "I am no longer allowed to work on technology after 10 PM"


Well, my most memorable and embarrassing tale is one I get to hear regularly any time I look hardware.  I had finally gotten a 19 inch monitor, a MAG as I recall, and was enjoying the big screen life with it.  Had my 12MB Voodoo2 card pumping away at it, wondering if I should go SLI or just upgrade the whole box.  I was swapping parts by this point, a new CD burnerone month, a bigger HD a few months later, each time losing yet another case screw it seemed.

So, after my latest crack it open and clean it session, I go to turn it up and get the dreaded MB beeps.  Bad video.  Now, I've got another card I can use, and I just did maintenance on the box, but for some reason my mind locked on it being a bad monitor cable.  I was sure it was a bad wire, since if I wiggled it I'd get a display for a second but the color was off, looked like it was missing red.  Swapped out the video card with an older one, no jumping to conclusions (Hah!), same results.  Did I wait until the next day, after a good nights sleep to work on it?  Did I listen to my patient and long suffering wife when she told me to try in the morning?  Did I remember any of the other times late night fixes turned into early morning repairs with much wailing and gnashing of teeth?

Would I have a story for you if I did?

Instead, at a little after midnight with no sleep for a day and a half, I decided to test the connector pins for continuity, and trace out the red one since I had no pin out.  I figured, 15 minutes and a few seconds with an iron and I'd be back in business.  Shut everything down, unplug the monitor cable (captive to the monitor, of course) and start at the pins.  Well, the shell was not a shell, but a poured casting.  You know, one solid hunk of soft plastic formed like a VGA plug.  I figured, I know how to work on cables, and I can see the cable going into the formed plug, so I start cutting away at the connector to get the cable inside free.  I'm hacking away, trying to get the plastic shell split open to get at the cable, and I notice a bit of color.  As I look, I realize there is no cable inside the plug.  The wires are just sort of embedded in the goop like a fly in amber, a solid hunk from the back of the metal connector to the cable end that was embedded in.

That bit of color?  That was ONE of the wires I'd managed to hack through.  I tried to dig around them, separating each one, gouging them to death as I sliced little divots in my fingers.  I would not be dismayed!  Eventually, two hours later in a fit of pique, I chopped off the connector completely.  Did I do this up on the cable, leaving a good few inches so I could reconnect it with an ugly tape and solder bulge?  At 2 a.m., I don't think that clear.  Right at the base, through the thick goop is where I cut it.  I am still trying to get an idea of the pinout, to test the wires at this point.

My wife finally convinces me to go to bed, the damage done and my beautiful monitor now dead.

At this point I'd like to mention some facts.

1. I mentioned I lose screws.  This time it was the retaining screw for the video card that I'd lost.
2. I tried a second card, it failed, so I went with bad monitor.
3. Home built with cheapest case, it may have had some minor fit issues.
4. I was young and foolish and had proclaimed my correctness to my wife most strongly.
5. Lastly, as this is a tale of woe, you may have surmised I was completely wrong.

Over the next week I continue to try and trim away to get a pin out.  Still obsessed, I ask a friend if I can shop a VGA cable from an old monitor of his and hastily get basic wiring together to see if the monitor will work at all.  I hook it up to his box, and although it comes up as generic and seems a bit less sharp it comes to life!  I am vindicated, the cable failed and I the heroic tech have brought back to life this hugely expensive monitor! (Emphasis on huge, first gen CRT monitor).

I rush home ,plug it in, power up...... and it beeps.  About this time I recall that the video card slot is a bit fussy, especially with the case, and it can slightly unseat the back tab if you aren't careful.  Or don't have it retained with a screw.  Remember what I said about past experiences and not using them?  Yeah, the wife unfortunately has a MUCH better memory.  I scrounge up a new screw, tighten down the card, plug everything in and presto!  My generic slightly less sharp and a bit off tint monitor comes to life!  I look down at the hacked up hunk of plastic that used to be the cable end, and the hideous kludged connector I am using.  I recall how much we paid for the monitor and how I had to beg for it.  So does my wife.

Yes, a reseat of the video card fixed it.  I hacked up my most expensive PC part, mangled it beyond recognition and sassed my wife about it all to be found wrong, completely and utterly.

I make it sound quick.  No, this saga lasted two weeks, with frustration and smarminess throughout.  By the time I got it fixed, she was perched watching and forced my confession of the problem.  I am no longer allowed to work on technology of any kind after 10 p.m., and never with a knife of any kind.  I also am no longer allowed to hook up my TV, program my remote, clean my 360, or even open the box of my new toy except between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.  And if she is feeling especially mean, only on the next weekend.

May my suffering bring you some mirth, and consideration for a Maximum PC coin.  Thank you.

-Matthew B. Prier

#6:    "Pulling, Breaking, Snapping"

About 10 months ago, I had fallen hard into the online FPS gaming world.  I loved every aspect of it.  Soon, though, I realized that my 9600GT  video cards running in SLi just weren't giving me what I wanted in terms of FPS and overall gameplay.  I shopped around and found the BFG Tech GTX 260.  I had never dealt with a card that took up 2 slots before, but after a quick glance into my case and at my motherboard, I knew I could handle it.  For the budget that I had, I couldn't find a better card that suited my needs, so it was ordered and arrived soon.

The card arrived and I quickly opened it and began dismantling my old set up to put the new card in.  I slowly slid the card in and saw the back end go into the slot.  Imagine my horror though, as I could not for the life of me get the end nearest the rear of the computer to snap in.  I took it out and repeated the steps over 10 times, each time falling short of being able to get the card in.  I took a long look at my motherboard and surmised that the PCI slot underneath the PCI-express slot must be preventing this card from going in.  After spending $190 dollars, I wasn't about to turn back now.  I searched my house and soon returned with a pair of needle nose pliers.  I grasped the blue plastic of the pci slot and began tugging on it, attempting to take it off the motherboard and out of the way of my new video card.  I worked on this for over an hour.  Pulling, breaking, snapping random pieces of the PCI slot off, but still not able to get enough off to fit the card in.

After an hour, I began to admit defeat.  The slot wasn't coming out and I was going to have to return to the card.  All I was going to be left with were my 2 outdated cards and a beat up motherboard NOW with 1 less PCI slot.  I sat looking at the card, the slot and the screws used to hold the previous cards in place.  Slowly, I started to realize my mistake.  In my haste to remove and re-arrange my previous setup to allow for the new card to fit, I had forgotten that this card takes up TWO slots in the case.  I removed the top screw for the card, but NOT the bottom.  Meaning everytime I tried to put the card in, the bottom screw would not allow the card to seat all the way into the right place.  I removed the screw, slid the card in easily, booted it up and was ready to go in 10 minutes.  The card works great and I even got a modded motherboard (albeit Frankenstein looking) out of the deal.

-Bill Martin

#5:  Cat + Beer + Open Computer

My gaming machine had some liquid spilled into it while it was running... and thus was dead.  I salvaged the good parts (video card, RAM, and hard drives) and promptly ebayed them.  I decided to bank this money and save up and replace the PC.  But what do I do while I want for some money.  Call my friends and piece together whatever I can from what they have laying around combined with what ive got.

What I ended up with was a motherboard that can take both Socket 754 and 939 and only had an AGP slot.  Requires changing alot of annoying jumpers.  1.5 gigs of ram.  Some processor and some AGP video card.  I dont even know where the video card came from but I think it was an
ATI.   So I collected this all up and took it to my friends house to put together and enjoy a few beers.  Well we got all the jumpers set correctly, installed all the hardware and booted it up.  It started up and began to install windows but we were plagued by it restarting shortly into the install process.  We looked all over the BIOS and checked that all the hardware was seated propely.  We were just thrown for a loop, could not figure out why this computer was restarting like this.  So a few more beers in we were staring at the BIOS and I went to the PC Health status menu.  Watched the CPU temp slowly rise up and up until it restarted.  Went back into BIOS, watched this happen again.  It restarted and I felt the heatsink,  well it just wasnt warming up.  Then the lightbulb turned on for me and I pulled off the heatsink and quickly removed the plastic cover that they put on the bottom of the heatsink to protect the thermal grease that comes on them.  BINGO computer works great, and is no longer restarting.  Enter the cat.  My friends cat comes walking into the room to ruin the day.

He jumps up onto the table and knockes a beer over, straight into the open computer sitting on the floor.  Back to square 1.  Well the rest of the night was spent with beer and bitching about the cat.  3 Weeks later I hope on newegg and put together something nice,  and a week after that I can get back to what I love doing.

-Christopher E. Breidenstine

#4:  Punishment From the Computer Gods

Folks,

Well, it  only took three days and one unnecessary trip to MicroCenter to finish the job.

I replaced my Core2 duo processor with a new quad core Intel Q-9400 processor.  Sounds like a simple operation but I almost snatched default from the jaws of victory.

The first attempt at a direct replacement of processor for processor netting a computer that would not even turn on the monitor and just run the computer fans.  Bad omen.  Deranged thoughts of a DOA processor jumped to the forefront.  Reinstalled the old processor and everything worked fine.  This entailed completely un-installing the motherboard with a 'gazillion' wires for all the attached 'stuff'.  Fingers are bloody and sore by now.

After reflection and a few "adult" beverages, it dawned on me that the new processor might require a BIOS update to support a quad core processor.  A visit to the Gigabyte web site supporting my motherboard added credence to my suspicion.  Three new BIOS update were available including one with a 'microprocessor code' update.  Off to bed for refurbishing.

Ok, simple enough if you have a functional Windows system installed which I did not have.  Been there done that. However the Windows reinstall on the selected drive refused to load the Windows XP installation.  Lots of checking and the problem turned out to be a primary partition and an extended partition on the selected drive both marked as "boot" partitions confused the hell out of the Windows XP installer.

Now I have a functional XP system after loading drivers galore to support the wireless mouse and other 'stuff'.  My original Gigabyte setup disk installed a BIOS update program that simplified the BIOS update from F-11 to F-14.  Hot dog, I'm on my way to computer Nirvana.

Now I reinstall the new processor with all the attended wires and connections and gather new puncture wounds on the fingers.  By now my Bride thinks she is married to a 'crazy' man.

All is hooked up properly and the 'start' button is pushed and we have "lift off".  The moment is celebrated with a big sigh of relief.  After hooking up all the peripherals and standing the computer upright I'm ready to go again.  A gentle push on the front panel 'start' button causes nothing to happen.  The computer sits there like a door stop.  Blood pressure rising.  After considerable experimenting, I find that the computer will start if it's in a prone position verses the standard  vertical position.  Real fear sets in.  Did I damage the motherboard with all the installations of the processor and required heat sinks?  Maybe the power supply unit is toast.

Good thing it was raining today because I spent the entire day and accomplished nothing with my computer upgrade. Just in case, I researched the price and availability of a replacement motherboard.  Not to much available that uses my existing memory and 'new' processor combination.   Off to bed mad as hell at myself and the computer gods.

A new day and I un-install the old power supply and use my 'power supply test unit' to test the power supply.  And the unit 'fails' big time.  Ok, problem solved.  Off to MicroCenter to buy a new power supply.  Replacement unit is on 'sale' but not cheap but is comes with a 'mail-in-rebate.  Much cheaper option than a new motherboard.  Back to the house to install the power supply and reconnect all the little tiny wires onto the little tiny pins on the mother board. More cuts and finger puncture wounds.

Pushing the 'start' button rewards me with a 'standard' boot screen.  Changes in the BIOS were required to optimize everything for all my drives and attached 'stuff'.  Finally I'm done.

Not so quick! The computer is still lying on its side.  Restoring it to the vertical position and pushing the start button put me back to square one.  Shit, shit, shit.

Now I'm glassy eyed and dazed.  Time for some simple experiments.  Slowly raising the computer while it's running from a horizontal position to vertical position reveals that is shuts down at about 30 degrees from vertical.  Thoughts go back to motherboard failure.  Not so fast!  For no particular reason I wiggle the power cord that is fully inserted into the power supply plug receptacle and the computer 'flashes' on and 'off'.  Have I been tormented by something as simple as a bad power cord?

A different power cord confirmed that a bad power cord was the root problem all along.  I used the same cord for all the power supply testing.  This was the computer gods punishment for my not thinking in an orderly fashion about a problem and eliminating the most basic root causes first.

The mother board and new quad core processor are happily functioning as they should be with the old power supply unit.  The processor is now over clocked up to 3.2Ghz and running with blazing speed.  Core and processor temperatures are holding under load at about 40 degrees C which is at the low end of their operating range.

Life is good in computer land.  The recently purchased power supply will be returned to MicroCenter on Monday for a refund.  I'll have to think of a good reason for the return other than 'stupidity' on my part.


-Larry Rudolph

#3:    "Three Power Supplies And a Texas Spring Thunderstorm"

Maximum PC,

I think my worst tech and best upgrade experience happened about two to three months ago and involved three power supplies, a Texas spring thunderstorm, and my entire desktop system setup.  I had just upgraded a couple of parts in my rig that included an AMD X2 5400 Brisbane core, 2 gigs of PNY XLR8 ram, and a MSI motherboard when my trusty power supply that I'd had for a year finally gave up the ghost.  So like any good geek, I immediately logged on to Newegg and searched for a suitable replacement - which I thought I'd found in an Antec Neo Eco 620C.

I eagerly awaited the Fedex truck and several days later my new power supply finally arrived.  However, I should have paid more attention to the world beyond my computer as a storm was brewing off in the distance that was ominous at best and purely evil at worst.  Fast forward to the installation of the new power supply into my case, which went off without a hitch.  I reconnected everything, said a prayer to the tech gods, pushed the power button, and was greeted with the familiar hum of my case fans and the boot splash screen of Windows 7.  As I cleaned up my office (aka: my workshop), I heard a rumble of thunder outside of my window but didn't think anything of it as I had my desktop back and as such, nothing could ruin my day...or so I thought.

That rumble of thunder turned into a a chorus of thunder which brought along a light show of epic proportions.  The wind picked up and the rain came down in droves and by droves I mean a torrential downpour that would have made anything seen on "Deadliest Catch" look like a light drizzle.  Just as I got up to look out the window to see exactly how much regret I needed to feel for my lack of ark building, a bright flash appeared, and all of the lights in my house dimmed, went out, and then came back on in a matter of about five seconds or so.

Every piece of hardware that makes up my desktop system (monitors, speakers, printer, etc.) all shutdown with the power surge but then magically came back on with the glaring exception of my actual desktop system.  At first I thought perhaps it was just a slight glitch and a simple "on/off" of the power button would fix it.  Oh how I was wrong when I performed the said "on/off" switch action and was greeted with nothing but silence! I was devastated as I had been desktopless for five days now - sure I had a laptop but honestly, can one really ever replace a desktop with a laptop and be happy?  So, as the storm raged on outside, I knew what had to be done.  A Best Buy was only about 20 miles away and my inner geek simply would not allow me to wait another week for me to return to the bliss of desktop computing.  As such, I donned my boots, rain coat, and piece of newspaper "umbrella" and headed out on my quest!  Please note that when I say boots I mean plastic bags on my tennis shoes and by rain coat I mean large trashbag with cutouts for my head and arms...

I arrived at Best Buy, forded the tidal surge that was the rain in the parking lot, and made it inside.  I knew where the power supplies were but, like always, I was confronted with an array of electronics that I simply had to explore.  Two hours later I finally made it to the power supply selection and low and behold found another Antec Neo Eco 620C, so I grabbed it, paid for it, and floated home.  I made it back to my office and disassembled my desktop once again and performed my second power supply install of the day.  I made sure that all the connections were made and with a big cheeky grin on my face and sweat on my brow, I reconnected the myriad of devices and wires to my computer, said another prayer to the tech gods, and fired up my machine.  Like clockwork, I was greeted with the same hum of fans and splash screen of Windows 7 - I was overjoyed!  As I sat down in front of my desk, I was once again a happy camper as the glow from my desktop gently illuminated my dark office as the storm still raged beyond my windows.

And then it happened... to paraphrase Garth Brooks "the thunder rolled and the lightning struck and another computer grew cold as I prepared for a sleepless night."  Again, within moments, everything in my office came back to life except for my desktop. I...was...crushed as I had, in a little less than a week, wasted $165 and still didn't have a working desktop.  I wondered what exactly I had done to be rewarded with such wrath from the tech and weather gods.  Had I used Father Gates name in vain?  Had I used lethal force when I installed my power supplies?  Had I lustfully looked at a Mac?  All of these thoughts and many more ran through my head for what seemed like hours but was really only a matter of minutes.

I knew I didn't have the money for another power supply that day and with the way my luck had gone I figured that I would probably completely curse myself if I made another attempt at installing a third power supply while the hellfire and brimstone continued to rain down outside. So, I decided to fire up my laptop and see if I could locate a suitable, nuclear attack survivable industrial grade power supply to end all power supplies for less than $200.  Needless to say it's very hard to find a power supply of any variety that can actually survive a nuclear attack and much less one for less than $200, so those parameters were out of the question.  However, I did find a sale on a Thermaltake TR2 W0388RU on Amazon that I picked one up along with a couple of new Belkin surge protectors as I had lost faith in the "plug setup" that I had been using (a mixture of a surge protector and power strips).

I sit here now with a good month under my belt with my new power supply and surge protectors and haven't had a single issue (knock on wood) despite facing several more Texas born and bred spring thunderstorms.

As such, the morals of the story are as follows:

1. Texas thunderstorms suck.
2. Control they inner geek, for it doth cost thee much money.
3. Despite "how hard can it be" and "pfft - it can handle that", a ten year old "surge protector" that has four power strips daisy chained to it is not the best way to power a computer system - if I'm honest.
4. The old adage of "if at first you don't succeed, then try try again" is not always the best policy to follow when one fails to realize that in fact repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity.

So, there you have it.  I consider this my worst upgrade experience as it cost me two power supplies in one day but at the same time I consider it my best as the power surges that I experienced only managed to nuke my power supplies and oddly enough did nothing to my monitor, speakers, television, printer, etc.  Further, this situation reminded me to take a step back and examine the situation to gain a better understanding of what needed to be done and served to reinforce Occam's Razor in my mind.  So while power supplies can be expensive to replace, an entire system replacement would have cost much more. Btw, kudos to Antec as despite the fact that the their power supplies did fail on the day I got them, I went ahead sent in my rebate details and had a $10 rebate check waiting in my mailbox last week!

Oh yeah, Maximum PC rocks! I eagerly await my issue each month and really enjoy the contribution that Maximum PC makes to Tekzilla!

Thanks for the opportunity to win one of those awesome coins!

-Chip Hunt

#2:    A Buggy Computer


It crawls!

Last year I was a senior in high school and going to a trade school in the Indianapolis area. The school I attended allowed us students to work on pc and other hardware for some spare cash in our pockets. We get anywhere from 5 pc to about 20+ a year to fix, but this takes the cake for the worst upgrade request we've ever had in this class.

The pc in this tale came in late one afternoon when the computer repair class was not in session and was left in our lab on a test bench over night. When class started the next morning many of the guys in class noticed that there was a low grade buzzing sound in our class. We advised our teacher to make sure any of the high voltage electronics in the class room were safe before turning on the test bench breaker.

After we had made sure the buzzing sound was not from any of the high voltage equipment the breaker for the benches was turned on, but that buzzing sound was still there. My group was assigned to the pc that came in last night. The customer wanted the pc upgrade to meet their needs. My two partners and I agree that just by looking at the case this pc most likely couldn't even run win XP even if it tried. So we deiced to that a new pc would be constructed with the data extracted from this one and transferred to the newly built one. We had divided the task into 3rds, one of use making a parts list, the other doing research for cheap good quality parts on newegg.com and myself with destruction and data recovery detail.

This is when this simple upgrade project turned south. We had discovered that the buzzing sound was coming for this pc. The odd thing was the pc was not turned on. As a safety measure, we unplugged the pc in fear that the power supply was broke. After removing the power cord and discharging the pc, the buzzing was still there. Me and with the guidance of my Instructor decided we should open the pc.

We removed the side panel from the case to get a look inside and hopefully discover the said buzzing issue. Nothing big had jumped out to me and my instructor about the insides of the pc, until we noticed something. The CPU fan was moving from side to side very little. I looked in for a closer view and that is when i noticed it. A small white bug was under the CPU fan, stuck. We turned the fan, ending the little bug’s life. Then we notice one crawling out from side the heat sink. My instructor laughed and stated "It’s just a bug." Yeah it was just a bug, but when one had crawled its way out of the power supply and a crossed my instructor's hand, he thought otherwise.

It was all hands on deck for this one. We didn't know if it was infested before it got here or after, but he need to lock things down. I quickly removed the hard drive as the power supply was removed and put into a trash bag. We had a big problem on our hands, not because of some bugs, but if the food services class down the hall found out their food went bad because of these bugs, we were dead men. The doors were then shut and taped around the edge to make sure nothing got through. We left one untapped that was the far away from the food services class. The rest of the pc found it self in a trash bag as well. The power supply was rushed to the neared door and through outside til we could dispose of it the right way, but I rushed down the hall with an invested pc in my hands in a trash bag and tossed it in the trash compactor and hit the compact button. I looked over at one of my partners that had decided to tag along. "Well, that’s one way to compress files."

-Edward R. Draper

#1:     It Just Doesn’t Get Much Worst Than This


When I first started building computers, I had NO experience whatsoever. I was building a AMD machine around ~2003/2004. I spent over $4,000 on everything. I was gonna use fans for my first PC I would build, but everything messed up near the end so I had to go water cooling . Go BIG or GO HOME! Everything arrived. I set up everything perfectly until it came to the RAM and PSU installation. The RAM was a pain in the ass. The motherboard I was using wouldn't lock in the RAM. I forced it in... It broke the damn thing in half! I got a new motherboard, and down the drain went ~$400-$600 worth of Motherboard and RAM. Okay! Everything went smoothly until the PSU... I put it in and made sure it wouldn't fall. It didn't. So I went to get myself a refreshing drink. Next thing you know, the damn PSU smashed the CPU cooler, damaged the motherboard, case, CPU pins, and the PSU itself... Went and got some new parts, better case, etc. Down the drain... ~$1,000 worth of parts.... Time to watercool my system... Got pump, radiator, custom made reservoir, etc. Installed just fine. Test for leakage, wowowow... LEAKED EVERYWHERE! PSU - Damaged... Next thing you know, the case was rusting up in ~5 days... Gone was ~$2,000 worth of stuff...

WOW...

In the end, I finished my first build EVER... I ended up water cooling my PC successfully... So far, this has been the WORST CASE SCENARIO for me in PC Building.

-David Van


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