Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Repressed memories about computer cases

A reply RE http://elemeta.com/retrocase/index.html

Oh man, you just brought back a horrible repressed memory with your case page…

When I was in college in 1991, I didn’t have the cash for a computer, and needed one bad. This guy sold me an XT clone motherboard for ten bucks, and I scoured the used junk shops looking for the rest of the pieces to get something together that would run Procomm and sit behind a 2400 baud modem so I didn’t have to leave the house to get my email.

So a local place that sold lamps and lighting equipment and had a side-line selling mail-order Commodore 64 parts also had a beaten up 5150 case, PS. and keyboard, and I talked the guy down to five bucks for all three. Great! I could just slap in that newer motherboard and get to work, right?

Um, no. Turns out, as you probably know, that not a damn thing lined up between the case and board. Every single mounting hole except one was off, and I had the whole thing supported by a suicidal mix of plastic standoffs and mix-and-match screws and bolts. My mobo had like 8 or 9 expansion slots, which didn’t jive with the 5-slot webbing on the back of the case. So I borrowed a friend’s dremel and went to work, tearing out all of the slots on the case until the whole thing looked like a Civil War field amputation done with a blunt butterknife. The worst of all was the keyboard connector. The damn thing did not line up at all, so at three in the morning one night, I got out a soldering iron, melted out the stupid thing, and reattached each wire with a few inches of lampcord or whatever I had laying around. I could then move the plug a few inches over.

The whole thing sortof worked for a semester. I fried that 55-watt power supply when I got one of those full-height, five Meg hard drives on usenet for about ten bucks. I went to a local place and got a 100-watt power supply for a few dollars, and managed to get the drive working, although when it spun up, I was afraid it would blow out every fuse in the house.

I had a lot of intermittent shorts and lockups, and I figured the case was flexing the board, or crossing some traces on the backside. So when I got my tax refund next spring, I went out and blew $100 on a really nice mini-tower that I ended up using for the next ten years. But the shorts continued. I would disassemble and reassemble the damn thing in rage every night, hitting the case, the PS, flexing the motherboard, doing everything to get it to come back on. Finally one night, I had the whole thing torn down to air, earth, fire, and water, and I found the problem – the damn CPU was replaced with a V20 before I got it, and it was seated in the socket crooked. When the system heated up, it would pull half of the pins from the socket. I re-seated it, and all was well until I got a real 486 a year later.

Anyway, your project made me nostalgic for the old days, and glad I have a nice case now.