Thursday, June 28, 2018

Small Form Factor Computers: Excitement + Rage

So for Christmas this past year, I told my wife I wanted a Raspberry Pi. She said "oh, okay. I've never made one before but I could do that." I was like: *facepalm* "Um..." I won't bore you with the rest of the conversation but you know where this one was going to go. It ended with me receiving a very lovely card with a "coupon" that said: "Buy yourself a Raspberry Pi or an XBOX One or something." So I started researching... and researching... and praying... and researching some more... until finally, I decided that the computing solution I would get the most use out of was probably a Windows-based machine with enough power to play at least 90% of the games that have been sitting in my Steam library since 2013. So naturally, I bought a Steam Machine.

Now don't get me wrong: I did this knowing full well the limitations of a Linux-based system. I just thought I'd save more money buying the SteamOS version than paying Microsoft's blood price of $120 for an operating system I have been less than thrilled about in the past (I'm looking at you, Windows 10).

Save money I did. I even managed to figure out how to put Windows 10 on my machine without paying a dime (legally - more to come on that). Then one day, the little alien head on the front of my $500 Alienware Alpha (Intel i7 + 8GB RAM + Nvidia GTX card) started flashing yellow instead of blue and my machine failed to start. Only then, after a frantic internet search, did I discover that this was a known problem with an inexpensive-yet-complicated fix. There were a few temporary solutions that I tried that worked for a while but the next time I attempted to reboot the machine, the little yellow light of death was back. Cursing Dell and all the fell powers of the night, I hoped on Amazon and bought the only CMOS battery with good reviews thinking that, even if it wasn't an exact fit, my technical savvy would allow me to make it work. I was wrong.

I forgot just how microscopic CMOS battery wires are and, after a long battle with my crappy soldering iron and some tiny battery leads, I managed to break not one but both batteries' leads irreparably. I ordered a new CMOS battery that - from the tiny picture (and product description) - appeared to have the correct connector. A few days later, it arrived. It installed easily and the computer went back together just about as well as it came apart. I hooked everything up and it instantly powered on... only I hadn't pushed the power button. Seconds later, the Yellow Light of Death (YLOD) was back. 

Cursing loudly, I powered the machine off, disconnected all the peripherals, and held the power button in for 60 seconds to clear the charge. I reattached everything and it did the same thing. Cursing even louder, I powered the machine off, disconnected everything, then killed the power at the power strip. I waited until the light on the end of the power adapter went out then reattached everything and powered up the power strip. Thankfully, the machine did not automatically power on and when I pressed the power button, it actually booted.

Just to make sure the BIOS firmware had updated, I pressed F2 to go into the UEFI. The update had worked so I saved and exited. Windows booted normally and I was back in business. I ran Alienware's update utility to see if there were any other updates and there were. Some even required a restart. Taking it on faith that the machine would reboot like normal, I installed them then manually restarted the machine. It once again booted successfully. Here's what I installed:

1. BIOS update to version A07
2. Intel SATA protocol update
3. Intel chipset driver (or something like that)

Everything works great now.