Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Computer from Hell

Last spring, as Brinestone and I graduated, got full-time jobs, and suddenly had a lot more spending money, I figured it would be a nice time to upgrade my computer. It was starting to show its age, and while I could’ve staved off its inevitable obsolescence with a better video card and a faster processor, I decided I’d just build a new one. Besides, I’d had my eye on a shoebox-sized small form factor (SFF) system for a while, and it seemed like an appropriate time for a graduation gift to myself.

My first experiment in building a computer had gone flawlessly, so I had no doubt that I could do it again. Boy howdy, was I wrong. Let me outline the past nine months of frustration.

April. With my new Shuttle XPC barebones kit, CPU, and RAM in hand, I build my new computer, incorporating my video card, hard drive, and CD burner from my old computer. It lives!

Mid-April. After a rather routine heatsink installation, my computer refuses to POST (this is the pre-boot sequence where the computer checks to see that it has all the basics like a CPU and RAM). In other words, it’s completely brain-dead. Fearing that I’ve somehow damaged the motherboard and thus voided the warranty, I decide to swallow the loss and buy another Shuttle barebones ($250). It’s important to note that this happens the Friday before finals start.

May. My new Shuttle arrives, and I move my components over to it. I turn it on and . . . it refuses to POST. This one is definitely not my fault, and I begin to think that maybe I didn’t kill the first one, either. I decide to send them both back to the manufacturer for replacements and then sell the extra one.

Mid-May. The manufacturer responds to one of my requests for a replacement, but not to the other. I tell this to the retailer, and they graciously decide to replace it. I install everything in one Shuttle and, magically, it works. I sell the other on eBay and, magically, recoup my losses. Life is grand. One hitch—one of the systems, in its death throes, apparently fried my keyboard and mouse (I tested them with another computer and confirmed they were dead). I buy myself a shiny new wireless keyboard and mouse set.

June. Everything’s going great. I buy myself a new video card and larger, quieter serial ATA hard drive. I use a free trial of a hard drive utility to clone my old drive to my new one, so I don’t even have to reinstall anything. My computer is happy. I am happy.

Mid-July. I decide to use some of my graduation/birthday money and buy another memory module, thus doubling my memory. Uh-oh: the old and new modules don’t get along and refuse to run at 400 MHz, instead running at only 333 MHz. I buy another one identical to the new one, and everything works fine. I sell the old one to my brother.

August. My CD-RW drive starts to go on the fritz. Sometimes it isn’t detected at all; sometimes it shows up as a regular CD-ROM drive but doesn’t actually work. I put up with this behavior for a little while.

September. Okay, so the CD drive problem is getting really annoying. I can never count on it working when I want it to. I buy a DVD burner to replace it with and discover that it has the exact same problem; it wasn’t the drive at fault but rather the motherboard. Meanwhile, my computer begins freezing, shutting off, and rebooting at random intervals. This begins to wear on my nerves.

October. I dither for a long time over what to do. If I send back my Shuttle again, it means I’ll be without a computer for a few weeks, and now that I’m unemployed, I sort of need it for things like making résumés and looking for jobs. I decide I’d rather put up with its quirks than be computerless. I think it’s around this time that I back up my hard drive, reinstal Windows, and restore my files in the vain hopes of fixing things. It doesn’t work.

December. Okay, now I’m really getting sick of it. I settle on a plan of action: I’ll buy a new motherboard and case, send my Shuttle back for a third time, and then sell it when I get it back. At this point I’m sick of Shuttle and decide that I don’t want it even if it does work. Their support is horrible and their motherboards apparently suck. I guess that’s what I get for not going with a more reputable motherboard manufacturer.

Mid-December. The new motherboard works flawlessly. This is very validating, because now I know that it really is the Shuttle’s fault and not my CPU or RAM or anything else like that. The only drawback is that the new case is about twice the size of my sleek little Shuttle. It seems rather obnoxiously huge sitting on top of my desk. Meanwhile, my Shuttle motherboard comes back with a note saying that they “updated” a few parts and that it tested okay. This sounds rather dubious, and much to my not-surprise, the problem with my DVD drive has not gone away.

January. I write a scathing letter to Shuttle reminding them that failing to honor a warranty is a violation of federal law, and since they didn’t fix my problem, they haven’t upheld their warranty. I demand a new motherboard. This seems to work, because they email me right back (instead of two or three days later as usual) with a shipping label and a promise to give me a new board.

The new motherboard arrives shortly, and I once again transfer all my other parts to it. I decide to start things off on the right foot with a fresh install of Windows. I back up my files and start installing Windows, but sadly, never finish. It copies the setup files, reboots, and then proclaims that it cannot load the operating system. I try booting from my other drive, but it appears that during the Windows installation process, its boot sector was overwritten and now it won’t boot. Uh-oh. I’ve got one drive that won’t load Windows and another that I can’t afford to reformat because it has all my files on it.

My solution is to take it over to my friend’s house and fix things there. We put my back-up drive in one of his computers, copy my files to his drive, and then reformat it and reinstall Windows and put my files back. Then we try several times to install Windows. We even try cloning my back-up drive onto my main drive, and it still gives the same error. My friend, who has been programming and building computers at least as long as I’ve known him (something like fifteen years now) is perplexed. Hard drives just don’t do this. My computer guru brother is also perplexed. I give up on the drive and use my old, whiny one. And, to top it all off, the DVD drive still works only sporadically. I’m about ready to throw the Shuttle out the window, drive over it, and then stomp on the pieces (but not necessarily in that order).

So there it is. I’ve run CPU stress tests and RAM integrity tests, I’ve swapped hard drives and CD drives and RAM and power supplies, I’ve sent parts back and bought new ones, I’ve sent back four Shuttles and haven’t gotten a single one that works, I’ve spent an extra 30 or 40 dollars shipping stuff back, and I still don’t have a computer that works reliably. It’s killed a keyboard, a mouse, and a hard drive, and who knows what it’ll decide to fry next. Out of nine months of ownership, it’s worked flawlessly for a total of about three months.

But who knows—there may be hope for me yet. Maybe Cicada will write Shuttle a nasty letter for me.

Computer Woes 3 Replies to “The Computer from Hell”
Jonathon Owen


3 thoughts on “The Computer from Hell

    Author’s gravatar

    And you didn’t even mention that the reason why you wanted to try reinstalling Windows was to see if you could fix the random Internet problems.

    Author’s gravatar

    What self-respecting computer industry calls themselves “Shuttle?” Sounds fishy to me. Like a bus full of weird people that fall asleep and drool on you.

    Author’s gravatar

    It could be worse. Consider the names of a few other motherboard manufacturers: ASRock, Chaintech, Biostar, EPoX, Foxconn, and Jetway. This is what happens when Japanese or Taiwanese companies choose English-sounding names for themselves.

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