Monday, December 22, 2014

Why I replace my computers every 3-4 years, whether they need it or not

By Steve Endow

In August, my trusty old file server started acting flaky.  Given the symptoms (losing BIOS settings after reboot), I assumed the motherboard was dying.  Since the computer was several years old and had served several roles, I wasn't surprised it started to have issues.  Rather than bothering to diagnose the problem, I decided to retire the computer and replace it with a Synology DS1813+.  That has turned out to have been a very good decision.  The Synology has been fantastic and has many more features than I had available on the old Windows file server and is incredibly fast.  And the maintenance on the Synology is virtually zero, including automatic software updates and reliable backups to external drives.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2014.  While having a family dinner at my grandparent's house, my grandfather's ancient Dell Optiplex (purchased in 2008!) decides to die.  After reviewing the symptoms, my guess is that the power supply died, with a possible side dish of a bad BIOS battery.  So I get the "honor" of bring the computer home with me to repair, along with Thanksgiving leftovers.  Lucky me.

Having been down this road before, I happen to have a power supply tester.  Sure enough, the PSU on the Dell was dead and would only blink power for a fraction of a second before dying.  I cannibalize the PSU from my old file server, which tests out fine, and install it in the Dell.  That gets the Dell to boot up, but it fails to boot into windows--a blue screen flashes for a millisecond, and then the machine immediately reboots.  The bad power supply apparently caused an issue with the drive, and no matter what I tried, I couldn't get Windows XP to reinstall or repair or boot.  So I have to install Windows 7 on a new drive.  Fortunately I'm able to read the drive and recover all of the data, but at that point I had wasted several hours trying to get the old drive and Windows XP to work.

Since I had pulled the replacement power supply out of my old file server, I started to look at the innards of that older machine, which was having problems booting up and losing its BIOS settings.

I happened to glance at the BIOS battery on the motherboard and noticed something strange.

Sure enough, there was corrosion on the BIOS battery!  The battery was completely dead, which would explain why the machine would lose its settings with every reboot.  Apparently the motherboard does not have a feature to detect a bad BIOS battery.

So a $2 battery caused my file server to become unreliable.  The machine was pretty old, so it was due for replacement, and this is a great demonstration of why old computers are often not worth the potential risk and hassle.

My current HyperV server is 3 years old now and is running fine, but I have several mechanical drives in that machine that are over 6 years old.  I'm now replacing those mechanical drives with Samsung 850 Pro solid state drives, since I don't want to have to deal with a drive failure.

And I suspect that I will be replacing that HyperV server next year when it turns 4, just to avoid potential issues.

Steve Endow is a Microsoft MVP for Dynamics GP and a Dynamics GP Certified IT Professional in Los Angeles.  He is the owner of Precipio Services, which provides Dynamics GP integrations, customizations, and automation solutions.

You can also find him on Google+ and Twitter

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