The PSU Did It!

I'm feeling clever this evening. Before I can tell that story, first I have to tell an older story.

Years ago, in the late 90s, I gave my sister a computer. That computer and I had a fine proud history together. I'd used it to learn lots of exciting things about computers and programming. It had all of the normal computer parts and did all of the normal things, but I had out grown it and was happy to hand it off.

She blew it up. 

I'd never seen anything like it before. Pam blamed lightning.

The old adversary.

It wasn't the whole computer that blew up, just the chip at the heart of the graphics card. In the dorms, I kept the card with the exploded chip pinned on my bulletin board as an example to the rest. The message was clear: misbehave, and I'll send you to my sister.

It must have been a freak thing, but it created in me a feeling that graphics cards were the canaries of computer hardware. The first to go if there was electrical trouble.

Back to present day.

Last week, there was a big thunder storm. I woke up and 2 am and wandered over to a window to watch the show. Moments later there was a freaky boom and I saw the power go out across the street. The power went out in my house as well. A couple seconds later all of the night time lights came back on. Then, I went back to sleep.

The next day, I turned the computer on.

Too little happened. Fans whirred, a few lights blinked, but no signal went to the monitor.

The protocol in this situation is to assume there is a problem with the graphics card, stick in a new one, and see what happens. I did that and the computer operated normally.

Which really sucked. My graphics card is a champion. Three years ago it cost $350 and you can still buy used ones for $200. It still pushes all the pixel I ask it to push. I liked it, but it was toast.

I began to confront the idea that my great ally in the war against pixels was gone. Murdered by lightning in the tradition of it's ancestors. I even imagined an exploded chip somewhere beneath the non-removable plastic shroud.

So, I went researching and shopping. I couldn't replace just the card because everybody thinks that any electrical problems are likely to damage the computer's power supply unit and in turn it could damage additional components out of spite. I didn't really want to build a whole new computer because who has that kind of time and I'm waiting for Windows 10.

That's when I realized there was a long shot that might be awesome!

Most of my computer uses, let's say, 3 watts of electricity (hush computer folk, I'm telling the story). My wonderful graphics card requires about 11 billion watts of electricity (estimated). What if the power supply unit was damaged and it just couldn't push enough juice to run my awesome card even though it was still able to drive the junker test card with no problems?

So, even though the graphics card was busted, I bought a shiny new power supply unit for $50. This evening, I did lots of parts switching and almost exactly like Columbo I confronted the suspects and uncovered the real killer!

Metaphor level: maximum.

I plugged in the new power supply unit and made sure it worked. Then, as Julie looked on, I swapped out the functioning but wimpy graphics card for the awesome pixel pushing power hog in the photo above.

"Do you think it'll work?" I asked Julie.

"No. Not really," she said.

"Yeah, neither do I..."

And do you know what happened next? It didn't work. No signal.

A sad moment later I realized that I'd forgotten to plug the monitor cable in. I plugged it in.

Do you know what happened next?

It worked!

And now I feel very clever and happy.


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