The FrankenPC - a short sharp lesson in technology redundancy measures

in hive-151781 •  11 days ago 

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This is a story like many before that has a whole load of background. Try to ignore the crazy ethernet cable mix at the top of the picture, and the 4 gang extension that is exceptionally well loaded - these are not important.

What is important is the power lead popping out of the front of a HP Compaq pc where there CD Drive should be, and the roughly drilled holes in the top. This is a story, of making use of the old and useless (I like that because I'm old and useless so maybe one day someone will upcycle me!)

The Saga Begins

So a few weeks back on a Monday morning (busiest working day for reference) I was finishing off a brand new Windows 10 install as a Parallels Virtual Machine on my MacBook Pro. I love Macs, power, reliability, simplicity, and Apple integrate Mac OS, iPhone OS and iPad OS together it's such a seamless experience. But for some things only Windows will do, and crucially for the Sage accounts software my business has used for over 25 years - it only runs on Windows. The existing virtual machine was a Windows 7 install that got upgraded to Windows 10, and it had a good five years of junk installed - some of which I used but most I didn't. That wasn't a problem until around January when some how the Windows virtual machine randomly would lock up the whole MacBook - and I mean total treacle like running every single action you tried to do took minutes to complete. For me the point of an Apple computer is you can have four browsers open with a good hundred tabs on each, fifteen or so apps and it still runs super quick and slick. So waiting even a minute for a web page to try and load is a big problem. I updated to the latest 10.15.5 MacOs Catalina and updated Parallels but it was no help.

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The MacBook might be four years old, but it's powerful enough to handle the work and the frustration was it would be so hit and miss - the Windows virtual machine would work fine for many days and then suddenly go rogue and totally cripple the MacBook until I force rebooted it.

So you did something to fix it right?

Of course, despite being a massive PITA I made a fresh clean Windows 10 Virtual machine and started putting back in the few apps I really needed on a daily basis. One of those was the Sage accounting software so I downloaded the latest version - as it now is on a subscription model you can access the newest and greatest version straight away from your account. The fresh Windows 10 VM ran super slick and my MacBook had no treacle like lag so I was happy, Sage requested a serial number and account but then worked perfect.

And then it all went Pete Tong

Because Sage refused to let me in when any other user was logged in, I connected prior to staff arriving Monday morning. How Sage works is you have a master database on one computer everyone else connects to. Logically I have that master database on the same computer my office Admin worker uses because he uses it the most every day - everyone else connects over our internal network. But when he tried to log in it said the database had been upgraded and needed a new version of Sage to access it. Not a big problem, I installed the latest version and....it opened but needed account verification and when I put the details in it said verification failed. From then on i tried every trick in the book, editing settings files manually, trying to roll it back to the older version with a backup - nothing worked I always got asked to register the software and that registration failed. So I rang the customer support, got through in a few minutes and he talked me through everthing I had already done and then remote logged into the computer and did more things I had already done before giving up and saying to look at the SSL bindings along with TSL and to ring back if it didn't fix itself 0_o

Nothing solved it, no matter how many times I uninstalled the software, manually deleted the user files and even deleted registry content - once I reinstalled it got stuck trying to register the software. And now it was getting past 1pm, the orders were backing up and they have to be logged into the accounts to ship. This problem was now a crisis and even Sage tech support could not fix it - so I started googling the SSL info and a penny dropped.

It activated fine on my Windows 10 fresh install

Most of my SSl googling suggested Windows 10 made major changes to SSL - upgrades older versions no longer receive. Because Windows 10 is a PITA to get other computers to connect to it - I kept this main Sage database holding computer on Windows 7. What if Windows 7 is the activation problem? So out of desperation because we were now in a total accounts mess I upgraded the main pc to Windows 10 - surprisingly it only took twenty minutes and once it was running I opened Sage accounts and It did not even ask for activation

So basically Sage released an update to their accounts software that only works on Windows 10, and they didn't bother putting it in the release notes or telling their tech support. Finally we were back invoicing orders, but it was a short sharp lesson on redundancy.

Plan for the unexpected, redundancy and being prepared

So the moral of this story is always have a back up plan, and some spare equipment so if you primary device falls down you can fall back to something else.

Now I don't like throwing out anything that might be useful, especially when it comes to electronics. So when the previous main office PC started to get a bit slow and old, I retired it for a new faster version. But that old PC I kept just in case I needed it. After the Sage mess it seemed prudent to have a back up plan, and I had a 60gb SSD that was doing nothing so I thought it would be a good idea to bring back to life that old pc. The tiny SSD installed windows 10 fine and the whole thing was perfect for backing up data - seeing as it has a 3.5” 600gb hard drive lurking inside. I hadn’t noticed because it was under the Power supply - as a bonus it had hardly any data on it so 600gb of network storage was now available thanks to this old pc.

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The next step is to install remote desktop software, given this machine is a back room server room connected to an old vga display, rubbish keyboard and mouse I did not want to be stood in front of it to install software. For many years in the past I have used remote desktop software to access my work computers from home, and my home computers from work. Long ago I used Logmein - which was fine until they started increasing the subscription every year until it was stupidly expensive for just two computers. Next I tried Teamviewer which was ok - but again pricey and the cheaper subscriptions were limited. Currently I have a SplashtopStreamer subscription - which is good value, allows a decent number of computers to be accessed from it and is reliable. So with that installed on an evening at home I could log in and start adding all the software I might need - HMRC Payroll, Sage of course, moving back ups around and files to make sure of my new found storage.

One thing I have always been good at is Sage Backups - every day we put - well a days worth of data into the accounts software - so if you have have to roll back even a few days there is a ton of old information to re-enter. So every night Sage is backed up on the main host computer, and the back up is dropped to shared folder on another computer, and that shared folder is part of Microsoft One Drive. Once that file lands it uploads to the one drive cloud - so the backup is on two physical computers and in the cloud - I could put it on a USB drive as well and carry that about with me - bit I think that would be overkill!

So I was stupidly pleased with my PC Recycling

It was running great, remote log in was impressively smooth for Windows 10 on a very old pc, I had all the network shares going so I could drop files from my Mac or the other office PC's on it's 600gb drive, I'd installed all the critical software we use daily so if one of the computers someone sit's in front of goes down this could replace it.

And then four days later it was showing as inaccessible in Splashtop Streamer. So I went to have a physical look and - it was dead. Press the power on button nothing. Got a new power lead, plugged that in a different socket and plugged it in - familiar crackle of plugging in a live powered lead - but no response from the power button. Marvellous - the PSU (Power Supply Unit) has died. Well most likely some capacitor on the main board burnt out but you have to be patient to start poking around in the things to find what to desolder and then you have to find a replacement...

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The irony is this was in full use until I upgraded it, and then has been offline until 4 days ago. So if I had not replaced it what was the main Sage server pc would have gone off-line suddenly and I would have all sorts of problems. How lucky am I? -_-

But after getting it all up and running I was not letting this PC get away with going out in burnt PSU glory. I have a good selection of Power Supply Unit's all of which have more then enough capacity to power this PC, especially because it has discrete onboard graphics so no power hungry graphics card. So all I have to do is remove the old dead power supply, fit the new one and we are back in business - simples!

Which numpty decided to buy a slimline HP Compaq Tower

I have no idea how I ended up buying a slimline tower, most likely at the time it was offering the best value for money for the specs. Right now though, it was just causing me new and interesting problems - because the Power Supply is proprietary to HP and slimline - plus.... THIS

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The top motherboard 24 pin plug is from the old dead power supply, while it has the standard 24 pins it's much smaller the 24 pin plug on a full size desktop. So this is not going to be a simple plug and play - because the new plug is too big.

I know for a fact that replacing the power supply with an equivalent will cost far more then a new equivalent spec pc - these specialist supplies command a high price - if you can find them. Plus I have plenty of power supplies just waiting to be used. So why not just make my replacement power supply fit - by cutting all 24 cables on the old supply, cutting all 24 cables on the new supply - and then splice them back together so the tiny 24 pin plug is now on the new working power supply.

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The cables are colour coded, so you don't have to be a genius to match colours back together again. A little knowledge about what each colour means helps of course:-

Orange - 3.3v
Red - 5v
Yellow - 12v
Black - Neutral
Green - Power on indicator to turn on the PSU - short to Neutral to turn on a PSU with no pc attached.

And a few others of lesser interest. Mostly it went well, except I had two Yellow 12v supplies from the PSU and tiny 24 pin plug only had one Yellow 12v cable. but I had an extra orange 3.3v cable so I joined to orange cables from the mini plug into one from the PSU. And the mini plug had two mystery white cables that I only had black cables left to match to - so I assumed they were some weird neutral and connected them to black. Twisted each wire pair together, hot glued them for insulation (I would have soldered them first but time, effort, blah.) And then for extra shorting avoidance stuck them into to some funky zig zag duct tap in 4's keeping the hot one's together and neutrals etc together)

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New problem, the CPU socket has a 3 pin connector, weirdly my replacement supply had two 2 pin ones. Not really sure about that but all it needs is 3 x Yellow 12v in on one side and 3 x Black Neutral at the other. So I cut off a 2 pin connector on the new supply, cut off the 3 pin connector from the old supply, wired up the two 12v supplies from the cut off two pin, and the third spare 12v from the motherboard 24 pin, two black neutrals from the two pin plus a spare neutral I borrowed from elsewhere in the supply. And maybe if we are super lucky this thing will live again.

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You are probably as surprised as I am that it worked! Plugged the power cable in and it just booted itself up straight off. There are a few oddities, the main one being it thinks the case fan is disconnected - the rear case fan is part of the old propriety PSU and I can't find a header on the board to connect a fan to - no idea if some how the 24 pin mainboard supply cable also passed that information. Anyway it's not a big issue just you need to manually press F1 every time it reboots before it will load the OS.

Now the replacement supply is deeper and wider then the old one which was mounted at the back, so the new supply is never going to fit at the back. Main problem is the motherboard is wider at the back and has all sorts of jumpers on it the new PSU would squash. At the front there was a CD ROM and a 3.5" drive bay below it. I need neither of those so I took out the CD ROM, it's cage, the plastic brackets that held the cages together - one of which annoyingly had all the case front port and button cables and the sata cables running through it - and it was a sealed ring of plastic. No time to unplug all that so used my wire snippers to cut a gap in the plastic for the cables to pass through.

Final job duct tape a section on the motherboard where the PSU might touch it to prevent shorts.

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It's alive, crazy cabling hot glue and duct tape but it lives again - FrankenPC

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With the Power Supply now mounted at the front, fitting the case presented a problem because the PSU needs to blow hot air out of the top. It pulls it from where the plug goes in - which is fortunate because that is the big open space where the CD Rom used to be. To let it blow air out though I drilled 9 holes in the case roughly where the PSU fan is.

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And there you have it, the rare front power plug in HP Compaq, ready to supply all your Winblows 10 demands should it ever be needed (heaven forbid).

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And it's now been running two days longer then the original power supply managed!

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Temps are all good despite having that massive chunk of PSU shoe horned into the front.

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And I can check up on the coolest people who post on Hive Blockchain.

In retrospect I was foolish to not upgrade the Windows 7 PC when support ended in January 2020, but I'm a firm believer in if it aint broke don't try and fix it. I have struggled with Sage on Windows 10 on my Mac VM over the Network so I knew it would cause issues, which it has and even weeks later I'm still trying to sort out problems with networking, printers, printing generally and all sorts of little niggles Windows 10 has brought which worked fine on Windows 7.

Next I'm upgrading an in use office PC to Windows 10 64 bit so I can run Artisan coffee roast profiling software on it - that will move next to the new 30kg Roaster to help improve my roast consistency. And it will be replaced with a new PC, which will in the future be used by a new sales and marketing employee.

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I too hate throwing anything electronic away so I have tons of old PC stuff. However, this is probably farther than I would try to go. :) I love the Mac OS but I hate their hardware (poor thermals, non-upgradeable, overpriced...or at least you are forced to buy in a price bracket you may not want because customization is limited...). Plus, as far as desktops, I prefer building and customizing my own...so the newest Mac I own is a Macbook Pro from circa 2009 and these days I mostly use a combination of Linux and Windows.

I have built from scratch many pc’s over the years, this is the first modification attempt - especially retrofitting a motherboard plug! Of course it helps if you are not too worried if you fry the motherboard - it was an interesting experiment and could have been a lot neater - but as a backup most likely it will never be seen anyway.

I fell hard into the Apple ecosystem when the first iPhone was released, and while I agree on all your points you can pick up used macs for not so horrible a price. I like how phone, tablets and macs link so seamlessly and having all my essential data and photos in the cloud easily accessible from any of my devices.

I gotcha!
I was a computer tech for years!
With people dumping almost impossible jobs in My desk...
A lot like You just described!
Have A "better" rest of the week!!!
👍🏼😁👍🏼

I just create my own extra work, thank you for taking a look and enjoying my post.

Always!
And I do the very same!
😆🤣😆

Beware - Apple is moving to ARM CPU in two years... and OS will be Big Sur... watch out..

I’ll live with it work round it, there is always a way.

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