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1. Don't be scared of hardware.

When anyone first decides to delve inside a computer they all experience a little anxiety about the fragility of the electronic components. I can remember a few years back when I did my very first memory upgrade of 8MB of standard RAM into my 486 series PC. I drove all the way home from Stoke on Trent with the ram wrapped in an antistatic bag on the passenger seat next to me. But I was scared stiff that I might have to brake sharply and it might end up on the floor and come out of the bag and then it would surely be ruined and I would have lost the £220 that had taken months to save up. It was even worse when I got back home because the ram slots where it fitted were virtually inaccessible under the power supply and I was almost terrified with the thought that one slip and it would all be ruined. I even wondered if maybe it was ruined already by me touching it wrong. Then whilst I was struggling with this delicate operation the door opened and my mum bowled in cheerily asking "would you like a cup of tea". "Get out" I shrieked, "do you realise how difficult this is. One slip and it will all be ruined. £220 down the drain". She left me to it and I made my own cup of tea about half an hour later.

I continued to do things occasionally in this sort of fashion until I was lucky enough to bump into Honest John. Now Honest John is an unusual bloke, and not really the sort of person you expect to be a computer whiz at all. His usual line of business is as a long distance lorry driver but he got ripped off so many times by people telling him that the computer he was buying was top of the range high quality equipment, that he decided to figure things out properly for himself. After thousands of hours fiddling with second hand equipment from auctions Honest John has reached the state where people say that if John can't make it go it is definitely faulty. Now it so happened that a friend of mine by the name of Philippa wanted to upgrade her computer to a better specification and asked me to help. I looked around a bit and between us we cracked a deal with Honest John.

2 months later it went wrong and I phoned Honest John to give him the bad news. "Don't worry about it", he said calmly, "I'll get a few bits together and we will go and fix it". So one evening I picked up Honest John and we drive out together into the middle of Wales where Philippa lives to fix it. We get there fine and Philippa makes us a cup of coffee and then as John starts taking her PC apart my belief in the fragility of electronic components is shattered once and for all. Within minutes virtually the entire machine is disassembled and the bits strewn literally all over the carpet (which I was convinced had at least a good percentage of static inducing man made fibres in). "Wh Wh What about static precautions" I yammered almost helplessly . "You can do what you like with them more or less provided you are not too daft" said John matter of factly. "It doesn't seem to make much difference unless there is power applied". "B b b but", it was no use arguing, after all he could fix it and I couldn't so I just watched quietly whilst John seemed to disprove everything I had ever read in any computer magazine anywhere. He put the replacement mainboard back in tried a few components here and there, switched it on, drank his coffee, reconfigured windows a bit and there it was. It worked perfectly, and as far as I can recall it never went wrong again (at least not in the year or so that it was at Philippas'. A week or so later he told me that when he got back home he managed to get the 'faulty' mainboard that he had removed from Philippas' system to work correctly again too.

This experience (and all the experience I have had since) tells me that provided there is no power applied and you don't physically damage them then by and large the electronic components of today are very robust and it is hard to damage them by accident.

As for the mechanical bits such as hard drives, CD's and floppies they are slightly different since they have moving parts to damage. However, they are still not entirely fragile as I still remember one lucky chap who brought his £2500 system back to have one of the newly introduced DVD's installed. He had twin hard drives on that system and they were in removable bays. He came into the shop I was working in at the time with a cheery smile to ask if I was ready and when I said that I was he went back out to his 4x4 to get the full tower system. As he got it off the back seat he tilted it forward a bit and it was at precisely that moment that he noticed he had not locked the removable drive bay home and out dropped one of the drives through a 4ft fall onto solid concrete. "Oh Blast" (how he never swore I can't figure) "there was nearly a months worth of work on that drive. We examined the drive carriage and it was really smashed . It didn't look good for his data. We screwed it into a new carriage, fired up the system and sure enough it worked fine. I know for a fact that it was still working fine over a year later too.

There is always of course the exception (that proves the rule). I heard of a computer engineer who used to work with a friend of mine who had only to touch a motherboard for it to cease working. It seemed that unless he was at a full blown anitstatic workstation taking every precaution known to mankind then components would just blow. I'm just so glad that he is an extremely unusual case.

Basically what it all boils down to is that if the power is off then short of serious physical abuse it is unlikely you will do any harm to the hardware of your Computer


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