I was really blessed to find a new job relatively quickly after I returned to America from the Middle East last September. Only three months of job searching, combined with supportive parents and friends (and their couches and extra beds) seems downright easy compared to the overall job market around America. I feel lucky that Madison, Wisconsin has such a relatively stable job market, and I like working with smart people in the academic circles of the public sector. It’s really a perfect match for me.

I made a short how-to video and posted it on youtube a few days ago. My department does consulting and computer management for 5-6 other departments in our building, and we had a lot of a particular type of system, the Dell Optiplex GX620 small form factor, left over from a bulk purchase order several years ago. Unfortunately, Dell didn’t design the system so well, so that the hard drive enclosure inside the system blocks the only exhaust vents in the entire case and heat generated by the CPU just sits inside the case and slowly fries all the components.

After noticing these fifty computers stacked up forlornly in a corner of an office, I asked to be given the assignment of figuring out something to do with them. I politely requested more motherboards from Dell’s support people (these systems had already gone through 2 or 3 each from previous fry-ups, but of course a replacement motherboard doesn’t resolve the underlying heat issue and they’d just burn up again after a few months), and after I casually reminded Dell about “how similar this seemed, in my mind” to the Optiplex capacitor debacle from several years ago, they were more than happy to send me 50 free motherboards. I didn’t even have to send the old ones back!

As my colleagues and I were determining what we could do now that we had these motherboards, we had a few brainstorming sessions. Could we drill through the case and add an extra fan and vent? Could we move the hard drive outside the case with a long data cable running back inside? That’s not even getting into my original, pre-contacting-Dell plan of actually physically removing the blown out capacitors (you’ll see those in the video below) and soldering new ones into place. We actually got as far as ordering 10 new capacitors for the systems, but discarded that idea after we discovered how insanely difficult it was to melt through Dell’s soldering connections. I practically burned a hole straight through one board before we decided to just try calling Dell. No one expected me to be able to convince them to send us a 4th set of motherboards but there was much jubilation when I was successful.

Anyway, my coworkers finally hit on the idea of just getting rid of the 3.5″ hard drive that was the cause of all this blockage and just tear out the 3.5″ floppy disk drive, hollow it out, and slide a little 2.5″ laptop hard drive into the shell. Our users haven’t used floppy drives in years (we hope) so this sweet fix would not only maintain the physical integrity and ‘look’ of the system, but also allow for good heat exhaust.

As I got started with the fixing process, I figured it might be nice to make a video documenting what I was doing, and how. Who knows; there’s a very good chance that our department wasn’t the only ones frustrated with a constantly-failing batch of a few dozen GX620’s, and they might be doing internet searches for possible fixes. I hope this video gives them some hope!

As for us, we’re going to be using these newly refurbished and upgraded systems as terminals for Citrix. They’ll be locked down so that users don’t try to put video editing software on them or something else which is going to heat them up. I have confidence that our trick will work so these computers won’t kill themselves again in three months, but I’d rather not test that. As terminal workstations, CPU usage shouldn’t go above 40-60% of maximum, therefore keeping heat way down. Just as a further test, though, I put Prime95 as a stress-tester on the first system I completed, and then ran the CPU at full 100% load for 3 straight weeks. No problems at all!

Heh, I meant for this article to be about 200 words or so as an intro to the video, but as usual, I got ahead of myself. I was going to put the video right below this blob of text, but I think I’ll put it on top instead. Thanks for reading, in any case! Sorry I don’t have any more adventures in the Arab world to write about…yet.