Friday, 13 January 2012

Friday afternoon computers

First week back at work for the year after the Xmas/New Year holidays, and my work computer packs a sad. Namely, some loud jamming noises were coming from the hard disk. Luckily, we had access to some spare parts abandoned by customers, and now it's reborn, bigger and better than the one that came before it. Furthermore, it was due for replacement anyway, having had the same machine for the last 5 years.

There was a time when people spoke of 'Friday afternoon cars', where a usually reliable model would not work as intended, popularly believed to be because the assembly worker involved was too distracted thinking of the weekend, and hence more careless with the finished product.

The same seems to apply to certain computer parts. Not too long ago we received a small shipment of video cards by a manufacturer of proven reputation, and the whole lot turned out to be dud. Turns out we were unlucky enough to have received a Friday afternoon batch, as the supplier informed us that no one else had reported issues with them.

Before that little episode, we had some less than stellar experiences with a well-known brand of small form factor (SFF) boxes. No less than two of them went back for warranty in the first few weeks, and a third was reported to throw a BSoD (Blue Screen of Death) at random. We practically threw the kitchen sink at the third example - the memory, hard disk, CPU, power supply and motherboard all tested just fine under our watch, even when run under heavy stress. No viruses or other dubious programs were found, we patched to the latest firmware, the temperatures all looked normal, we even steamrolled the Windows 7 installation with a new one. And yet the customer was still reporting BSoDs, even from a fresh install. We did manage to replicate the fault a couple of times, but no obvious clues could be found. Percussive maintenance suddenly became tempting.

It ended up being sent back twice to the distributor, who didn't find anything overtly wrong with it. The customer was surprisingly understanding of the circumstances, pinning the blame on the product instead of us. Finally, after extensive acid-testing, hardware disassembly and re-assembly, and re-installation, the machine finally started behaving itself. To this day, the customer hasn't come back complaining to us. Even so, our experiences with this particular brand of SFF machines has left us jaundiced, no matter how good they look on the outside. There are definitely alternatives out there.

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