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Buying computers off-the-shelf cf. bespoke

09/02/08

Buying computers off-the-shelf cf. bespoke

Permalink 03:26:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: Articles

I have just (for the umpteenth time) returned a shop bought PC to an owner and had to charge about double for the repair than I would for a custom built PC.

This PC happened to be a Packard Bell/NEC one where the owner was complaining of a dark screen. Initial suspicions fell on the video card, but when I got the PC to the workshop I tested other components and found that the motherboard had failed too.

I searched for an identical motherboard to replace, but none was available even though the PC was no more than two years old. This is because being a bulk purchaser of motherboards, Packard Bell can dictate to the manufacturer not only how the boards should be laid out, but whether replacements are to be stocked and made available. Thus saving some of the cost involved in supplying more complete, customizable and functional boards, and hoping that when the device fails, a new PC will be able to be sold rather than a non-profit generating repair being undertaken.

One of the non-standard aspects of this board is that the pin arrangement for connecting the wires to the front panel of the PC is unusual. Moreover, there is no way of identifying which wire does what as neither colours nor markings revealed anything. So I had to strip the front casing down to the circuit board and try to match up each cable to its function as best I could.

I bought a replacement motherboard with a standard pin arrangement, but the plastic block that houses the wires was a different shape, so I had to improvise a make-do insulation arrangement.

Had this computer been custom built, it would comprise standard components so that not only could an identical replacement motherboard be sourced, but none of the time consuming faffing around would be necessary.

Similarly, last week I was servicing a Dell computer. It was not until I started work that I realized that the plug and socket connectors for the keyboard and mouse were non-standard. No keyboard or mouse other than the Dell ones supplied with that model of computer would work !

Incidentally, when I returned the Packard Bell PC to the owner today I realized the cause of the motherboard and video card failure. The green LED on the surge protector was not illuminated. There has been a power cut recently and the owner did not check that the surge protector had done its job in saving the PC. So when the next power cut came, she was unprotected. If only she had followed the advice in my housekeeping list she would have avoided a bill for over 100.

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