Hardware is Scary

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
Computer hardware scares the hell out of me. Not the hardware itself so much as the actual act of troubleshooting and fixing it when something goes wrong. It's one of those things that you don't necessarily think about too often and therefor just always expect to work. Having said that, when it inevitably stops working (inevitable is absolutely the right word there), and especially when the hardware in question is expensive, that can be a pretty scary thing.

My aging desktop which I now use primarily as a media server stopped posting this past week. I built it back in the summer of 2006 just before departing for college with money I had received from my high school graduation and from lifeguarding.

Up until that point the most I had done in terms of configuring hardware was soldering mod-chips onto Nintendo Gamecubes and Playstation 2s for a couple of close friends.

I spent months researching all the parts I needed on Newegg and meticulously planned the methods for assembling them. I remember specifically being nervous because the Intel Core 2 Duo wasn't released until August of that summer so I couldn't even begin building it until about a week before I left for school.

Following the correction of several semi-minor configuration hiccups I got that computer to work and have amazingly been using it without serious incident for the past eight years. I've dropped in new motherboards, a new processor, additional memory, and extra graphics cards over the years, but she's always chugged along and been a reliable machine.

So I was terrified when after starting it up last week I couldn't for the life of me get it to post to the BIOS. I swapped out every component I could think of without result before, as a last ditch effort, I pulled out the battery on the motherboard and manually reset the CMOS. For whatever reason that ended up being what fixed it and my computer gets to live another day.

I've had to fix a lot of random hardware issues in the past couple of months and all of them have been somewhat stressful. My Galaxy Nexus stopped charging back in April and I had to swap in a new micro-usb board (pictured right) in order to get it up and running. Also, in the course of conducting user research at school, I've randomly had configuration issues with our Tobii X60 eye-tracker that always seem to catch me off guard. Prior to that, an Apple Airport Extreme I had been using at home was shutting off at random intervals without rhyme or reason.

When it comes down to it, I understand what goes into troubleshooting software. I understand how to debug and fix problems in my own code and the code of others. That I get. What I don't always immediately get is why computer hardware mysteriously stops working. Without easy visibility into the problem and without anything but a cursory understanding of how the hardware I'm attempting to fix works, this makes troubleshooting in those types of situations all that much more precarious.

Can I fix hardware if I need to? Usually. But do I enjoy doing so? Absolutely not.

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.