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Time, Money, and Performance

I have a PC at home that has been in active use for nearly six years.  Like most PC's I've purchased, it was a hot machine once that inevitably has dropped into the category of underpowered.  Bummer.  Yet it still does what I need it to do: surf, run an antiquated version of Office, edit video, edit music, and so on.

A couple of the fans in it went bad, one of them making a sound not unlike an intermittent klaxon, the other just plain not running.  I used a can of compressed air to blow out the accumulated dust, and pulled the dead fan.  Radio Shack provided a near match, but I had to solder the old fan connector on the new fan as well as drill out the mounting holes to allow the old screw to fit.  That cost $8 (way too much, IMHO) and an hour for the special fit.  Some compressed air helped the noisy fan for about 10 minutes, but the sound came back again.  This fan was somewhat more custom and I knew I'd never find it locally.  Turns out a near replacement is about $17online, whereas an equivalent new video card is $40.  Take a moment to look at those numbers.  A cruddy fan costs nearly half what an equivalent video card does (with an equivalent, cruddy fan).  I know it says more about the fan being overpriced, but even if I found a replacement fan for half the price, it would still run 1/5 of the total cost of the video card.

Instead, I pulled the noisy fan, gave it a shot of WD-40, let it dry, then gave it more compressed air.  Problem solved.  It runs about as silently as it ever had and cost me maybe a half hour.  Still, if I were on the clock, it would've been cheaper to replace the whole video card.  In fact, if you look at the total time and money spent on this rejuvenation project, I could've replaced the whole machine with something equivalent or more capable for slightly more in terms of cash equivalent.  This is symptomatic of a disposable culture, improvements in PC manufacturing technologies, and that maybe I'm being paid too much.  I'd like to say that I was being frugal - why waste an otherwise good machine when it could be repaired?  But it begs the question of whether or not the repair was economical.

For now, I'm telling myself that it was and I'm still waiting for the AMD 64/Intel 64 technologies to settle down a bit before I invest in them for my home.

 A side note about working on PCs - when I sit down to take machinery apart, I usually do so with the expectation of turning whatever the machine is into a brick.  I'm OK with that for the most part, but do take reasonable precautions from destroying things.  Yet working on highly static sensitive parts on a cold winter day in a carpeted room is asking for trouble.  I try to be scrupulous about grounding myself on the case before I starting monkeying with things and to date, I've never zapped or broken a component from static.

Published Saturday, March 10, 2007 9:58 AM by Steve Hawley


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