Friday, June 04, 2004

Fiddling with desktop computers

My old laptop was retired because of a really weird problem, which was that the computer would only start in exceptional circumstances. Most of the time when you pressed the power button it would whir for a moment and nothing more would occur, other than that a fan would keep spinning. (After a couple of hours the fan would then stop spinning). Sometimes if you left that fan to spin for a couple of hours and then tried to boot the machine again, the computer would then boot.

But usually it would not. And the time between successful boots steadily got greater, until the computer became essentially useless. And when it was working I would dread software crashes (which were not all that uncommon, given that it was using Windows ME) or anything else requiring me to reboot, because I never knew if the computer would come back up again.

But some parts of the computer were still okay. Just for the fun of it I recently removed the hard drive and installed it in my newer Dell laptop. Somewhat to my surprise, the Dell laptop proceeded to boot perfectly fine in Windows ME, which was what was on the hard disk. (It did complain a lot about the presence of hardware it did not recognise and wanted me to give it permission to search the universe for compatible drivers, however).

So, nothing wrong with the hard drive. One can't easily have two hard drives in most laptops, but now that I have a desktop computer as well, it is pretty easy to install the old hard drive in the desktop box. Although the actual IDE/ATA interface is the same, 2.5 inch drives use a different (44 pin) connector to the (40 pin) one used by standard 3.5 inch drives. (The 2.5 inch drive also incorporates the power - hence the extra pins - and the pins are smaller and closer together). Therefore I had to get an adaptor of some kind. I have seen adaptors that plug into the back of the hard drive and give the hard drive the larger connector, which can then plug into a standard size IDE ribbon cable, but I couldn't find any of those. However, the shop I went to did have an IDE cable with a large connector on one end and a small one on the other, which worked fine.

So I now have a computer with a 164GB main drive, a CD-ROM drive and a 5GB secondary drive. If I put it that way, it sounds completely pointless. However there are advantages in this. One is that I can now access all the files on the hard drive of my old laptop whenever I want. (There is something to be said for simply copying the entire contents of the little drive onto the big one, but I needed to mount the little drive to be able to do that). Another is that I can now boot the desktop machine in Windows ME from the second drive. (Is that a bug or a feature?) The third is that I actually have two hard drives. I could for instance install linux on the little drive, and that way I would have a dual boot system without having to mess around with partitioning the main hard drive.

And when I say little drive, I do mean it. 2.5 inch drives are much thinner, and they really do only take up a tiny fraction of the volume of 3.5 inch drives. I have never seen a 1.8 inch drive, but we are talking tiny. (As for a one inch drive, imagine a Compact Flash card).

Update: What is annoying is that the cable I bought yesterday only has two data connectors: one (40 pin) for plugging into the main board and another (44 pin) for plugging into a 2.5 inch drive. This means that if I use this cable, I can only attach one device (the 2.5 drive) into that IDE port. IDE ports are capable of connecting two devices (a master and a slave) and normal IDE cables have three 40 pin connectors, to allow two devices to be connected to the board via one cable. I now have my main hard drive and my CD-ROM connected to one IDE port and the 2.5 inch hard drive to the other. If I want to add another IDE device (eg a DVD+/-RW drive) I can't unless I get a different adaptor or cable. (Also, I would really prefer the main hard drive to and the CD-ROM drive to both be masters connected to different IDE ports, which is more efficient. But for now, that's how it is).

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