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Refurbishing my Timekeeper PC

Started by J. Wilhelm, November 27, 2022, 09:50:21 PM

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J. Wilhelm

So... I'm facing a data crisis from multiple fronts.  As time went by my 13-14 year old PC, the clock-computer known as the "Timekeeper" (and brother of the "Mare Leviathan" telephone computer), had it's motherboard go bad. Basically it's capacitors reached end of life and thus USB input output in that computer is now impossible. Over a smaller timespan (5 years), I've had various smartphones become obsolete, have water damage its screen, fall down and break the screen, leaving me with only the oldest (water damage LG2) and the newest (Motorola) as my only data connection to the world.


I have very few photos of this computer. Probably only two outside of market websites.
This build happened before I joined Brassgoggles.

Looking at what Elon Musk is doing to Twitter, and having a 32 GB flash disk full of backup photos from my other smartphones be corrupted yesterday at work, I came to the realization that I'm in danger of losing access to a gigantic amount of information permanently.  Why do things have to happen this way? I don't know, but my Motorola has decided to have a problem with the power button as well, signaling it needs a replacement, and if I don't do anything to backup all my data very soon, I'll be very sorry within a matter of weeks. Replacing the cell phone with another cell phone is good for day to day life, but not for saving an archive (No, I don't trust Google Drive or the Cloud. Might as well call a number of authoritarian world leaders plus some questionable people in Nigeria, and give them my bank account and social security numbers)

So.. I need to refurbish my old desktop, pronto, as it is by far the cheapest way to get started on saving all my data before my phone falls and breaks, drowns, gets stolen, or gets trampled by an urban elephant... Or before Elon decides to detonate Twitter headquarters, just for the fun of it, whichever happens first.

The overhaul of the Timekeeper is an old project that I've been putting off since before the pandemic. I purchased a new ½ TB hard drive, installed a now obsolete version of Linux, I installed a new power supply, and was waiting to have the money for an AM4 class motherboard and as much RAM as could be crammed to run the latest Linux Ubuntu, just before the old motherboard capacitors started giving out. They finally died earlier this year.

Sadly, I can't afford a new motherboard CPU and RAM, as funds are currently tied by the Boombox Mk. IV Project. So what to do? I quicky came to the conclusion that the cheapest way is the try to find an unused or newish AM3 board compatible with my version of Linux and the hardware I already have (2 GB DDR2 RAM, power supply, Athlon 64 x2 CPU) and software as well (ie Linux kernel optimized for AMD64 architecture).

I just found what appears to be a surplus motherboard, in near new condition, same brand and similar model (an updated more recent model of the same motherboard). So for $47, I get to rebuild this computer.The old motherboard, a GA-M68M-S2 micro ATX will now become a GA-MA78LM-S2H,  running an Athlon 64 x2 2.4GHz, and if I can I'll increase the RAM from 2GB of DDR2 800Mhz to the maximum 8GB DDR2 *hopefully 1066Mhz* supported by those generation motherboards. It's not much of an upgrade, but right now that's all I can do. In the near future, I'm looking at changing the CPU to a quad core AMD Phenom II >3GHz, and 4 or 6 cores, just to get some speed.  Maybe for Xmas.




von Corax

Best of luck on this project. I think it's sunspots; I've had four hard drives go South on me in the past 6 months. (The latest one was just GrUB-screwed, so I was able to reinitialize GrUB to get it working again.)
By the power of caffeine do I set my mind in motion
By the Beans of Life do my thoughts acquire speed
My hands acquire a shaking
The shaking becomes a warning
By the power of caffeine do I set my mind in motion
The Leverkusen Institute of Paleocybernetics is 5845 km from Reading

J. Wilhelm

Quote from: von Corax on November 27, 2022, 10:44:55 PM
Best of luck on this project. I think it's sunspots; I've had four hard drives go South on me in the past 6 months. (The latest one was just GrUB-screwed, so I was able to reinitialize GrUB to get it working again.)

If I can keep from breaking my phone just a little bit longer  ::). I dropped it the other day.  Usually smartphones will take 2 to 3 of those events before breaking. The current one is still very new, but it's got only 1 more life left...  I don't spend a lot on phones. Makes no sense. All of them were $50-$70 for me and they're fairly decent.

von Corax

Quote from: J. Wilhelm on November 27, 2022, 11:23:13 PM
Quote from: von Corax on November 27, 2022, 10:44:55 PM
Best of luck on this project. I think it's sunspots; I've had four hard drives go South on me in the past 6 months. (The latest one was just GrUB-screwed, so I was able to reinitialize GrUB to get it working again.)

If I can keep from breaking my phone just a little bit longer  ::). I dropped it the other day.  Usually smartphones will take 2 to 3 of those events before breaking. The current one is still very new, but it's got only 1 more life left...  I don't spend a lot on phones. Makes no sense. All of them were $50-$70 for me and they're fairly decent.

You need an Otterbox case. I have no idea how many times I've dropped my phone, and it's still going strong.
By the power of caffeine do I set my mind in motion
By the Beans of Life do my thoughts acquire speed
My hands acquire a shaking
The shaking becomes a warning
By the power of caffeine do I set my mind in motion
The Leverkusen Institute of Paleocybernetics is 5845 km from Reading

J. Wilhelm

Quote from: von Corax on November 27, 2022, 11:30:06 PM
Quote from: J. Wilhelm on November 27, 2022, 11:23:13 PM
Quote from: von Corax on November 27, 2022, 10:44:55 PM
Best of luck on this project. I think it's sunspots; I've had four hard drives go South on me in the past 6 months. (The latest one was just GrUB-screwed, so I was able to reinitialize GrUB to get it working again.)

If I can keep from breaking my phone just a little bit longer  ::). I dropped it the other day.  Usually smartphones will take 2 to 3 of those events before breaking. The current one is still very new, but it's got only 1 more life left...  I don't spend a lot on phones. Makes no sense. All of them were $50-$70 for me and they're fairly decent.

You need an Otterbox case. I have no idea how many times I've dropped my phone, and it's still going strong.

Good suggestion. The Motorola (Moto e series) is sufficiently common to have an OtterBox model.

J. Wilhelm

#5
Quote from: von Corax on November 27, 2022, 10:44:55 PM
Best of luck on this project. I think it's sunspots; I've had four hard drives go South on me in the past 6 months. (The latest one was just GrUB-screwed, so I was able to reinitialize GrUB to get it working again.)

Operation was succesful.  Have bunch of pictures I will post later tonight








J. Wilhelm

#6
Today was a very productive day. I manage to do two projects before 5pm. The used motherboard arrived, a Gigabyte GA-MA78LM-S2, to replace a GA-M68M-S2. These are two very similar boards, because I needed the peripheral components (CPU, RAM) to be "plug and play." I don't have the money to improve performance by buying new components. These are 2009-10 Era micro ATX motherboards with AM2+ / AM3 sockets for AMD multiple core chips like the Athlon and Phenom. I've been running Linux on these type of motherboards since the early 2000s, when I thought it'd be practical for my college research.

The new motherboard is on the left

Removing the heat sink and cleaning the thermal grease.
(Note to self: don't wear fancy clothes when cleaning thermal grease).


Installing the CPU and RAM on the new motherboard


The "Timekeeper" computer is about 13 years old, and it was also full of dust. There's a skeleton clock embedded in the front panel or the PC case, which basically was one of those useless furniture store adornments you buy on clearance at "five and dime" stores. It's s lacquered Chinese box made from fiberboard (the compressed pulp kind, almost cardboard).

J. Wilhelm

#7
The problem is that in this case, all the components are very cramped. The power supply fits at the bottom, The motherboard can't have any cards (all video and sound is built in), and it's bolted to one side of the box. The front of the box is occupied by the skeleton clock, and the face of the clock has two LEDs, one for motherboard activity, and the other for the power indicator, like on any other PC style computer.  All absolutely full of dust; the motherboard cleaning and refurbishing is the easy part, but the clock had never been opened to be cleaned since I installed it.


Allergy nightmare


The clock is basically a movement sandwiched between two plastic frames and a nice circular pane
of relatively thick glass. The two halves allow me to bolt the clock to the case.


And I realized I never finished a hack I left unfinished when I upgraded the case fan.
WTF was I thinking when I made that hole?


So I removed the fan, and proceeded to cut the fan hole to the right size.
I applied a little Minwax to darken the cut edges of fiberboard.



And I installed the fan again (yes the fan is outside, it's too cramped inside and I thought it'd look cool that way.
Originally I wanted a very brass screws and a Steampunk-looking copper colored fan I saw on Fry's.
(I need to find a grill for the fan too). I just never finished the mod.


J. Wilhelm

Then I cleaned the clock and reinstalled it...



Real glass. No plastic. So I have to be careful.

Reinstalled, and wiping a little wood stain and wax over the lacquered finish revived it nicely.


J. Wilhelm



I should have realized that removing the clock first would make my life easier. After cleaning the clock ,
that large hole allowed me to reinstall the nearly inaccessible screws holding the motherboard.
This is the equivalent of building a ship in a bottle.


New motherboard installed and everything clean inside. What a difference!