Saturday, April 23, 2011

The ultimate bone.

So where do I begin?

About 100 days ago I started buying parts to build a computer. The last post more or less gives the abbreviated form of that story. To give it more weight I should add the reasoning behind eventually taking it into a shop to get it put together. At first, the case I got was weird because the surface for placing the motherboard on it contained ribbed nubs and a gulf-chasm at the bottom with two little hills aligning the motherboard to the back plate. I didn't have risers with either the case or the motherboard so I figured I didn't need them, and proceeded to screw the motherboard down into the case. Although this *could* have been a problem (e.g., the motherboard coming into contact with the metal on the case) it turned out that nothing detrimental happened. The second issue was the CPU chip and my complete lack of knowledge regarding thermal paste. Basically following the instructions exactly ("Apply tube of thermal paste") I dumped the entire tube on the chip and placed the fan on it. Although this also *could* have been a problem, especially with paste going over the edges and into the motherboard OR the underside of the CPU connection this apparently didn't happen due to the fact that I had one of those big baller Zalman brass fans with the large underside plate. So at first I build this computer and turn it on. Everything seems well and fine but for some reason it won't stay on in the BIOS. Instead it randomly shuts down. So I backtrack and take it to the computer shop who advise me of my errors. I clean the excess gel off of the CPU chip taking careful note that none of the gel escaped the top of the chip where it's supposed to be (though spread out in a thin layer). So when the computer shop is unable to figure out the root problem we come to the consensus that the motherboard may have gotten shortened out, as there is little evidence to pin down the CPU chip. So the motherboard gets RMA-ed and a couple of weeks later I get a new one. Same problem. This time we decide to send back BOTH the motherboard AND the CPU to get a positive ID on the problem. Turned out the problem all along had been the CPU chip, likely (I think) due to it being defective to begin with. So during this whole process of paying shipping fees and waiting and dreading the next problem that would more than likely be due to an error of my own I decide to turn the project over to the computer shop. I didn't have a CD drive installed because I didn't really need one for the purposes of the computer, and I had planned to install the operating system via USB.

This is where the trouble begins...

I should preface this by giving a helpful word of advice to anyone approached with a brand new custom-build computer: NEVER PLUG YOUR USB DEVICE INTO THE FRONT. Always go through the back, which is directly connected to the motherboard at the factory. You'll soon see why.

The front USB connector is different; It has to be manually installed to the motherboard through all the different wires (red, +, -, etc.). Motherboard manufacturers, to make this process easier, ship out boards with q-connectors to match everything up (red goes to red, + goes to +, - goes to -, etc.). Incorrectly doing this, as I have learned, can have bad effects. More detailed technical information about this can be found @, particularly "Troubleshooting #1"...

This was not something I originally messed up on because at least these instructions were crystal clear, so I had no problem originally doing this plug-in. When taken to the computer shop later on after swapping out the motherboard and the CPU (second go-round) everything is in pieces.

So, computer shop calls me up and tells me it's ready. I get mad geeked. Rush down there, pick it up and pay for the service. Take it home with the intention of booting it up and installing the operating system. For some reason the BIOS isn't recognizing the USB and I can't quite figure out why. I go through 2 USB flash drives before I realize that for whatever reason it's simply not working so I go on Amazon, order a CD drive, install it myself when it arrives (very easy task), install the operating system. Everything goes well. Once Windows is up, I immediately begin the anticipated task of transferring all my current Cubase project folders, sample library, etc. onto the new hard drive from an external USB hard drive that I use for on-the-fly data transfers (hence the original lack of any kind of need for a CD drive, which would be impractical for data transfers). Well, low and behold the USB device isn't being recognized as a hard drive. Weird. It should be plug and play. So, I plug in ANOTHER external USB hard drive, this one containing basically everything I have: family pictures, music collection, personal papers, etc. Same thing.

It wasn't until a little bit later and upon further research and verification that the problem came to light, with potentially extremely hazardous results.

Essentially, what happened was the computer shop peeps reversed the polarity of the - and + wires. Apparently this is a mistake that's not unheard of, as the small type on the wires and q-connector can often be deceiving. Simple human error. I'm not mad at the people at the computer shop for doing this, just peeved in general at the situation (as you'll understand below).

I explain this all here:


after learning that I may have inadvertently fried both USB hard drives.

Since this has occurred, I have done a little meditating and came to the realization that at the very least I still have a backup mirror of my active projects on the previous hard drives I was using on the old computer, so ALL is not lost, but potentially a significant portion if I'm unable to do any kind of data recovery. That's basically where I'm at right now. The next project will be to determine if the motherboard itself (and possibly anything connected to it) is toast.

I kind of wish I had just bought a computer. All this has been a super humbling experience. I just hope I'm able to get this data back and to (eventually) get back up and running in operating capacity.

UPDATE: It turns out the computer shop person accidentally plugged the FIREWIRE cable into the USB port, which basically has the same affect as what I originally thought happened (reverse polarity USB), since IEEE 1394 (firewire) uses much more power than USB. So, in a turn of events I am now left with a working computer but a locked-out hard drive (Western Digital encryption). In the future I'm going to try different methods to revive the data.

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