Archive for October 2009

Probably not enough Vespene gas

This is now the second time in less than two years that my desktop has had a problem in which the power supply is the prime suspect.

It all started with the desire to transfer some DV camcorder recordings onto the computer for processing and subsequent DVD authoring. My motherboard doesn’t have a built-in 1394 interface, so I went online and ordered a PCI adapter and cable. It worked wonderfully the first time, and I was able to transfer a full tape over – at which point I realized just how space a DV tape could consume – a couple tens of gigs (I’d never considered the question before, since I never worked with DV data on a computer). It was thus that I resolved to get a new hard drive to help store the video data while I edit the entire thing (the video spans 5 tapes).

Now, I already knew I was reaching the limit of watts that the supply could give me. What I didn’t realize was just how close to that limit I was. I chose to get an external enclosure for the new drive, and promptly hooked the drive up to the eSATA port. And hooked the camcorder up, and started transferring. 10 minutes in, the transfer abruptly ended, and the file that had been increasing in side was truncated. I tried again, and again, to no avail, even with different software, each ending up with truncated results. By the end, the transfer was ending seconds into the operation, until finally it wouldn’t even start. I rebooted the computer, and plugged in the camcorder again, only this time, to my surprise, Windows didn’t even recognize that something was plugged in (unlike previously, when the AutoRun would “helpfully” suggest Windows Movie Maker).

This is about where panic first set in, since I spent $80 on new equipment (the 1394 stuff) and I couldn’t tell whether it was that or the camcorder’s DV port that now appeared to be fried (if I recall correctly, the camcorder had been $800 when we got it years ago). After much frantic twiddling in software settings and driver configurations, I shut the computer down and removed some unnecessary cards and drives, and only then did the 1394 interface work and Windows recognized the camcorder again. Having convinced myself that power shortage was now resolved, I tried to restore networking (I had unplugged it) and the computer promptly crashed.

Apparently, I had already pushed the power supply off the deep end the moment I turned it on with a 1394 adapter plugged in because the network card failed almost immediately, though I had chalked it up as a minor link negotiation problem with the router. I also had a backup Ethernet adapter, so I plugged that in and just ignored the failed network card. At this point, I also plugged in a DVD-ROM drive which had been sitting unplugged in the chassis because I had previously forgotten to plug it in, and then a bracket housing an eSATA port, and then the external drive itself… All of which only served to make whatever was borked already, more borked. At this point, I can’t even boot into Windows without blue screening (or simply not booting at all).

And so the lesson here is to keep aware of just how much load is on the power supply. Because losing your source of juice sucks.