Commodore: Heater tap failure

Today we were supposed to head out to Mum and Dad's for a visit, but when Sabriena looked out the window this morning she noted that there was a bunch of water on the driveway. I shrugged and said "it's probably condensation" since the top of the car was covered in it, but she looked again and it was red.

Bugger.

"That's coolant," I thought. Sure enough, the heater tap that's been dripping for a few weeks now (I was going to replace it nearly two weeks ago, but SuperCheap didn't have any in stock because they'd been apparently stolen) looks like it's let go. Under it is completely saturated, there's no coolant in the overflow tank. Damn it.

I filled it back up with some demineralized water and drove to get a new one. They had them in stock, thankfully, so I bought one and another couple of gallons of water to refill it - I'm damn sure not putting any coolant in it until I know it's not going to leak out!

I then spent the next couple of hours doing it. It's not a terribly involved job: easy enough to get to, four house clamps and it pops right off as it's only clipped to the body. Unfortunately though, because of the heat the fittings crumbled apart as I tried to remove them. I went to remove one piece of hose because bits of crumbled plastic fell into it, and the plastic "tee" fitting it was connected to crumbled as well. I thought I was going to have to chase leaks all over the place, but I got that fitting off without further incident.

But how to replace it? The car can't go anywhere. I had to get my bicycle out of the shed and ride it up to get a replacement, at a cool twenty bucks and in ~36C heat no less. I got home, replaced everything rather trivially, refilled it with water and bled the system out. Took it for a test run, and everything's dry, so I shut it down for the night.

Update: The next morning, everything's still dry, the coolant level is about a CM down from the cold-fill line. I left it there, and on Tuesday morning when we took Duncan to school it's still there, so filled it to the cold-fill line. No more leaks, for the time being.

Horsham, VIC, Australia fwaggle

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Shaina's PC Built

Sabriena's sister Shaina has been dealing with an old (Vista-era) PC since forever... while we were visiting, I cleaned all the (significant) dust out, reinstalled a modern-ish OS (Windows 8.1, unfortunately) and installed a discrete GPU (a ~5 year old, low end nVidia). It worked for things like Team Fortress 2, but was still rather painful, so she resolved to use some of their tax refund to get a new one.

Her kneejerk reaction was to simply go and buy whatever shiny piece of shit Walmart was selling, like we always did (every time I had the money for a new machine it was, conveniently, an emergency, so I haven't built a PC in nearly 10 years). Sabriena and I both basically told her that if she were to build a PC she'd come away with a significantly better machine for the same money, and after umming and ahhing for a while she figued out a budget of about five hundred bucks. I promised to walk her through assembling it via Google Hangouts.

We headed on over to one of my favourite websites, LogicalIncrements, to see where that would get her. We settled on a ~$420 build, to leave room for any unforseen extras. She fucked around and procrastinated with the shopping list I left her until the G4560 CPU was sold out, so she bought a G4600 instead. We bought a few other extras, like a DisplayPort to VGA-DSUB adaptor, because her old monitor was VGA-only and a new one was outside of her budget. Also, an anti-static strap and some spare thermal compound.

Things started arriving Friday (AEDT), but not all of it. We did manage to get the power supply and the hard disk installed in the case, which worked out rather well. She wasn't near as useless as I figured she'd be (honestly, someone younger than me being so useless that they don't even clean the dust out of their PC for five years is simply unacceptable to me) and I feel like her confidence grew quite a bit.

Saturday the last component (the CPU) arrived, so we went the rest of the way. There was a couple of minor moments of confusion (we hooked the power switch wire up to the wrong place - my fault - so nothing happened when we tried to boot it, and also her GPU apparently doesn't have an external power supply, which I thought was weird).

I had her burn another copy of Windows 8.1 to a USB stick using the old machine, but then when we tried to install it, it didn't work. We hooked it up to her hold hard disk, updated some drivers, and she's been playing it since. For such a budget build, it performs quite well - the new Kaby Lake stuff is great. She gets a solid 250~300FPS on Team Fortress 2, and is able to play The Sims 4. So far temperatures are staying well within reasonable (30~40C), though it is still winter there. She's got plenty of room to upgrade too - the motherboard and powersupply will happily support significantly faster CPU and GPU, and she can drop more RAM in (currently using only a single 8GB stick) without throwing any away, and she can also drop an SSD in. Heaps of room for improvement as finances allow without wasting much.

Shaina seems really happy with it. We still need to work out installing the OS on the new hard disk, because I think it'll be faster, and she also went ahead and bought an optical drive, after formerly deciding to forgo it then realizing she burns CDs sometimes for their older car... an optical drive is cheap these days, less than twenty bucks.

I'm hoping that the process of building her own PC will make her a little more inclined to keep up on the maintenance of it.

Horsham, VIC, Australia fwaggle

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Laptop Heat Issues

Keeping my laptop cool has been an ongoing saga, and true to form the last few days have been a new chapter. Over the last few days I've had frame drops - unexpected, because I cleaned the heatsink out a month or so ago because we were back in summer.

Last night I took things apart, and took out some of the Deepcool Z5 I bought a while back (I had to redo Sabriena's thermal paste, and couldn't find the Gelid stuff I bought) and re-did the thermal paste. Put everything back together, and things aren't any better. I wonder what's going on?

My laptop was hitting thermal shutdown, and when I checked things with MSI Afterburner it turned out that while the GPU was at or below 80C, the CPU was hitting close to 100C, scaling back a bit (which would explain the frame drops) before the laptop shut off. Wild ideas started going through my head, like the possibility of a fractured heatpipe (which would basically spell the end of using the laptop as a laptop, as replacements don't seem to be available), but I decided to shut it down and sleep on it.

This morning, I took it apart again and had another go. I wasn't entirely happy with how the thermal paste spread: it looked fine on top of the actual chips, but a fair bit of it ended up outside which to me is an indication I've used too much. Cleaned everything up, and this time I noted that there is a specific tightening order. I'm not sure if I nailed that tightening order last time, but I resolved to ensure it happened this time.

Turn things back on and fire up GTA5 to test things, and it's looking a bit better. It's not a conclusive test, because the house is substantially cooler than it was yesterday, but the delta between the CPU and GPU temperatures is a lot smaller now so I'm optimistic.

Absolutely can't wait to build a desktop and hopefully be done with laptop heat issues for a while.

Horsham, VIC, Australia fwaggle

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Sabriena's SNES Lives!

SNES Power Socket

As I wrote a while ago, powering a US SNES outside of the USA isn't entirely trivial, but last Friday I arranged to purchase the power supply of an Aussie MegaDrive II from a seller, and it came today. I ducked into Jaycar hoping to purchase a panel-mount 4mm barrel socket to fit it: as it turned out they didn't have any, so I bought a socket and plug pair in 5.5mm.

I came home, cut the plug off the adaptor and started soldering things up. I decided to wire the plug for positive tip, in case this one ever dies and I find another, and because I can just swap the polarity inside the box. I soldered it to the back side of the stock barrel plug, and tried it out without the lid on. I had a power light, but no picture. After a couple of times cycling the cart however, I got something, and after a few more times the game worked properly. Success!

But how to close the lid up? With the exception of the controller port faceplate, which has a fair bit of yellowing, this SNES is rather pristine. Drilling a hole in it for an extra socket seemed a damn shame. Running wires out the vents seemed rough as well. I started pondering on the idea of removing the RF modulator, and putting the barrel socket where its coaxial socket lives. This idea certainly had it's charms - the SNES will operate just fine without it's RF modulator if you're using the multi-AV plug. It's completely reversible, I just need to solder the four pins to put the RFU back in.

So I went ahead and did it. Removed the mainboard from the bottom of the case one more time, removed the heatsink, removed the extra screw from the RF mod, then started desoldering. I went pretty carefully so as not to burn out the pads, but it came off pretty easily. Put the barrel socket through the hole and tighten it up, then reassemble the whole thing.

SNES Power socketI'm pretty happy with the result. It'd have been nice to find a 4mm socket so I could have kept the MD PSU stock, but I don't actually care that much. I don't have a MegaDrive, and hopefully if I get one it'll be complete. My Game Gear is essentially non-functional at the moment, so the SNES is the only thing it'll be used for.

Unless something breaks, I can put the SNES back completely to stock with nothing but a soldering iron and a security driver. And after I cleaned up the connectors, all the games function perfectly. We have three US SNES pads (one is an aftermarket turbopad), and one Aussie one. The Aussie one works fine on the US one, but the reverse is not true, however it turns out an Aussie SNES is trivially moddable to support US pads, so that may be next on the list.

One other thing I need to do is look into replacing the save batteries in the games. Duncan and I played about an hour of Super Mario World before bed tonight, and had a really good time - it would suck to have our savegame go missing because a 20 year old 2032 cell died. So I've started researching sockets, to save the hassle of soldering them next time... but thus far haven't made any purchases.

Horsham, VIC, Australia fwaggle

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