December 01, 2003

To remember when repairing an old machine offsite

Over the last week and a half I’ve been hooking my mother-in-law up with net access. After never touching a computer in her life she’s had an old machine (Pentium-200/Win98) for the last month or so and we figured she was comfortable enough with it to get online. (Thru Telerama because they provide my DSL and I’ve had a good, trouble-free experience with them.) I built the machine from spare parts; the only hardware we purchased was a monitor and mouse. It was easier to build the machine than install Win98 SE, but it eventually worked.

I figured it would be a slamdunk. Hook up my external modem to a serial port, point Windows at it and dial away. Unfortunately I didn't test out the serial ports when building the computer and I paid for it. In this first attempt at dialup I wrestled with many, many different configurations of the serial ports only to find that none of them worked. I vaguely remembered that the motherboard manufacturer, Tyan, was extremely picky about certain cables, and a little slow googling (using the Powerbook I brought along) showed that serial cables were a big problem. I had marked the serial cables with a 'T' when I unpacked them, but they still refused to work.

This leads to our first entry:

Rule one: test all your ports when it's easiest, not when you're trying to install something.

I planned to either replace the motherboard (ick) or buy a serial card when a co-worker came to the rescue with a spare PCI internal modem. Hooray! So I went back to her house with the new piece of hardware, a few extra cables and screws, and the Powerbook. Unfortunately I assumed that Win98 would have the driver, and I assumed wrong. Again using the PB I found the driver on the highly annoying DriverGuide site. But since the PB smartly (tho unfortunately) ditched the floppy drive, and I didn't have any networking cables or extra CDs I couldn't get the driver from the PB to the PC! Foiled again!

Rule two: bring a crossover cable, or at least a patch cable and minihub

Rule three: bring appropriate blank and/or writable media.

Rule four: learn the driver status of hardware before installing.

I burned a copy of the driver to a CD (also marking the first CD burned from the PB, thankyouverymuch) and went back the following day to TCB. Fortunately everything worked exactly as it should have -- the modem was detected by the driver which installed properly and, after a reboot, the computer dialed up and got on the internet. Success!

Now we just need to teach Betty what the Internet is...

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