If you are like me, you have probably owned quite a few personal computers. You are sure to have had the occasional problem, and rushed the machine off to the repair shop. At the time, the cost of repairs may have seemed a bit high in proportion to the original cost of the machine, and you might not have been quite sure what was actually done.
You can learn to do your own diagnosis and repair work. It is worth while knowing what is going on inside the box, even if you do not do the work yourself. With a good understanding of the likely causes of the hardware problems, you can be a lot more confident that the repairs carried out were reasonable and necessary.
To begin with, a good source of technical information is necessary. You can always ask at your local electronics shop, but if you really don’t know what you are talking about, the embarrassment can be a big turn off. There is an excellent book available called ‘Upgrading and Repairing PCs’ written by Scott Mueller. This is the most complete and most readable ‘how-to’ book I have found, and if you only buy one book on the subject, Scott’s is the one to get you hands on.
The next step is to choose a few projects to get familiar with the hardware. The best way to begin building up your skills is to pull a computer completely apart, and then put it back together. If it still works after that, then you have made a pretty good start. At this stage, you may be thinking ‘hang on a minute, I paid a lot of money for my system – No way am I going to risk messing with that baby’.
No, as a beginner, you definitely should not. You can get hold of some old computers to tear apart and rebuild. Old computers are seen as worthless, and you will find Pentium 1 and 2 machines being discarded as rubbish, even though they are still in good working order. Even a Pentium 3 can be bought very cheaply, and most of these are pretty good performers. A word of warning – be careful how widely you spread the news of you new interest in old computers. You will be surprised how many 486s and older are sitting in cartons in garages and basements; your friends and family will really be delighted to give you an amazing collection of electronic junk.
Get familiar with the various parts, and how they fit together. Learn to identify the different styles of processor chip, RAM, disk drives and other components.
As always, safety is paramount. The computer components themselves operate at low voltages, but you still have the mains strength voltage coming into the back of the computer. Always power off and unplug when you are working on the computer, and be suspicious of any signs of overheating or of burning smells. Enjoy your tinkering.