back to article Square peg of modem won't fit into round hole of PC? I saw to it, bloke tells horrified mate

Welcome to another entry in The Register's series of stories extracted from those lucky individuals that find themselves On Call. Our tale this fine Friday comes from a person the Reg-onymiser has elected to call "Ajmal". Ajmal's story takes place back in the late 1990s, when dial-up was de rigueur and wobbly broadband for …

  1. jake Silver badge

    Sounds to me like ...

    ... despite AOL being the outcome, it was a good hack.

    1. Stumpy Silver badge

      Re: Sounds to me like ...

      ... and that's why they call them hacksaws

    2. Ordinary Donkey

      Re: Sounds to me like ...

      I did the same thing in the aughts. My research PC needed a second network port, but the university bought me a full height card for a half height machine. The card was small enough, but the backplate required ... modding.

      They found out when I left.

      1. shedied

        Re: Sounds to me like ...

        As the elevator doors begin their slow crawl, you hurriedly mention something about the top half of the card kept in the Ta!

        1. Ordinary Donkey

          Re: Sounds to me like ...

          Now why would I report that something had been adequately installed months ago and was still working?

          They'll have found it when they returned the system to the default spec.

      2. Slow Joe Crow

        Re: Sounds to me like ...

        The makers eventually got smarter, I had some cards that were made 1/2 height and shipped with two brackets so you could install in a full or half height chassis with a screwdriver instead of a hacksaw

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DIMM Slots

    Years ago I had a colleague who managed to put a DDR2 module into a DDR slot. When they had not got it working they called me to have a look as they could not understand why it was not working.

    Looked at the RAM and the modules I had with me and noted the difference in the notch and asked - how did you insert it ?

    "Oh, with some difficulty, but I got it in, I thought it was just a bit tight in the unused socket"

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: DIMM Slots

      I had a PHB who did something similar, except he only asked me for assistance when the newly inserted module started smoking!

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: DIMM Slots

        Should have told him it would work if he could get the smoke back into it.

        1. DaveDaveDave

          Re: DIMM Slots

          Lucas Replacement Wiring Harness Smoke kit, P/N 530433

        2. Trollslayer Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: DIMM Slots

          Ah, the magic smoke.

        3. Aus Tech

          Re: DIMM Slots

          Ah, I remember the saying well. "All this electronic stuff works on smoke!" "Works on smoke?" "Yep, works on smoke!. Have you ever seen anything work once the smoke gets let out?" " Can't say that I do." "There you go, that's proof that it all works on smoke."

      2. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        Re: DIMM Slots

        PHB = Pointy Haired Bastard?

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: DIMM Slots

      I once found someone had managed to ram a 25-way D plug in upside down... it was more of a O plug by this time

      (it had most of the 25 pins connected, so the culprit go the fun job of soldering on the replacement)

      1. eswan

        Re: DIMM Slots

        Remember those notebook docks where you slid open a door on the back of the notebook, put it on a couple of locating pins and throw a lever to push it into the 50-billion pin connector? I had to inform a user that it worked better if you opened the sliding door first. Although, to give her credit, she almost made it through the plastic.

        1. rototype

          Re: DIMM Slots

          I remember a bransd of machines that used particularly thin SIMM slots that would only take their brand of memory (this was 486 SX25 era).

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: DIMM Slots

        " ram a 25-way D plug in upside down"

        I've seen that on multiple occasions

        And 15 pin VGA plugs rammed into 9 pin sockets (or the other way around)

        1. theModge

          Re: DIMM Slots

          been there, done that, bent the pins.

          In fact, when younger and having more enthusiasm than knowledge I bent any number of pins....

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: DIMM Slots

      "Oh, with some difficulty, but I got it in, I thought it was just a bit tight in the unused socket"

      This probably required the judicious use of force involving a hammer.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: DIMM Slots

        If it don't fit, force it. If it breaks, it needed replacing anyway.

        1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

          Re: DIMM Slots

          That's part of it.

          The full one, just for reference:

          Measure with a micrometer, mark with chalk and cut with an axe.

          If it doesn't fit, use a larger hammer and if it breaks, it needed replacing anyway.

          1. LordWilmore

            Re: DIMM Slots

            If a job can't be completed with a hammer, get a bigger hammer

          2. Cynical Pie

            Re: DIMM Slots

            Other basic engineering maxims include 'if it doesn't move and it should use WD40 and if it does move and it shouldn't use gaffer tape'

          3. phuzz Silver badge

            Re: DIMM Slots

            It's not a hammer, it's a "forceful screwdriver" ok?

        2. BoraHorzaGobuchul

          Re: DIMM Slots

          Bash to fit, paint to hide.

          1. willi0000000

            Re: DIMM Slots

            carpenter's best friend four-inch putty.

        3. Hazmoid

          Re: DIMM Slots

          If it doesn't fit, get a bigger hammer

      2. timrowledge

        Re: DIMM Slots

        As my grandfather used to tell me - “Don’t force it - use a bigger hammer!”

    4. Efer Brick

      Re: DIMM Slots

      yeah, that does sound pretty dim

  3. tip pc Silver badge

    soft modems

    my performa 6400 had a cheap ass soft modem. Worked ok until the cpu got busy and couldn't cope with the 36.6kbs spec.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: soft modems

      If its any consolation to your 90's craptastic Mac: Winmodems were pretty much garbage when introduced, and there's a special place in hell for all those at IBM who came up with the MWave modem/sound cards.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: soft modems

      Soft Modems always the reputation of being utter garbage, actually back in the year.

    3. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: soft modems

      There was a time, possibly referred to as PC98, when certain people at Intel thought that all of the hardware peripheral functionality, up to and including ADSL modems, could be largely simulated by software on their processor. Which it could, assuming you weren't planning to use the processor for anything else.

      (Incidentally, I think the grinding noise might have been due to the Packard Bell card retainer, the metal bracket at the end of the card, being a bit smaller than an official ISA card retainer. There were simpler solutinos to this than hacking up the case.)

      1. Neil Woolford

        Re: soft modems

        Packard Bell being one of the names that would have me backing away from the box...

        1. Trygve Henriksen

          Re: soft modems

          As someone who found hat they didn't even spend the $0.10 to install a diode to protect against reverse voltages on the power connector on their laptops... I used to tell people that they were slightly less painful than being poked in the eye with a rusty fork.

  4. Muscleguy Silver badge

    Hmmm

    If you are careful there is usually some unused space on the edges of cards which can be removed to better allow insertion into tight spaces. Personally I would have deployed a file or perhaps a sureform plane to give more control, but the saw obviously did the job and probably quicker. The guy might have done parquetry as a hobby and been well practiced with it. I’m a dab hand with various sorts of wood planes. Eschewing noisy, dangerous, sawdust spewing machines I have been manually sawing the sides of grooves with a rip cut tenon saw then removing the filling with a modern router plane. I also have a teeny, tiny old Stanley router plane which is excellent for delicate work and in tight places.

    Soon I shall tongue and groove some boards with a matched pair of wooden planes, the sort with a wooden wedge holding the blade which you adjust with a judicious tap on toe or heel.

    All these things produce safe shavings instead of dangerous sawdust and mean I can listen to the radio or the bird song while I work.

    1. Fursty Ferret

      Re: Hmmm

      The trick with designing a multi-layer PCB is to run traces inside the board along the edges to discourage home modifications like this... ;-)

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hmmm

          Being a Westpondian, my first reading of this had me thinking you were taking a blowtorch to the board. Ah, two countries separated by a common language...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Hmmm

            That's the easiest way to bulk-desolder single sided surface mount/through hole boards to harvest things when you're a cash strapped teen in the days when RadioShack was the only game in town and shipping was more than the parts from distributors.

            Light the torch, wave along the back of the board, shake off all the bits you need.

            1. Martin-73 Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Hmmm

              Then lead free cra...err solder came along, and made the temperature required to do that likely to set fire to the board and toast any semiconductors or electrolytics.

              Small b bastards. Have a pint for the memories of that smell of burning FR4

        2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Hmmm

          That's actually bad design practice.

          Whooosh!

      2. Suricou Raven

        Re: Hmmm

        There are some rare cases where the PCB is nothing but critical traces - every spot on it occupied by wires that, if cut or shorted, will destroy the device. It's a technique used for tamper-proofing devices. Usually power lines for the SRAM chip that holds the secret device key that the designer wants to keep people from extracting.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. ROC

        Re: Hmmm

        Discourage, or punish?

    2. JeffB
      Pirate

      Re: Hmmm

      Many years ago I had to so something similar with an ISA modem card, no matter how hard I tried it was just a fraction too long for the slot, so I had to shave about 0.3mm off the end with a sharp paring knife... (it was the only tool I had available at the time!!)

      Because blades were used...

  5. Chloe Cresswell

    We had a client in the 386/486 days who liked his HP desktop so much, he upgraded it himself to a small 386 motherboard.

    Issue was the pitch of the ISA slots between the 386 and his HP's case wasn't the same. When I met this machine, most of the card bracket had been sawed out, and the cards held in with wood screws and hot melt glue!

    1. imanidiot Silver badge
      Trollface

      ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

      1. ashdav
        Holmes

        ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

        i always use duct tape and WD40

        https://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/7214525854

        1. Jay 2

          Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

          The universal rules! They speak the truth.

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

          Throw baling wire & chewing gum into the repair kit and you can fix damn near anything.

          1. Hairy Wolf

            Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

            Don't forget tie wraps, the other essential for those quick fixes.

            1. Sam not the Viking

              Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

              On holiday in Greece, I repaired a motor bike clutch-lever with a cable tie. It was a used, discarded tie found laying conveniently at the roadside.

              1. this

                Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

                Not to forget the wire coat hanger. Sadly in short supply these days, but I once drove all the way from Spain to the UK with an exhaust system held on with their help.

              2. Man inna barrel

                Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

                Best kludge I ever saw was a small teapot welded to the output of the exhaust of a two-stroke bike. Improved the resonance, apparently, so sucking through more air and fuel. This was a lady biker. I am not sure the blokes approved, but no one dared argue with her.

              3. Symon Silver badge
                Thumb Up

                Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

                Enginering:- Making what you need from what you've got.

        3. vtcodger Silver badge

          Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

          i always use duct tape and WD40

          Those plus a hammer, a Dremel with a cutting disk, and a reversable Phillips/Flathead screwdriver from any model 1960-1990 Mazda and you have a complete toolkit suitable for almost all user level electronic, automotive or household repair tasks.

          1. keith_w Bronze badge

            Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

            In the early aughts I was taking a how to repair IBM laptops course at IBM. The instructor said, "If any of you have a Dremmel tool in your kit, leave it there. If you break a part by Dremmelling it, that is not covered by warranty."

          2. Tim99 Silver badge
            Meh

            Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

            In the late 80s I purchased a basic tool kit from one of the first IKEA UK stores. It contains a medium and large flat-blade, and a medium Philips screwdriver; an imperial/metric steel measure with spirit-level; a medium claw hammer; a (sharp) knife and sheath; a pair of pliers; and a Bradawl. Since I retired they are about the only tools I use - With a couple of essentials, like a junior hacksaw; power drill; punch down and cable stripper; side cutters; medium molegrips, large adjustable spanner; socket set; and a jewellers/pentalobe screwdriver set. The soldering kit went along with the failing eyesight. As others have posted: WD40 (although for some uses, like locks and hinges, a dry-film spray can is better) and gaffer tape (and electricians, and plumbers tape).

            When I think of the (hundreds?) of tools I have purchased over 50+ years, I realized that most of them were just toys that looked attractive but were not very useful...

        4. zb

          Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

          You forgot about the Araldite.

          1. Tim99 Silver badge

            Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

            ... or cyanoacrylate Superglue? I forgot to mention a set of 6 medium & small Halford's double open-ended metric and imperial spanners (purchased in the 1970s).

            1. iGNgnorr

              Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

              "or cyanoacrylate Superglue?"

              In my experience, the only thing that stuff sticks is me.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

                "In my experience, the only thing that stuff [cyanoacrylate] sticks is me."

                The secret is to move FAST. Many times I've gotten a drop or two on my fingers. Rub thumb against finger FAST, and you'll feel it heat up as the glue crystallizes - without sticking them together. But hold them for just a sec, and you'll be hunting for SWMBO's nail polish remover. (Also, apparently nitromethane is more effective than acetone.)

                CA is much weaker in shear than tension, so if you need to bust something free, hit it parallel to the joint.

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: ain't no problem in the world that can't be solved with hot-snot

            "You forgot about the Araldite."

            Did not. It's in t'second drawer, luv.

      2. Headley_Grange Silver badge

        RTV for me.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          EBT+ and 3M waterproof double sided tape will attach most things to most other things if the load isn't too great.

          1. DaveDaveDave

            Contact adhesive is underrated for bodging. The grab of that stuff is unbelievable. Something ludicrous like multiple kg/sq cm.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge
      Flame

      When I met this machine, most of the card bracket had been sawed out, and the cards held in with wood screws and hot melt glue!

      I ran into a few like this,. The one that was really borked had the metal shavings and filing debris from the chassis mod left inside and everything inside was coated with metal bits. From the damage and soot, I daresay the flames and sparks must have been spectacular.

    3. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      WTF?

      Wood Screws

      We sold a system to a client......Salesguy missed the fact he wanted a CD writer installed & shipped without it.

      We ship the drive seperately when its discovered, user assures us he can fit it.......we get the call it doesn't work. Bring it all back.....we are sure it's nothing major to resolve.

      Once in our workshops.....

      You need to buy another drive, this ones "had it".

      You can replace it under warrenty, you sold me defective goods.

      The warranty expired the instant you used 1" wood screws to mount it to the chassis.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Wood Screws

        I watched a guy drive a deck screw (3 1/4 inch, Robertson) into a brand new running laptop because "the CD drawer kept popping open, so I was screwing it shut". Well, to be honest he only drove the screw part way in ... he jumped about three feet straight up when he finally made electrical contact & let the magic smoke out.

        Why didn't I stop him? Because there was a closed window, an unfinished deck, and about a dozen feet of driveway between us. We didn't even know what he had done until we rushed outside ... we thought he had managed to get bit by a rattler or something, the way he was carrying on ... A quick diagnosis showed that he was resting his hands in such a way that his finger was brushing the eject button. Oops.

        After being asked, I told him that I was quite sorry, but no, I didn't think the warranty would cover the damage. I found out later that he contrived an "accident" involving his flunky driving off in the truck with the laptop still plugged into the worksite genset, thus slamming it into the ground while running. His company insurance covered it.

  6. Chris G Silver badge

    Saws

    Using a saw is a bit posh innit?

    In my crowd we have aways used a hammer, if that doesn't work get a bigger hammer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Saws

      Yup, if it ain't as big as Mjölner then it ain't big enough...

      1. ricardian

        Re: Saws

        Who else had to Google Mjölner?

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Saws

          "Who else had to Google Mjölner?"

          In this crowd? Probably not many ... For several reasons.

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Saws

          I don't believe you! Mjölner should be well enough known.

          Mind you, I'm not sure what place a vehicle mounted mortar system has in a toolbox.

        3. whitepines Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Saws

          Considering I've only ever seen it spelled Mjölnir?

          Or did you actually want to use a gun turret on your PC? I know using Windows 10 can make this seem like an attractive solution, but you can just install Linux you know...

    2. chivo243 Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Saws

      I was gonna use a bigger hammer... beat me to it!

    3. Zarno Bronze badge
      Alien

      Re: Saws

      My IT bag has a small hand size claw hammer in it.

      It's one of the most required but seldom used tools. The anecdotal "threaten with a hammer" story actually does work, I've encountered it a few times.

      Also good for the usual un-bend of dented computer stuff.

      Icon because aliens, croquet, planets, black holes, and spooky action with a hammer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Saws

        Back in my student days (in the early 70's) I used to work Saturdays, and some days without lectures, in a local independent TV and assorted electrical shop. Valves were still common in TVs back then and hitting a set brought in for repair was a first step in fault analysis*. The heel of the hand was my choice (and that of others helping out with repairs) but the boss usually grabbed the nearest tool on the bench. That would inevitably mark the cabinet (which then meant extra work for us). We bought him a rubber mallet and it was probably the most used and useful tool in the workshop.

        TVs were nowhere near as reliable was they are nowadays (even cheap brands) but they were usually repairable. Even when solid state took over, most early sets were designed so you had easy access to the circuit boards. Sony changed that - their sets were notoriously difficult to work on but we liked them because a) they were much easier to set up after a sale, and b) they rarely needed repairs. One cussed Sony every month or so was better than a dozen Ferguson or ITT sets a week.

        *Valves were notorious for working themselves out of their sockets and the thump would often confirm that was the fault - so meant a quick poke around to reseat and job done (without having to set it up on the bench with isolated power supply, etc). Sometimes it would be a faulty valve itself - but they were easy to replace, too.

        1. DJV Silver badge

          Re: Saws

          I used to be a TV engineer for Rediffusion back then. We had a customer who was, shall we say, several valves short of a full set. We often had to go to his place to "repair" the TV as he'd taken the back off yet again and rearranged the valves into different sockets.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Saws

            Christ, Rediffusion - that's a while back. I still have a couple of unpublished pictures of the Beatles rehearsing for their first ever TV show there..

          2. MrNigel

            Re: Saws

            I did my apprenticeship at British Relay Special Services division, my first brush with a trade union. Apparently the union had an agreement that only two people could carry a colour TV set, but only one to carry a B&W set. Guess what? Eager me carried a colour one solo into the workshop and was severely ticked off by the rep. The same rep that taught me a Golden Rule that I have never forgotten to this day. "Don't drink out of damp glasses" he always reminded me when we had our lunchtime pints of Tetleys in the local.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Saws

          " hitting a set brought in for repair was a first step in fault analysis*"

          Reseating the valives was par for the course (pin corrosion too). We used to go through a lot of contact cleaner.

          The real problem with old valve sets was that they were hand soldered/assembled and you could virtually guarantee that at least one joint somewhere hadn't seen an iron, let alone solder.

          I usually found at least 2 in every valve set I opened as a callow apprentice and took the attitude that "if it responds to thumping it's likely a dry or unsoldered joint somewhere. Cue going over (invariably heavily nicotine/fluffy dust coated(*)) internals with a bright light and magnifying glass.

          (*) I've encountered computers as badly afflicted. We just hand them back with a biohazard label attached. Bosses in the old days were usually the worst offenders for gunking up electronics internals and didn't give a fuck about the techs (most of whom smoked too)

      2. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

        Re: Saws

        Back when I did more on-site repairs my bag contained a mangled video card to show stubborn computers what could happen if they didn't perk up.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Saws

      Yeah, but would you hammer in the morning? Hammer in the evening? Hammer all over the land?

      (always wear safety glasses when hammering) --------------->

      1. Jonathan Richards 1

        Hammer out...

        ...something about danger, warning, and incest? It's been a long time...

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Hammer out...

          So long as you do The Safety Dance when performing risky operations then you'll be fine.

  7. Chewi

    I did use a saw once...

    I had one of those small Dell desktops that only took half-height PCI cards. I needed to fit a small card, can't remember what it was, but it had a full size bracket. A hacksaw did the trick!

    1. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge
      Boffin

      Re: I did use a saw once...

      Did that myself only yesterday. Unscrewed the bracket from the card first though. Works fine now I've reattached the modified bracket.

      1. rototype

        Re: I did use a saw once...

        Would have thought it was more Hammer Time https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_wS0Kw6k9c

  8. chrisgibson

    I once sawed a hole in a slimline case to make a full height graphics card fit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      heh

      I think the best I managed was having to widen a case aperture to get my new cdrw drive to fit ... the slot was about 2mm too narrow. I think it was a Dell Precision workstation and a Phillips drive - probably it's still lurking in the shed.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: heh

        Typical Dell, hardly precision design or build....

        1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

          Re: heh

          Beat me to it you did...

        2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: heh

          As a mate and I used to say - there's precision, and there's Dell Precision.

      2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: heh

        If it was an early Optima, you were supposed to take the bezel off, and out the drive behind it....

    2. K.o.R

      I've cut away the fan grilles on a couple of cases to improve airflow.

      I've also bodged together various things mounted on PCI slot covers.

      My best work has got to be the combination of 4 hard drives, a metal ruler, some motherboard standoffs, a PCI slot blower fan and some LEGO to mount said drives in a 1U case to make a sort-of massive external HDD.

  9. DaveDaveDave

    Some of the things I've sawn...

    One place, I had a work order cross my desk. Remove door to server room, widen doorway, fit new door. Quite apart from the effect this would have on existing servers, there was no reason for it - the door was fine.

    Turned out some idiot had a new unit to install, and was convinced it wouldn't fit through the door because it was 120cm wide. 30cm 'long', though. Yes. They just needed to turn it through 90 degrees.

    Pretty sure that if I hadn't made sure they were elsewhere, they were the type to pull out a saw and hack away at the wall instead.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Some of the things I've sawn...

      It took me ages to realise that there are some people who genuinely have such poor spacial awareness that they can't think about reorienting something to achieve the goal. I used to think they were taking the piss, but the look of "Wow - how did you do that?!!!" was the giveaway. It is as if these folk grew up in Flatland, and haven't got used the the extra dimension.

  10. ARGO

    Isn't that normal for PB?

    Packard Bell cases were notorious for having unusual shapes, presumably to make you buy all the internals from them.

    I also used a hacksaw to make things fit - but on the case metalwork rather than the bits I was trying to stuff inside it.

    On the plus side PB cases were remarkably solid, so could stand to lose a bit of metal here and there.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Isn't that normal for PB?

      "Packard Bell cases were notorious for having unusual shapes, presumably to make you buy all the internals from them."

      See also Dell and HP, especially the PSUs not only being odd shapes but using their own special power leads to the M/B and or extra non-standard m/b connectors.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Isn't that normal for PB?

        Not just special leads and MB connectors. Dell had a nasty habit of dicking around with SMD link positions on simms/dimms so they would ONLY take Dell memory (it was easy to sort if you knew what you were doing but the labour cost meant doing this wasn't economic for actual work)

        Showing this to customers - and the cost of the generic vs Dell part, along with the cost of Dell systems vs _decent quality_(*) generics - lost Dell a lot of repeat business, kept local hardware sellers happy and won a lot of long term clients over the years

        (*) I'd make a point to clients that some dealers were $40 cheaper than the others, but I drew the line at cases which gave me razorcuts simply from picking them up, or parts that didn't work, also pointing out that the worst offenders were usually the hardest sellers and/or would lean on church/social connections to make a sale.

      2. JakeMS
        Thumb Up

        Re: Isn't that normal for PB?

        Talking of non-standards, anyone remember Tiny? I still have two of them. If memory serves me well, one is from 1996, and one from 1997. Exterior looks exactly the same, and both have the same archway shape case with the old windows logo as an air vent, that goes covers both sides (PITA to refit without bending). Except when they brought the next years one out, they upgraded the pentium II, and changed the PSU to one that needed a special bracket. That means you also need a psu that fits that bracket. That's great thanks tiny!

        Although, last I checked a few years ago they both still worked. Up unfil around 2009 they were still running as a pair of home IRC servers.

        For all the faults of the older kit, they maybe slow, they may be old, they may be impossible to get fitting parts for.. but they will run for decades without so much as a complaint!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    *Hisses & wards against Evil*

    Packard Bell was the bane of my existence at one point.

    How come?

    Because I worked in a PB/NEC plant doing QA for both lines. The NEC's would sail through QA because they had been built to higher standards. The PB's would often not even need to be picked up & shaken to test for loose objects inside (LOI) as you could see bits missing off face plates, bits missing from the rear plates, or in one case it was obvious the fekkin thing had been *stomped on*.

    "How do I know it failed? The boot print & dent in the side was my first clue."

    The manager for the NEC line wanted us to reject a unit for the slightest infraction, the smallest of niggles, because "we don't ship crap".

    The PB manager seemed to want us to pass it for anything less than actively being on fire. "Sir, there's a LOI in this one. Send it back." Screw that! Open it up, take out the LOI, shut it back up, & ship it! "What if the LOI came out of the PSU & will cause the unit to catch fire if I turn it on?" That's what the warranty is for!

    *Sigh*

    I'm posting this anon because I'd like to maintain the fiction that I might one day survive the shame of having worked for PB...

    1. dajames Silver badge

      Packard Hell

      Packard Bell was the bane of my existence at one point.

      There's nothing wrong with a Packard Bell PC that can't be put right with explosives!

      1. Hero Protagonist
        Mushroom

        Re: Packard Hell

        a.k.a. DWEP: Disassembly With Extreme Prejudice

    2. DRue2514

      Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

      In the early 90s we had a mix of ICL PCs and a small number of Packard Bells. I can confirm that the PBs were way less reliable.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

        " I can confirm that the PBs were way less reliable."

        There were some computers less reliable than PBs. There were a LOT which were cheaper than PBs.

        Just the observation in my part of the world. Somehow having an american name increased the price (as did putting HP branding on generic cases with stripped down Asus boards inside having crippled bios and rotten performance)

        My friends had a friday night game of wandering into Dick(head) Smith stores and playing bingo listening to the PFYs trying to sell 3-year out of date (and shitty when first produced) systems to unsuspecting customers. Most of them ended up banned from the stores.

        Even seen someone sell a 4MB 386sx to a customer wanting to run win95? I have....

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

        That really goes say something as I worked for the Mainframe support part of ICL we thought the pcs were a piece of shit. Especially compared to the DRS desktops they were replacing.

    3. ChrisC

      Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

      Having done my share of IT support for friends and family over the years, I've come into contact with a few PB machines, all of which were utter delights to deal with...

      ...hah, who am I kidding! Nightmares the lot of them. Although I was pleasantly surprised by one of them which turned out to have twice the HD capacity it had been sold as having - the factory OS image had been set up to provide a C: drive of n GB, but after the factory restore discs then failed dismally to actually restore anything resembling a working OS and I got the owner to run down to the nearest PC store to buy a retail copy of XP (insert jokes about still not resembling a working OS...), the nuke from orbit type clean install process I then went through gave me the option of setting up a C: drive of 2n GB. Hmm.

      After cracking open the case again to check the part number on the HD and confirming that, yes, it really was expected to provide 2n GB of capacity, I left XP to do its thing and ended up being able to hand over a fully functional PC unencumbered by any of the extras PB had included in their default setup, and with twice the drive space as a bonus.

    4. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

      Was it PB that back in th 90s had the misfortune to aquire a batch of cache chips that were missing the actual silicon inside?

      These were the days CPUs didn't have any L2 and there were a set of dil sockets on the mobo

      1. eswan

        Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

        Would not suprise me in the least. Had a Legend 486dx33 come into the shop for diagnostics. The top of the cpu had been sanded. Held at the right angle to the light and you could see the 25Mhz markings.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

        "Was it PB that back in th 90s had the misfortune to aquire a batch of cache chips that were missing the actual silicon inside?"

        It was MSI and PCChips boards that were the worst offenders for this (complete with tweaked bios)

        These were really easy to detect in Linux because any kind of compile or busy CPU work would result in Seg11 failures all over the show

        The New Zealand Ministry of Commerce whacked the main offending importer (Insite? Edge?) with a stonking fine for doing this, having determined it was deliberate. Their staff then climbed all over BBS and Usenet forums claiming it was an accidental misunderstanding and it was users at fault - when the MoC got wind of it they tripled the company fine and prosecuted the individuals making the postings.

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

          PCChips 'recoils in horror!'. Another 'naughty' was a 100Mhz 'budget' board that only ran at 90 and was actually an overclocked 75 chipset that didn't like getting busy. (no surprise at +20% & no heatsink).

          I had to 'fix' a few of these, luckily they mostly had been filled with the excellent AMD K6 series CPUs that really could use a 100Mhz bus but were happy to drop to 66 or 75 and use a much higher clock multiple to rescue most of the missing grunt.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

            I think I remember the AMD K6... That was the chip that loved being overclocked, wasn't it? I worked for a white box builder around that era. I still remember picking up motherboards from our supplier one day when one of their employees walked by holding a snazzy looking newfangled creature called a Pentium II.

            1. ChrisC

              Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

              Can't remember how good the K6 family was at being overclocked, but I do recall them being quite decent little chips for the price.

              So much so that, having started mulling over upgrade options for my old P166 system one lunchtime.at work, I then figured that just swapping out the P166 for a K6-2 would give the required performance boost, and was then so keen to try this out that I spent some of my flextime to leave work at 4pm, hot-footed it the mile into town to get the next train into London, then the tube up to Blackhorse Road, and finally a brisk walk across the road to Simply Computers before closing time to collect the prize... Ahh, the days before next day delivery from Amazon :-)

              1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

                Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

                There was a K6-III as well, and it held it's own very well against the Pentuim-III, although not all Socket 7 motherboards would work with them.

                Wikipedia says that the K6-III+ tops out at 500MHz, but I was pretty certain that I had one rated for 550MHz, although it could have been a K6-2+

    5. Imhotep Silver badge

      Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

      Hewlett Packard must have hated that company, because Packard Bell customers couldn't seem to know which company to bad mouth.

      My first pc was a Packard Bell, solid metal case and well made. Then they moved to foil lined plastic cases, crappy components and no QA. I guess it was a profitable strategy for a while.

    6. Grinning Bandicoot

      Re: *Hisses & wards against Evil*

      I thought that to be HPs credo.

  12. herman Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Hmm, well, I am sorry to admit that I had a Packard Bell PC once upon a time. I also had problems fitting cards into the damn thing and had to cut various bits and pieces off sometimes, but I preferred cutting the PC case, to cutting the cards. So I can commiserate with our friend's friend.

  13. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

    I did similar only the other day...

    My desktop case is over ten years old, and it wasn't really expecting graphics cards to be as big as they are now. There were plenty of 3.5" drive bays, it's just that some of them were in the way. Side cutters and pliers did the trick. Just got to keep those cables away from the sharp edges now...

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: I did similar only the other day...

      Just got to keep those cables away from the sharp edges now...

      Find a short length of 6A two-core mains cable. Pull the wires out. Slice a cut down the sheathing. Slip it over sharp edges. A dab of glue may help hold it in place.

      Layers of Gaffer Tape also works.

      1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

        Re: I did similar only the other day...

        That's actually a really good idea.

        1. DaveDaveDave

          Re: I did similar only the other day...

          No, a good idea is fixing the sharp edges. Bit of sandpaper, a file, or an edge-roller if you're posh.

          Although may be sensible to empty the case first - not sure fine metal powder will do electronics much good.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: I did similar only the other day...

            " a good idea is fixing the sharp edges."

            A decent desktop case is about $30 and a fancy one isn't much more

            They're only metal stampings and plastic bits, FFS.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: I did similar only the other day...

              I have run into examples where the Boss flat refuses to pay for the new fifty dollar case that everything will fit into quite nicely (and with an upgraded power supply, to boot!) ... but will happily pay the consultant (me) upwards of $300 to modify the old, odd-ball, under-powered case.

          2. CountCadaver Bronze badge

            Re: I did similar only the other day...

            Yep deburr with a file AFTER emptying the case

            Metalwork lecturer at the local college used to test whether students had indeed deburred cut metal as the task required them to do by grabbing their hand and running their finger down said edge....burred metal makes some pretty horrific cuts....

  14. juice Silver badge

    Fun with power tools...

    Way back before the Raspberry Pi was even a bud on the vine[*], I picked up one of the early nano-ATX all-in-one boards. One of the VIA EPIA variants; I think it had a 1ghz processor descended from the Cyrix architecture and an S3 Chrome GPU, or somesuch.

    Naturally, i wanted to do something interesting with this new and incredibly small bit of technology. And I had a couple of dead NES machines in a cupboard.

    So, one was fetched out of deep storage, stripped down and attacked with a dremel to make room for the board and improve airflow.

    Alas, the result was a bit fragile. Fortunately, I discovered that the plastic Nintendo had used was thermoplastic - and I had a knackered old soldering iron to hand.

    The smell during the welding process was pretty nasty, and it was far from the neatest set of welds in the world, but hey. What's inside the NES, stays inside the NES!

    It did all actually work out pretty well in the end - I managed wire up the power/reset buttons to the m/b, got the OS booting off a CF card, and even found a laptop CD drive which fitted pretty much perfectly behind the cartridge-slot door. Once I'd welded a few more bits of plastic into place to keep it in place, anyhow :)

    [*] What I know about horticulture can be transcribed onto a very small pea pod...

    1. DaveDaveDave

      Re: Fun with power tools...

      Did you not know about solvent weld? Or have you used the stuff so much the fumes have affected your memory?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Fun with power tools...

        Not sure what you mean by "solvent weld". I have several plastic adhesives, and often none of them do a good job on a given piece of plastic. Do you have any recommendations?

        Main trouble is likely that I never know what kind of plastic it is, so just have to try each glue in turn and hope one of them actually dissolves it slightly to make a better bond.

        1. DaveDaveDave

          Re: Fun with power tools...

          Solvent welding is using solvents to melt plastics - just like airfix kits etc, or the more grown up version, plastic pipes. It is, at a guess, made much like alcohol hand cleanser, but with a solvent instead.

          The point is that it's a weld, not a glued joint. Works incredibly well sometimes - things that have broken off, e.g., join back together perfectly along the fault line (more often than any other way, at least). And it has the great advantage that if you try and use it on incompatible plastics it just evaporates without doing anything or leaving any residue.

          Google solvent cement. Screwfix etc have it.

        2. Grinning Bandicoot

          Murphy Test will tell

          The solvent dripped on the outside of the case will immediately indicate that it melts through faster than a wipe be grabbed.

      2. juice Silver badge

        Re: Fun with power tools...

        > Did you not know about solvent weld?

        I can't comment on what my past self knew (or didn't) - this was about 15 years ago, and there's been a lot of solvents since. Usually in the form of ethanol and served in a pint glass on an evening ;)

        What I can say is that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you have a soldering iron and a bunch of mangled thermoplastic scraps, everything can be fixed by melting the smaller bits down to the consistency of chewing gum and using them to bodge larger bits into place, with help from the tip of the soldering iron!

    2. Missing Semicolon
      Windows

      Re: Fun with power tools...

      Re: Via Eden EPIA boards. I only recently decommissioned one of these as my house server. I had to do ugly things with an IDE-CF card to make it boot from the drive connected to the plugged-in Sata card.

      Only finally replaced as the only distro that will boot on it now is Slackware.

      1. juice Silver badge

        Re: Fun with power tools...

        Not sure what I was running on that wee beast - I've got a feeling it was a stripped down version of Win98 or somesuch. As you might have guessed from the NES case, it was mostly intended to be used as an emulator station.

        On a vaguely similar note, I can recall a friend using one of the early media streamer boxes as a house server - some Western Digital thing about the size of a laptop power supply, which ran some ARM chip at around 400mhz and could be easily flashed to boot linux.

        Said friend was teaching in China at the time, so this box ended up at his mum's house, sat in a corner and acting as a proxy whenever they wanted to access something the Great Firewall of China wouldn't have approved of...

  15. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Hauppauge TV card. Face plate tab not aligning with case slot, to say nothing of being too wide. Needed Dremel to remove excess metal and pliers to adjust profile. And that was recent.

    1. DaveDaveDave

      'Needed Dremel'

      Words only ever said by Dremel cultists.

      1. jake Silver badge

        "Dremel cultists"

        Words only used by people who don't know when and how to use one.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          "Words only used by people who don't know when and how to use one."

          Tin snips usually work better than dremels for this kind of work.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Tin snips often bend the metal in addition to cutting it, particularly if it's stamped into some specific shape. A cutting wheel works better when you need to preserve the shape of the remaining metal.

        2. DaveDaveDave

          Ah, no. I'm in the third category: people who have a Dremel available to borrow, so can use it for the few things it's good for*, without needing to justify the cost.

          (*Cutting in very restricted spaces, can't think of anything else offhand.)

          Now I come to think of it, last time I borrowed it I had to fix the motor winding.

          1. jake Silver badge

            "Cutting in very restricted spaces, can't think of anything else offhand"

            Dawg toenails. Deburring small castings (I just completed half a dozen model A in-head thermostat housings). Engraving identification marks in odd places. Grinding "just a hair" off of various parts for a better fit (craftsmanship these days is lacking in store-bought everything ... ). Touching up blades on garden tools (not sharpening, that requires more horsepower) ...

            I could go on. I use a couple different Dremels regularly. It's not just a toy for crafters.

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        "With a Dremel tool and a cutoff wheel, EVERYTHING takes a flat-bladed screwdriver!"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Including the shear-head bolts on steering column locks...

          It's in at least one FSM as the "proper" way to change the lock out.

    2. ChrisC

      Can't remember what it was, but one of the cards I bought came with a mounting plate that the manufacturer had decided would look *so* much nicer with a nice matt black powder coating rather than the more mundane bare shiny metal sported by, well, everyone elses cards.

      Cue much cursing at said manufacturer when attempting to fit the card revealed that instead of using a thinner plate to compensate for the thickness of the coating, they'd obviously just used a standard plate and had that coated. On both sides obviously, which meant that the combined thickness of metal + 2 layers of coating left the retaining tab now incapable of fitting into the tab slots on the PC case, until after I'd introduced it to one of my metal files...

  16. chivo243 Silver badge
    Windows

    Which portion did he saw off?

    and why? A true hack would have altered the offending chassis or case(thinking blow torch here, while the computer was powered up!) unless he was sawing off some of the pins?

  17. Mr Dogshit

    I can't believe it was so easy.

    Fitting an ISA modem usually involved fannying around with the IRQs and assigning the correct COM port.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I can't believe it was so easy.

      Having corrupted a hard drive by installing a sound card and not knowing to check/change the IRQ, I can testify to this.

      1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        Re: I can't believe it was so easy.

        Muhuhahaha.

        I once needed to fit a 3rd LPT port, and finding the right IRQ on the board was iffy. Poor documentation does that.

        Got it to work with rprinter *shudder*

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
          Angel

          Re: I can't believe it was so easy.

          How to confuse a.....

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXt9kXw4-rc

        2. Ethangar

          Re: I can't believe it was so easy.

          For the young'uns. This is pre Plug N Pray times... :)

    2. spuck

      Re: I can't believe it was so easy.

      Oh, IRQs on ISA takes me back...

      Back in the early 90s I was a wet-behind-the-ears sysop keeping a magazine publisher's BBS running on a shoestring. The glory days of a T1 line into the office were still years away and just as well, as none of our subscribers had yet to hear of the Internet anyway.

      I was handed the task of adding two more phone lines to the existing 2-line system. DESQview/386 and PCBoard were already handling both lines on a hand-me-down 386, but we were fresh out of COM ports. Buying an ISA dual COM port card got the physical ports needed, but back then COM1 and COM3 shared IRQ4 and COM2 and COM4 shared IRQ3. The details are fuzzy 30 years on, but something about the system didn't play nice with all four ports. (Was it the FOSSIL driver? DesqView? Or just a limitation in DOS?)

      After consulting the ISA bus pinout, an idea formed: what about IRQ7 and 5, which were typically for the parallel ports LPT1 and LPT2? There was no printer, and I was going to pull the parallel port card anyway to fit the new COM port card.

      With tongue held just so, two cuts on the new ISA card with a razor blade just above the gold fingers on the edge of the PCB disconnected the traces for IRQ3 and IRQ4. A pair of jumper wires soldered from there to the unconnected fingers for IRQ5 and IRQ7, and behold: 4 COM ports, 4 un-shared IRQ lines.

      I almost broke my 17-year old arm patting myself on the back for that.

      1. John PM Chappell
        Thumb Up

        Re: I can't believe it was so easy.

        I have to say, that was a nice day's work there.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the picture in the article

    Where did you get this picture of a saw, El Reg.

    Not sure if the 90s ever saw one with no cache at all. Should be literally a freaking blast to saw anything with that !

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: the picture in the article

      Guard schmuard. I find the angle grinder guard just gets in the way of optimal grinding. So far I still have all my digits and haven't set fire to myself. Yet.

      1. Niall Mac Caughey
        Alert

        Re: the picture in the article

        On that note...

        A friend of mine was a farmer (no, he's still extant, just not farming these days) and was in the barn using an angle grinder to do whatever farmers do to heavy machinery. After a while he noticed that the sparks had ignited the diesel-soaked crotch of his boiler suit.

        It didn't take much thought to conclude that, while extinguishing the flames would be prudent, the 9,000 rpm device he was holding could prove hazardous. The lead was long, so he through it a considerable distance down the barn. Unfortunately it landed disc-first and facing in the 'wrong' direction. The disc dug into the concrete floor and the apparently irritated device raced back towards him, intent on mayhem.

        It ran out of steam, but only after reaching his right shin and penetrating to the bone. It took considerable presence of mind to extinguish the flames, make his way to the car and drive himself to hospital without passing out. There were no long-term ill effects, barring a very ugly scar.

        1. DaveDaveDave

          Re: the picture in the article

          Was he grinding magnesium or something? Diesel is practically impossible to set fire to.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: the picture in the article

            Diesel soaked cloth can easily be set on fire. The cloth acts as a wick.

            The real question is why was he grinding in such a way that the sparks were aimed at his crotch? No, I'm not asking for what seems to be the obvious reason. Not entirely, anyway. I'm asking because when those 10,000RPM wheels explode (and they do, trust me), the now jagged bits invariably launch in the same direction as the sparks ...

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: the picture in the article

          "using an angle grinder to do whatever farmers do to heavy machinery"

          Clean, shiny, paint-free steel makes for easier/stronger welds.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: the picture in the article

        I used to think along those lines (and chafe at the nanny state restrictions at work that mandate safety glasses and full face shields when grinding). Then I saw a picture online somewhere of a gut who had a 4" cutoff disk explode. Approximately 1/3 of the disk was IN his face (unsure exactly how much of the disk, because large parts of it were hidden under the skin). I've since developed a bit more respect and patience for safety gear.

        1. Admiral Grace Hopper Silver badge

          Re: the picture in the article

          My favourite safety instruction: “Accidents with chainsaws are rarely trivial”.

          I’ve always taken the same approach with angle grinders.

  19. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    I once went to someone's house for a callout (when I did home visits in the early 2000s). I had to install broadband, through a USB ADSL modem. They told me they got that because they could never get the dialup to work, despite having bought lots of modems and installed them. I noticed the PC had something loose inside so I opened it up. In it were three loose 56K modem cards (PCI ISTR). They'd been just lying loose in the bottom of the PC case, and luckily not touching anything or shorting something. "I thought the box was a storage area" came the reply. He didn't realise it was the computer.

    Let that sink in. This guy thought the PC case was merely a place to store stuff. And a place to 'connect the wires together too' I suppose. Who knows.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Let that sink in. This guy thought the PC case was merely a place to store stuff. And a place to 'connect the wires together too' I suppose. Who knows."

      Even today, there are still people that call the box the "hard drive". I assume they think the "TV" is the computer.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Pint

        I don't wanna deal with these idiots anymore.....

        .......Unfortunately this is the only job I'm good at

        Icon - I drink because of that (OK & a few other factors as well).

      2. aks Bronze badge

        A place I worked at twenty years ago had scaffolding at one side of the building.

        During the night, naughty people broke in through the first floor windows and proceeded to steal the keyboards. Presumably these were younsters who thought the machine was the keyboard, which joined to a TV. They left the CRT's and that other box that didn't seem to do anything useful.

        1. 9Rune5 Silver badge

          steal the keyboards

          Well... These days, a good keyboard with high quality switches can be quite pricey...

          1. Alan Newbury

            One word - Chicony

            Probably the best keyboards on the market back in the late eighties - early nineties

    2. Ethangar

      My father-in-law once called me complaining that his hard drive wouldn't open.

      ?!?!

      Hard drives don't open!

      Why not? I open it all the time.

      NO! Opening hard drives is BAD. Don't do that.

      Well how do you get the disk back in there then?

      This went on for some time before I figured out that he was talking about his DVD drive. The door was jammed. That wasn't the first an likely won't be the last where he uses the wrong term to describe a computer part that isn't working.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could be worse...

    It was a fun day when a customer complained a motherboard didn't work. When asked what had been done to the poor victim, it transpired that an old aftermarket heatsink was being re-used but wouldn't quite fit since the screw holes were different.

    A drill had been employed and the enevitable brickage being the outcome, along with an explanation that it wouldn't be covered by the warranty or DOA returns.

    Naturally it was all our fault for not clearly stating that you shouldn't cut, bend, fold, drill, expose to high heat or extreme cold as well as submerge in any fluid.

    I do not miss the place.

  21. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Some modems did indeed use SAW filters.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Some modems did indeed use SAW filters

      Maybe Cable Modems. Not telephone line modems.

  22. User McUser

    Wrong era?

    56k modems were available starting in 1997 so why the hell would some buy a 9600 baud modem in "the late 1990s"?

    Perhaps they meant the late 1980s or the early 1990s?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Wrong era?

      56k modems were available starting in 1997 so why the hell would some buy a 9600 baud modem in "the late 1990s"?

      Because the salesman, stuck with a box of old ISA 9600 baud modems told the unsuspecting customer that 9600 was bigger and better than 56 and anyway, they were on special offer this week only!

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Wrong era?

      In some places here in the US telephone lines were incapable of much more than 9,600 up into the early 2000s. In some places, thanks to an aging cable plant, cracked, dusty wire, foggy sea air and a long copper run, the signal to noise ratio means that dial-up sometimes drops down to 1200 (or lower!) even today.

      As I type, I'm connected via dial-up to my home systems in Sonoma at 9600, and that's the highest speed I've seen up here in months ... I'm at our place just outside Fort Bragg, California, barely 200 miles by road from Silly Con Valley. (The home system strips all the unnecessary crap out of web pages and just passes along the text. When I reply, it re-formats my text-only commentardary into the HTML that ElReg (for example) expects. To ElReg, I'm sitting in Sonoma browsing with Firefox 68.7.0ESR. In reality I'm halfway between Fort Bragg and Willits using Lynx ... ).

      1. Grinning Bandicoot

        Re: Wrong era?

        Question: Has Elk gotten dial service yet or is it still a key down from Santa Rosa?

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Wrong era?

          They've had dial service for years. Decades, even. The exchange is 877 ... To the best of my knowledge, even the most hardcore of Mendocino County's off-grid set have access to dial tone on their property. It might not be connected through their own choice, but it is available.

          The real shocker to old timers who haven't been around for many years is that the town of Mendocino now has cell service. Whodathunkit?

    3. Grinning Bandicoot

      Re: Wrong era?

      In 2002 I had to looking for 12K modems for Taxifornia's DOT. In one location I found equipment communicating alternates days depending on the zodiac sign that the equipment had been installed. I don't think the fact that it was connected to the phantom on an open wire system had anything to do with the problem or so the staff engineer supporting comms insisted. But there is so much paleocrap out in the field that antique boards are gaining in value.

  23. wub

    Propriatary hardware lock-in

    I worked for a small testing lab in the 90's, A typical testing device relied on a PC for operation. A PC was always offered as part of the bundle, but I usually advised just deleting it and building a white box instead. In addition to costing about half the line item price, these white boxes were sometimes screamingly fast, compared to the official offering (especially when up against HP systems)...

    Anyway, somehow we ended up with a Compac PC in one of these bundles. This was fine, until it suffered a disk failure. The price difference between the manufacturer's replacement part and the "same" drive at Fry's (OK, the last letter of the part number was different) made the Fry's disk too compelling to resist. When I removed the faulty drive, I discovered that the only difference between the original part and the aftermarket replacement was that the mounting screws were oriented completely differently. Other than that, the drive worked flawlessly, so I just grabbed the hot-glue gun... Never had another problem with that system!

  24. Tinslave_the_Barelegged
    Flame

    Infernal modems

    In that era I discovered something astonishing regarding my own physical capabilities. I was tasked with installing an internal modem in a PC at a branch office. The PC was well plumbed in under the desk, so it was easier to crawl under and do the job on the floor. All went suspiciously well, and, although being young and green, I already knew that, when installing some hardware or doing any other hardware work, you never close the cover before testing it or risk it failing 9 times out of 10, so I switched on the PC. That's when the under-desk area came over all smoky. Yes, the modem was alight.

    I discovered I was physically capable of leaping in one graceful bound from under the desk to the fire extinguisher on the wall. But modems were puny in those days, and hardly a match for taking out a fit young PFY, and the smoke was already dying down, so the office remained foam-free.

  25. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Happy

    Nothing changes

    Without access to precision tools I had to mount a Raspberry Pi on a panel. Lining up for screw holes in the panel, and then threading them would have been a nightmare so I eventually came up with the idea of using plastic standoffs (the type with a peg to push the board onto). This presented two problems. Being able to line up the holes (again). A peg small enough to fit in the raspberry Pi mounting holes. The latter are 2.7 mm.

    The solution I came up with was to use a rat-tail file to careful increase the size of the holes, then thoroughly clean and scratch up the panel, and dollop quick-set epoxy on the other end of the standoffs, then prop the whole assembly against the panel till it set - seems to still be OK after a couple of years.

  26. Mummy's 'ickle soldier

    When trying to fit a DLink 6600 wireless access point to a wall, the router kept fouling on the cable and wouldn’t go on its bracket. So out came the Makita and a 10mm HSS bit to cut a channel in the plastic covering for the cable to run through. Bosh!

  27. bpfh Silver badge

    Reminds me of an old story....

    I believe it was with a Compaq box. Guy wanted to plat Quake I believe but the integrated cirrus logic graphic circuit did not cut the mustard. A PCI graphics card was purchased but would not run the screen. A lot of back and fourth between Compaq and the IT store asking to update drivers before it was discovered that it was impossible to add an external graphics card - the integrated graphics circuit was the one and only and would make the system ignore any cards.

    After several calls to Compaq the guy came back in the store and asked if they had any updated drivers. Sales guy said it would not work, and the customer replied that the card was working fine. Someone mentioned Cirrus Logic on the Compaq hotline, and the client took a set of snips to the mobo, cutting out any chips stamped Cirrus Logic, and Lo, external card ran perfectly - to the horror of the store owners - and the Compaq field techs it was related to....

  28. Christopher Michaelis

    VGA Plug Screws

    I had a fancy dual-screen VGA PCI card back in the day, which you couldn't actually plug two VGA plugs into unless you hacksawed off the facing sides of both VGA cables, screw and all. I think one of those cables is still floating around in a parts box somewhere...

    1. molletts

      Re: VGA Plug Screws

      The designer of that must have been learning his trade before moving on to design my old Western Digital (!!) MyBook external hard drive. He upped his game with that - I had to resort to similar measures just to get one plug in. The eSATA connector is deeply-recessed; the hole in the case through which it is accessed is exactly the same "thickness" (the "narrow" axis) as the the metal shield of the eSATA plug, not allowing for the plastic moulding surrounding the connector. I had to cut the moulding away almost back to the solder joints in order to get the plug to go in far enough to make a connection.

      Actually, I think he may have had a hand in designing an MSI (ok, fair enough) dual-Slot 1 motherboard I once encountered. You could only fit one of the two CPU support brackets to the second slot because there was a large electrolytic capacitor positioned between the slot and the bracket mounting post.

      1. Boothy Silver badge

        Re: VGA Plug Screws

        I wonder if the same person moved to Asrock?

        Bought a new X570 motherboard back end of last summer, for a new Ryzen build. Had a new case as well (old one was difficult to keep cool, still had 4 x 5.25 slots!). New case has a USB-C connector on the front panel, and a fancy lead and plug inside to go onto the motherboard.

        The motherboard has a matching socket, happy!

        Plugs USB-C cable into motherboard, then plugs in GFX card, hmm, won't fit! Can't actually push the card home, something seems to be in the way?!

        Yup, card sits on top of the plug!

        Basically someone in Asrock decided a good place for the USB-C socket was directly under where the GFX cards back plate would be, and even with a 90deg plug, you still can't actually fit a standard sized GFX card into the first slot!

        Did consider removing the plastic on the plug, to see if that would be enough, but in the end I just took the cable out and don't use the socket.

      2. Zarno Bronze badge

        Re: VGA Plug Screws

        I thought I was the only one that had to do that on a mybook.

        Was it the firewire + esata + usb version?

        I used a firewire card with it for years on Linux, since USB overhead was noticeable back then.

        Went to e-sata when I upgraded to a different motherboard that supported it, and Windows took over my life again. The windows switch was work related, not many IDE's/programming environments/pro level CAD/CAM systems run in *nix anymore.

        Now the drive sits on the bookshelf, with who knows what on it. I really should dust it off and see if there's anything worth keeping, and plug it into the openwrt router for NAS duty...

  29. Danny 2 Silver badge

    '90s contract at airports I had to replace a graphics card in Air Traffic Control Lerwick. Normally I was flown from Glasgow (Paisley) but this time the English agent booked me at Edinburgh. Which would have been great if she'd told me. I'm sitting in a car park in Paisley on a blazing hot day trying to rearrange a flight, and I finally get one from Edinburgh, but I've left a briefcase full of graphics cards under my front wheel. And I'm in a rush so I run over it. They are all - well, not smashed, let's say cracked beyond repair.

    I considered resigning on the spot but I liked visiting Shetland so I took a chance and installed the least cracked board. To my surprise it worked, and kept on working for at least a year. I just put the other broken boards back in stock, most of them probably didn't work to begin with.

    I can fault find to component level but that skill was made obsolete in the late eighties. By the '90s it was basically don't drive over your kit.

  30. Velv
    Boffin

    Sawing bits off ISA cards was quite common, I often found at least a part of the blank bit ahead of the notch was fouled by a capacitor or some other component.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I just didn't bother with a case :).

    I had picked up a small half height rack somewhere for nada, and when I saw the prices of 19" cases for it I figured that wasn't in my budget, not to mention the fact they they were always long, and the rack I picked up was a comms rack, so less deep.

    So, instead I got busy measuring, drilled the right holes for the motherboard posts, drive cage and PSU and mounted all of it straight onto the shelves (twice, one was a server, the other machine a firewall. I had all the ports facing forward because I didn't want to have to crawl behind the thing to plug in or remove anything (hence no KVM either, jst a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse - in those days *cough* PS/2 *cough*(. All of that lived in the attic, so noise wasn't a problem, and to give you another idea of age, the Linux server had an old Nokia 6310 hanging off it with a serial cable so it could send an SMS if the Net dropped. I think they were 386 or 486 at best.

    It was not only fun to make, but it just kept working until I moved..

    1. Martin-73 Silver badge

      Re: I just didn't bother with a case :).

      Wait you can do that?!

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    sometimes idiot gpu manufacturers put an extra port on the second slot panel that is utterly superfluous and if you break it off and attach a water block you can fit them in single slots and double up the density

    1. Steve the Cynic

      GPUs. Oh dear. My tale is relatively benign.

      So two years ago I paid toppish euro for an assembled-by-vendor machine composed of parts I selected. For fumble-fingered reasons that are entirely my fault it had a GTX 1080 rather than a Ti, but never mind.

      Feeling flush this year I paid an amount I won't mention here for an RTX 2080 and remembered to include the Ti bit this time. It's a big and heavy beast, but the provided bracket to support its weight wouldn't fit between the card and the internal drive cage.

      End of the story is that this top-tier GPU (goes like greased owl shit, by the way) is supported by a shim made of folded card, clearly visible through the clear plastic "show off the RGB LEDs" panel in the side of the case...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      At the other extreme, I had a Kyro II gfx card in the early 2000's which had a diddly little heatsink and fan that gave up early in its life. I used two-part thermal epoxy to glue a Pentium 3 heatsink on top of it - and bam, completely silent GPU :-P

      It did also take up the AGP plus two PCI slots.

  33. DwarfPants

    Hardware designers have a sense of humor

    If you have ever had the pleasure of a LIF processor socket you have experienced it. The L stands for low and can only be considered such if assembling train wheels on to axles is you baseline.

  34. Rob E

    Ha, I've actually had to get medieval on a computer motherboard relatively recently!

    I had to fit a card that uses a 16x PCI-E card into a motherboard with only a 1x PCI-E slot available.

    With a little bit of neat hacksaw work while trying not to slice through any motherboard tracks, I managed to saw a cutout in the back of the slot, so the card can overhang out of the back. Fortunately, there were no tall components etc behind it, and it merrily works away (albeit at 1x speed, which is all that's needed in this particular use case). Great success!

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