Design issues can make computer hobby stuff challenging


Sometimes the computer hobby exposed real design flaws in machines that make working on them difficult. Here are two recent examples.

First, I had a Dell OptiPlex 745 USFF machine that needed extensive repairs. It had a blown motherboard, a hard drive fan that seemed stuck, and the front and rear cooling fans were failing.

The design flaw in this case is that the rear fan is SUPPOSED to simply slide out and pop loose for replacement. It has four small feet that have tabs on them that fit into slots in the motherboard mounting plate. The feet and tabs drop into wide parts of the slot and you slide it forward to lock it into place. To remove it, just slide it back. Except you can’t because part of the rear case assembly blocks the fan being able to slide all of the way back. It took a lot of trying and prying and fear of breaking the darn thing to get the bad fan out.

That maybe 16th of an inch in the way turns a job that should take seconds into one that was pretty lengthy.

The other design flaw is on an older machine from the early Pentium 4 era. In this case it is an HP 873n Media Center I picked up for $10 to rebuild. Nothing was really wrong with it other than it needed the OS reinstalled, improperly matched RAM replaced (and more of it), and a better CPU. Here is where the fun started.

The CPU HSF assembly was bleeding nightmare to remove to get at the CPU. It used some sort of clips that resisted all attempts to remove them from the mount. I tried every tool on the workbench to get the metal tabs on the top to be depressed low enough to let the catches holding the assembly to the mount to come loose. I finally had to go get a pair of leather work gloves to let my fingers and thumbs press down hard enough without pain to FINALLY get the thing released.

I had well over an hour of trying to get the thing out, while afraid the whole time of having a tool slip and turn the old motherboard into scrap. These particular HPs are small inside anyway, so that added to the fun.

The irony is that reinstalling it is a breeze and the clips snap right back in with almost no effort. Just don’t try to take them out again!

It may be that this was some sort of after-market HSF unit not made by/for HP at the time. What I do know is that it was the single hardest and most miserable experience I have ever had in upgrading a CPU.

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