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Thursday, 1 December 2011

What kills a PC

Well, many things but when my HTPC died recently I have been left scratching my head as to why. I have checked each and every component that I can get at with no change in the situation, for once in my life I've even tried changing the battery - looks like the motherboard to me.

Finally, I have relented and taken the machine apart, I'm using a Silverstone Grandia GD01 so space is not really a problem but to take the whole thing apart the hard drive bays and optical drive bays have to come out which is a bit of a pain.

However, it has been worthwhile. I knew that the machine had hosted a mouse a while ago so I had lifted the machine off the bottom shelf of the TV unit onto the upper & everything has been working fine for around 3 months since but on being able to clearly see the whole mobo in the light the problem was revealed. I could see patches of, what could only be, dried mouse wee and spread across the corner where the bios chips are is a mass which I must suspect is mouse poo that has expanded with more liquid and dried / heated and generally cooked by the environment inside the case.

Wiping that mess away revealed severe corrosion of the legs of first BIOS chip. Around the area I could see any number of diodes on the board and where diodes are missing I could see solder points where diodes could be affixed (presumably for different models, this being a Gigabyte GA-MA-78GPM-DS2H), however, under where that nasty mess was if there were diodes there were no longer, whilst the solder points have corroded down to the board, in some places copper is visible and in others just the board itself shows through.

Dead board.

My only problem with replacement is that I foolishly purchase an OEM licence of Windows 7 Professional and there are significant restrictions. I have approached Gigabyte for advice on a replacement board but their only interest is in selling something bigger and better missing the point of both the license requirement and the need for low power consumption in a media PC.

I have been doing my research, my experience with the Gigabyte board has not been good (besides the mouse incident I've all of the fan headers have failed one after the other) and Gigabyte support is rudimentary at best. I'm fine with the AMD processor though - this being my first venture into AMD, I'm still an Intel person but they just haven't got the lower power end sorted yet. I did purchase the original Intel Atom board & was very impressed with its performance but it just could provide the performance level required for higher levels of movie playback & today reports are still a bit mixed with regards the ION offerings. So this time I'm going to give the AMD APU a shot with the recently released E-450 in the shape of an Asus E45M1-M PRO A50M Hudson M1 board - it's micro ATX with expansion slots so there is an option for graphics card upgrades and tuner card if need be.

I am not expecting processor performance to be stunning and given the 4850e I had wasn't quick at listing the 45,000 music tracks I have in Media Center it is a bit of a worry. However, let's have some fun, I can see that once the Media Player database is built most of the activity is disk related and Windows is very disk heavy so an SSD is on the way (so completely silent expect for the power supply, 1tb Western Digital Green Power drive, frying mouse poo and anything else hiding in the case). What I find bizarre is that when Windows is building the Media Player database it does not put any stress on the disk, memory or CPU - it is as if the process deliberately runs at very low priority which is a pain when sitting there waiting for it to rebuild (and rebuild at random as best I can tell) - come on Microsoft get it sorted.

The trouble is that looking around causes other thoughts too, boy is the Grandia a monster, it looks as elegant as an elephant under the TV and stands out as a computer (the VFD has long been turned off, what a load of rubbish that was) so I have also ordered a Moneual 312B.

That's my Christmas present sorted then.