This just in from the "It can happen to anyone" department: scientists think they may have found an explanation for the neutrinos found travelling faster than the speed of light at CERN last year -- and it doesn't involve honest-to-goodness faster than light travel. As it turns out, the big brains at CERN would probably make lousy IT guys, because they forgot to perform a basic step of any technical troubleshooting process: checking the wires.
We’ve all seen those perfectly wired high-dollar rigs with cables completely hidden beneath the motherboard tray and have wanted that for our home-brewed PCs. Unfortunately, unless you’re prepared to buy or make cables that are precisely the correct length for the components in your system, a Voodoo-quality wiring job is nigh-impossible to achieve. However, with some zip ties and a little patience, you can get close.
Before you start, you’ll need something to restrain the cables. Some enthusiast PC cases come with a package of ties, but they’re also frequently available in the cable-tie area of your hardware store or in Radio Shack. We prefer small plastic zip ties, which you can buy at most hardware stores in quantities of 100 for around $5; Velcro straps will also work, and twist ties are even acceptable in a pinch. You’ll also need wire snips (to trim the ends of the zip ties), and some adhesive cable wranglers are also handy for attaching the bundled cables to the case. We also use flex tubing and shrink tubing to bundle up smaller cables. You can find the tubing at most electronics stores, or online at Frozencpu.com.
As always, feel free to do as much or as little with your PC wiring as you’d like. This is a project that can take from 10 minutes (if you want to do it quick and dirty) to several hours (if you want every little wire in perfect position).
Taking DIY to a whole new level, Steve Chamberlin, a Belmont, California, videogame developer, rolled his own 8-bit CPU for an aptly named project he calls "Big Mess of Wires," or BMOW. The project took him 18 months, $1,000, and 1,253 wires to complete.
"Computers can seem like complete black boxes," Chamberlin said. "We understand what they do, but not how they do it, really. When I was finally able to mentally connect the dots all the way from the physics of a transistor up to a functioning computer, it was an incredible thrill."
The project began with a 12x7-inch Augat wire-wrap board with 2,832 gold wire-wrap posts purchased on Ebay for $50. Over time, BMOW came to encompass 1,253 pieces of wire painstakingly wrapped at a rate of 25 wires per hour to create 2.506 individually wrapped connections. More than just a prototype, Chamberlin has added a keyboard, LCD output, USB connection, three-voice audio, and VGA video to demonstrate a working computer.
For those of you in the San Mateo area, Chamberlin's BMOW will be on display at the fourth annual Makert Faire this weekend, May 30-31, as one of 600 DIY exhibits.