When the Smoke Runs Out

by Jonathan Gennick

Smoke is not something you want to smell when you walk through your house,
especially when no one is cooking up lunch or dinner. That's why I became very
alarmed Monday when I walked upstairs from my home-office to make a cup of coffee
and smelled the distinctive smell of something electrical burning. Losing all
thought of coffee, I followed my nose to the family PC in the dining room. Popping
the cover off and looking around, I soon saw that the smoke was leaking out
of the power supply. Amazingly, the PC was still running and even operative,
but as I well know, once you let all the smoke out of anything electronic, it
stops working. Relieved that my house wasn't burning, I made that cup of coffee
and decided it was time for a new power supply.

I've never replaced a power supply before, and I knew next to nothing about
them. In fact, I was fairly baffled just by the problem of removing the bad
power supply from my PC so that I could replace it. Sometimes when I delve into
the bowels of a PC I feel as if I've been presented with a three-dimensional
puzzle, and I'm not too good at solving those. Well, I got part way into the
box, and then I got stuck because two connectors to the motherboard were buried
under the various drives (disk and CD-ROM). I figured I'd better look at the
manual for guidance. Oh, the manual is on a CD. That's certainly real
helpful when the power supply's shot. Not! Fortunately, I had another PC on
which I could peruse the manual, and once I did that I discovered it wasn't
so difficult after all to pull the motherboard away from the box in order to
disconnect the power supply.

Late that evening I hopped onto hp.com, went
to HP's replacement parts page, and
typed in the part number from the power supply. Amazingly--I have such an old
model that I didn't expect it--the part number was recognized. My particular
power supply has been superceded by a newer model, and HP's part lookup gracefully
informed me of that and then brought back the information for the newer part.
Cool! The only bad thing was that the part wasn't in stock. Bummer! I wanted
it now, not whenever. I almost ordered the part anyway, but amid concerns of
waiting weeks for a backorder, I decided to think on the problem overnight and
take action in the morning when I was more awake and thinking clearly.

Never underestimate the benefit of sleeping on a problem! This morning I decided
that power supplies must be standardized enough for me to find another source
that could ship one immediately for overnight delivery. By a stroke of luck,
as I walked into my office my eyes landed on my row of In A Nutshell
books, and in particular on PC
Hardware In A Nutshell
. That book was amazingly helpful. I learned that
I had an SFX power supply, that HP uses a version of SFX called SFX-L that's
slightly different from the SFX-S that almost everyone else uses. The authors
even had an opinion (always a good thing) on where to get good quality, pointing
me to the exact
that I needed on PC
Power & Cooling
's website. A few mouse-clicks and a bit of typing, and
my order was placed. The new power supply should arrive by UPS tomorrow, and
it cost me $35 compared to HP's $55.

This little episode has gotten me to thinking again about disaster
recovery in my home office
. There's no revenue tied to the PC that my kids
use, so there's no great loss if it sits idle for a day or two while I wait
for a new part to arrive. Sure my daughter's mad because she can't surf the
Internet, but so what. On the other hand, two days of downtime from my office
PC would be very costly indeed. I'd venture to say that two days lost work would
cost my company and me collectively more than the price of a whole new PC. And
now would be a really bad time for such a problem, because I'm hard up against
a couple of deadlines. Expect to read more from me on this topic.

I've never lost a power supply before. Have you?


2002-08-28 09:11:32
Name-Brand PCs
I've resolved myself never to buy another name-brand PC, and this is one of the reasons. Proprietary hardware makes quickly fixing problems like this a hassle.

The power supply in my generic PC died a few months ago. It uses a standard AT power-supply. Just went down to CompUSA and picked one up for $20.

I once had an old HP Pavilion that had all of it's PCI slots on a daughterboard which sat *directly on top* of the motherboard. So, when I went to upgrade the memory, I had to pull out all of my PCI cards, un-screw the daughtercard in a couple places, pull it out, install the memory, then reassemble the whole thing again just to check to see if it worked (I think the unwritten law is, if you have to go through so much just to test something, it never works on the first attempt)

Jonathan Gennick
2002-08-28 16:31:27
Installing the new power supply
The new power supply arrived today, on schedule, and I was able to install it with no problems. The only wierdity is that my old power supply had a three-pin connector labeled "FAN-C" that plugged into the motherboard. My new power supply doesn't have that connector. However, the PC works, and both fans work: the one in the new power supply and the one mounted on the CPU's heat-sink. It's not clear to me what the purpose of that "FAN-C" connector was, but I seem to be ok without it, and I really don't have any choice at this point short of going through the trouble of buying yet another power supply.
2003-10-29 05:59:11
Installing the new power supply
I purchased a new power supply directly from HP (at the extra cost) and it does not have the 'FAN-C' connection either (thus my search that found your page). Did you ever discover what the FAN-C was used for? Did you have any future problems due to the lack of this connection?
Jonathan Gennick
2003-10-29 06:59:03
Installing the new power supply
I have no idea what FAN-C was for. Maybe it has no purpose. I can tell you that my PC has run flawlessly since I've installed the new power-supply, and between my wife and my kids, the PC is on pretty much all day every day. The lack of a FAN-C connection hasn't caused me the slightest bit of difficulty.