Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2005-03-10
  Succeeding despite the odds
While technology does frequently get the best of me, there are the occasional successes that keep me going. A recent foray into the bowels of my laptop was one such occurrence.

The lightning strike last fall, which had wiped out a number of other components in the lab, had also fried all the IO on my laptop. Somehow I managed to lose the ethernet, modem, bluetooth and WiFi all in one fell swoop (though the ethernet limped along at 10bT for a while till I got a PCMCIA card). I didn't really miss the bluetooth (as I had never used it), nor the modem (dialup speed is soooo painful); but I had used the wifi before, and the ethernet damage was especially disturbing.

I had replaced the network with a card after a few weeks, but I couldn't find anything decent. My preference would have been to get a Cardbus Realport card, since that's the only card to have a decent connector that doesn't stick outside the laptop; but Xircom was bought by Intel four years ago, and all I could find was $160 multi-function cards. I ended up with a Netgear, but wasn't very happy with it.

So when I ended up with some extra laptops for spare parts, I figured I might be able to use the IO CPCI boards from one of them in my laptop. I pulled the cards out in January, but it wasn't until this week that I finally decided to take the plunge. My first surprise was the size of the access panel on the bottom of the A31p. On normal laptops, the panel is pretty small because Compact PCI cards are pretty small. But obviously something more was going on here. After pulling it open I could see what it was. Because of all the functions in this laptop, there was both a Compact PCI card for two of the functions, as well as two additional daughterboards for providing the other two functions. The daughterboards were especially cute, being slightly wider than a normal stamp. After ripping all the old cards out, and finally disconnecting the ultra-tiny-mini coax connectors (I'd hate to have to re-attach one of those microscopic things), I stuck one of the spare cards in and hooked up the thin connectors for modem & ethernet.

After firing the machine back up, things looked pretty promising. The light came on (always good), and the computer started complaining that the cable wasn't plugged in. I was worried I was going to need drivers, but it wasn't a problem. Testing any further was a little complicated though, as Tim doesn't have any network drops in his dinning room. You'd think a million dollar house in silicon valley would have network drops everywhere, but no, there was not a landline in sight. Luckily Tim has way more parts than he needs, so I scrounged up a wifi/bridge/hub and plugged it in. Got an address assigned, and was able to talk enough to get to the login screen of the admin web server for the hub. Tim couldn't remember the password, but still, the experiment had demonstrated link functionality.

So chalk up one success today. Success is always good and should be celebrated, as you never know how far away the next one is going to be.

 
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