I Swore I Wouldn’t Turn This Into a Tech Blog

Like most of what I write here, this is mainly for my benefit, to give me some kind of institutional memory of my successes and failures, so that I may invite and avoid them, respectively, in the future.

The Task

I wanted to bring my desktop computer into the twenty-first century by installing a dual-core CPU.  I had never before attempted a CPU replacement.

The Before Picture
  • Factory-built HP Pavilion a6010e CTO
    • Asus M2N68-LA motherboard
    • nVidia 6600 on-board video
    • AMD Athlon64 3500
    • 2x512MB RAM
  • nVidia 8500 GT PCI-E video card
  • 1x1GB additional RAM
The First Step

The board sported an AM2 slot, so I found an AM2+ processor on TigerDirect that was explicitly mentioned in HP documentation as being compatible with my motherboard.

  • AMD Athlon64 X2 5000
    • $59.95
The Fail

With much tension and worry and static wrist straps, I removed the old fan and cpu, and installed the new ones.

I reattached everything and powered on.  Here were my symptoms:

  • Power light goes on.
  • Both fans (CPU and chassis) spin.
  • CD trays become operable.
  • Monitor stays in standby mode.
    • i.e., no POST, no nothing.

No change when I switched to onboard video.

The Rescue Attempt

I bought some thermal grease so I could swap back and forth between processors.  Here’s what I tried:

  • Updated BIOS.
  • Updated motherboard drivers.
    • Only available from HP.  Drivers dated “11/2007”.
  • Updated video drivers.
  • Live chat and emails with HP tech support.
    • Their eventual conclusion was that since this CPU was on their supported list, it must be a faulty unit.
  • Phone call and emails with AMD tech support.
    • Provided the revelation that all units of a given model number are not created equal, but rather are smattered across a range of OPNs(?), compatibility with which must be established at the OPN level, not necessarily the model level.
    • They agreed with most of my friends and my own intuition that if the unit were faulty, I would be experiencing different symptoms.  Even a dead processor gives you a POST (albeit a failed one).
The Bite of the Bullet

All evidence seemed to point to some unfriendliness between the new CPU and the video chipset.  I.e., it’s the motherboard’s fault.

It turns out that although the ‘board had an Asus branding, it was manufactured specifically for HP, and so Asus doesn’t have anything to do with it anymore.  So even though I’d isolated the issue to the motherboard, there wasn’t anything I could “chase down” that avenue.

So I went to JR and bought:

  • Asus M2N68-AM PLUS motherboard
    • $54.95

which is also of the microATX form-factor (so I wouldn’t need a new case), but which (curiously) only has two RAM slots.  Since I’d previously had 2GB spread across three sticks, I’d need another stick if I wanted to avoid a downgrade:

  • 1x2GB PNY RAM (non-ECC)
    • $59.95
The Successful Anti-Climax

I installed the board between 9pm and 11:30pm on a Friday night.  The most difficult and time-consuming part was the removal and replacement of the back panel, which allows the ports to peek through but prevents the need of a big honking hole in the back of the box.  Note for the future: it’s not necessary for it to snap satisfactorily into place.  The board will wedge it in there good enough.

Another note for the future: YOU MUST INSTALL THE BACK PANEL FIRST.  Otherwise you have to uninstall THE WHOLE FUCKING MOTHERBOARD and reinstall it.

It booted up great, and the speed and memory improvements were immediately obvious.

However, my computer room now sounded like a wind tunnel.  I thought, “Damn, that new processor must run pretty hot,” and I spent like twelve hours researching CPU fan control algorithms and temperature monitoring software.

But some simple ear research eventually clued me into the fact that it was my case fan that was making all the racket.  I must have walloped its bearings out of whack in the midst of my enthusiasms.

So I wasn’t done.

Another Trip to JR

I ran (literally) from Bay Ridge to the Brooklyn Bridge and across it, where JR is situated.  However, since I was running, I didn’t bring my old fan with me.

In my rudimentary research into case fans, I had measured from one corner of the whole device to the other, thinking I needed a 120mm fan.  However, at JR I discovered that fans are actually labeled according to the diameter of the fan blades themselves.  Going from memory, I guessed I needed an 80mm fan.

I was wrong.  It was a 92mm fan that I needed, so I had to go back AGAIN.

  • 92mm temperature-sensitive case fan
    • $16.85

It’s fixed now, and I had a lot of fun.

I guess the moral of the story is that factory-built PCs are always a little less upgradeable than you think.

Counter-cultural Dissolution in America: 1970s-1980s