Dope Hardware – Issue #1: Opening that shit up

October 16, 2008 § Leave a comment



So you’ve decided to make the jump from doing stuff on your computer to doing stuff to your computer. Congratulations, and try not to get electrocuted. Before you can make decisions about buying, fixing or upgrading a computer, you need to know what makes it tick. This is the focus of today’s fundutational lecture.

Read these instructions all the way through before you start, to prevent embarrassing, irreparable mistakes. Come to think of it, you may want to look at this either on a laptop, or a printout, since your computer will be out of action for a while.
You will need:
– Screwdriver (I use a penknife), preferably with an insulated handle.
– A relatively solid, stable surface (i.e: not a carpet), preferably a desk, so you don’t have to kneel on the floor.
– Your computer case (the thing with the disc tray that’s kind of fun to slide in and out).
IMPORTANT NOTE: You cannot modify, repair or otherwise fuck around with laptop computers. They are not designed to be easily opened or understood by anyone without a degree in computer science and a crowbar at their disposal.
The grand opening:

1) Turn off your computer at the power socket, and unplug the thick cable from the top of your PC, flipping the 1-0 switch to 0, if you have one (I don’t anymore).
2) Touch the metal case with your hand (if you have a special wrist strap for this sort of thing, you would do well to use it). It is important for your skin to come into contact with metal beforehand, to disperse any static charge you may be carrying, otherwise you could badly damage the components. Or you could conduct the residual electricity in the power supply unit and die horribly. Just kidding. Or maybe I’m not.
3) Proceed to unplug everything from the back of your computer. Don’t just yank it all out though; certain cables (ethernet and monitor leads, for example) have clips or screws which must be undone first. Make a mental note of what stuff goes where, for when you’re putting it back together. It should be pretty self-explanatory though.
4) Slowly lift, slide or throw (NO, BAD) your case from wherever you happen to have it stowed, and move it to the chosen work surface. For the love of god, don’t lay it on its side.
5) Take your weapon of choice and get to work on those screws. Important to note is the structure of your case. In a lot of computers, only one side of the case is designed to come off easily. This will usually be the right-hand side, when viewed from the front. You’ll want to remove screws on this side first, then attempt to gently slide or lift the panel away, exposing the frightening mess of cables inside.
Now you’ve hopefully been encouraged by the fact that you haven’t yet become an electron superhighway, on to
6) The Lowdown:
Here’s how it works. You see that big metal box at the rear top of the case? Stay the fuck away from it. That’s the Power Supply Unit (PSU for short), and if it’s still carrying a charge, it could qualify you for the backwards out a window longjump at the 2012 Olympics. We will deal with those 500 Watts of terror at a later date.
As for the stuff you’ll mostly be working with: you’ll notice that there is extra space next to your Hard Disk Drive (HDD), where you can install extra ones, giving yourself much more memory to store work, or in the case of most modern computers, porn and widgets. This is one of the simplest upgrades you can perform, and will be one of the first I show you later on.
Probably the heftiest thing in your computer, the Graphics Processing Unit (often abbreviated to GPU, or simply Graphics Card) is where your computer interprets and carries out rendering commands from the CPU. Modern GPUs do such a ridiculous amount of work playing games like STALKER and World in Conflict that they have their own cooling systems and take up about 180% of all the free space in your average case. My 9600GT, as you may have noticed, is wedged uncomfortably between the heatsink and motherboard, and I am constantly worrying that it is giving my other components self-esteem issues. Anyway, every time a lovely new generation of games comes out, you’ll notice this baby slip a little further into planned obselescence, until you have to replace it altogether. That’s if you’re smart. If you’re stupid, like me, you’ll attempt a magically wonderful and dangerous process known as overclocking, cock it up massively, and be forced to replace your GPU a few years ahead of schedule.
A cheaper, and sometimes better alternative is to buy more Random Access Memory (RAM) to speed up loading times, and improve general performance. RAM is easy to install, but it can be tricky finding out exactly what kind you need, so don’t rush into it expecting to have a supercomputer by the end of the week. RAM can only do so much, and you’ll generally want no more than 4 gigs, at the very most, 2 on average.
The heart of your machine is the Central Processing Unit (CPU). This is very small, maybe an inch across, and is where all the Half-Life magic comes from. It is a small square microchip, mounted on the motherboard, in an idiot-proof spring-lock mechanism. Don’t go looking for it now, as it’s hidden behind the big metal heatsink, and you’ll probably break something, so leave it. For your computer to really shine, it needs a top-of-the-line CPU. However, unlike graphics cards, CPUs are a massive pain in the arse to replace. Most of the time, when the CPU becomes obsolete, it’s best to pull out everything of value and start over with a shiny new case and motherboard.
Well, that’s all there is to see for now. Let’s put the whole shebang back together, and hope to god we didn’t lose any of those screws.
Next time on Dope Hardware: Performance Boosts!
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