Replacing PC Parts
Copyright 2008 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2008 by Morris Rosenthal -All Rights Reserved
How to Replace Computer Parts for Repair or Upgrade
In all cases, if you're upgrading or replacing a computer part, you're doing so on the assumption that the PC still has some value, so you don't want to get in over your head and break things if you aren't fairly sure of what you're doing. Replacing PC parts is pretty much all screwdriver work, it doesn't require great coordination, but it does demand a certain mechanical awareness, the ability to see where things fit and how they are supposed to go together. If you force something, you're doing it wrong and it will break. Modern PC's all use ATX power supplies which are really only safely off when they are unplugged or the override switch on the back is turned off. I don't trust myself to remember the switch (this coming from a guy who's repaired thousands of PC's), so I just unplug the power before cracking open any PC. You're far more likely to cause damage (and give yourself a fright) if you leave it plugged in and accidentally turn it on, or have it turn itself on through one of the wake_on functions. I just ground myself whenever I remember and I do just fine.
Some people will argue about static electricity risk until they are blue in the face, my own uneducated opinion (with a Master's in Electrical Engineering) is that static risk is highly overblown. I've seen all sorts of anecdotal stories in print about somebody who knew somebody who saw a technician open five machines without a static strap and they all mysteriously failed over the next month, that's just a lot of bull. If you actually blow up an IC with a static discharge, you're going to feel it, and something isn't going to work when you power up. In 20 years of working on PC's, it's happened to me exactly once, and I was in a crummy static environment (wood floor, very dry air) where I was always getting shocks, and like an idiot, I walked into the room and the first thing I touched was the circuit card on a SCSI drive - POP!
The whole idea of providing an illustrated replacement guide with lots of photographs is just to make the unfamiliar more comfortable. The photographs are very unlikely to exactly match whatever piece of hardware you have in front of you, but the basic shapes and geometry will be the same. I've pretty much covered all the basic replacement procedures you're likely to try in desktops, and I've done a number of the simpler laptop repairs in a similar manner. The first page I did was off-the-cuff while I was visiting a cousin and his hard drive failed. Rather than replace the old clunker of a PC or blow real money on a replacement hard drive that would be incredible overkill, he was able to get an old hard drive from a buddy. Replacing the hard drive only took a few minutes, formatting it took a lifetime:-)
The next page, replacing the power supply, is a pretty common repair, and one that you may undertake even if the power supply hasn't actually failed yet. If you've upgraded to one of these high end video cards with it's own cooling system, there's an excellent chance that the power supply that came in your system is going to wilt over time. I used a quality Antec power supply in this illustrated example, and it even had the SATA power leads for the newest breed of hard drives.
I get a lot of questions about replacing a CPU due to a page I wrote a while back about the cost effectiveness of doing it, so I thought I'd knock out a sample. CPU families come in different shapes and sizes, not to mention performance levels, and even within a family and form factor they aren't always interchangeable. The point of this page was just to let you see what's involved in replacing a standard socket mounted (Socket A in this case) CPU. It's tougher to do with the motherboard in the case than out of the case, which would be the procedure if you were building a new PC.
A lot of people end up replacing their sound card when there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. The lead reason is probably because the speaker volume or the CD input is turned all the way down in one of the software mixer panels that they can't find, so they just assume that the hardware is bad. Another common reason people replace the sound card is because they want more volume, but that's generally more dependent on the amplified speakers you have than on the measly sound card output. In any case, it's a pretty simple job, though everybody forgets to hook up the CD audio lead.
On the other hand, nobody bothers replacing a modem unless it's dead. Fortunately for modem manufacturers, modems frequently oblige by getting themselves blown up by lightning strikes. This is far more common in certain regions than others, primarily places with lots of thunderstorms or on higher ground. Again, it's an easy fix, but it can come as a shock to the uninitiated that a little modem can give you a big zap even after it's fried and the PC is unplugged, because there's a decent size capacitor on there that like discharging through unwary fingers.
Stuff with moving parts like the tray on a DVD or a CD is like baby food to a baby, so you're likely to find yourself replacing your CD or DVD Drive from time to time if you have kids in the house. Even if you don't they aren't the most reliable components in the world, and if you have a really old system with just one bay, you might want to throw out the player and replace it with a recorder. CD and DVD drives are physically identical, the replacement procedure is the same.
If you get into gaming after buying a PC, you'll likely be replacing the video card before too long. Video rendering is a huge bottleneck in PC gaming, and some of the latest solutions actually gang video cards to share video processing power, even with just one monitor attached. Installing video cards in tandem really isn't my thing, and replacing a single video card is one of the simplest jobs you could run into, except for maybe cleaning a mouse.
I'm not going to waste a lot of words explaining why you'd end up replacing the RAM, because you'd just argue with me if I told you it's a waste of time and money unless it's failed. On the other hand, if you want to upgrade the total amount of RAM installed, it's safest to throw out what you have and install the total amount of new memory you want using the minimum number of modules.
Saving the best for the last, the nastiest job you can do on a PC is replacing the motherboard. I break it into two logical parts because there's so much involved, removing the old motherboard and installing the new motherboard. The technology is pretty much irrelevant here as long as they we're talking about industry standard ATX stuff. The biggest risk comes when you are installing the new motherboard in the case and you miss that the old standoffs (metal supports for the motherboard) don't align perfectly with the holes in the new motherboard. Aside from that, it's just a lot of screws and snap together connections.