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Dell Dimension Deceased

Dell Dimension 486

A moment of silence, please, for my Dell 486.

While my new copy of Vampire – The Masquerade: Bloodlines was installing last night (thanks Pooch!), I decided to slap the old Dell 486 back together, plug it in and see what would happen. I disconnected Phobos and moved it out of the way, then brought in the lidless Dell Dimension 486 DX/2-66, which has no name. (Somehow, it seems pointless to name machines that can’t be networked.) Reassembled the drive bays, hooked up all the ribbon cables, plugged in the peripherals, and pressed the magic power button…er, stud, since the button had broken off.

Much to my excitement, the thing powered right up. I heard both hard drives—even the factory-original 450 MB thing stuffed under the power supply—spin up, click away and make all the familiar old noises they used to make. The yellow HDD access light glowed, then darkened. I looked up at the monitor (as I was underneath the desk tending to the machine at this point) and was disappointed to see NO VIDEO. Then I saw the three LEDs on my keyboard—they were all glowing green. Stuck on. Never a good sign.

After some fiddling around, I’m going to have to conclude that either the system motherboard or CMOS chip is toast. The system won’t POST whatsoever, can’t even get to the point where it would energize the onboard video chip. It doesn’t even care about peripherals or drives or RAM. Sounds like CMOS to me, but who knows for sure. Even if I wanted to order a new CMOS chip, it would probably be next to impossible. A search of the Internet this morning revealed next to no resources for a Dell this old—no parts, no manuals, no software. I’m considering going to Dell’s website tonight and plugging in the old box’s service tag, and see what they say about it. Hahaha.

Anyway, at this point I’m pretty much ready to declare the machine dead. Trying to fix whatever its problem is isn’t worth it, since it’s not really the machine I wanted—it’s the hard drives. Whereas I was unable to transplant the 1 GB WD Caviar 3100 drive into the desktop in my parents’ basement, I have a wide variety of older machines lying around here that may just do the trick. Namely, an old Gateway Pentium-133 AT tower I have, or even a craptacular old IBM Aptiva 486. Either way, I need a system with the old pre-1995 BIOS that won’t recognize hard drives larger than 528 MB.

I managed to find a copy of Western Digital’s old Dynamic Drive Overlay tools, which you could install on large hard drives in those days to make your pre-’95 BIOS recognize them. I remember having to do that on my 1 GB Caviar. With those tools, I should be able to make that drive work in another system. I think I would have to boot off of it, at least that’s how it’s set up now. The old 450 MB drive should just drop right in as a slave device, assuming I can ever wrench it out from under that stupid power supply. I don’t know exactly how that’s put together, and it will probably require disassembly of half the chassis to access it, but what the hell—the machine’s dead now, time to gut it. Save what we can.

Well, at least my parents also brought down something that worked right out of the box—Awrey’s doughtnuts. Mmmmmmm. Oh yeah. Nothing like ‘em. Of course, I forgot to bring them to work today, I might add. Ah well. Now it’s just me, a three day weekend, and a box of doughnuts. AND VAMPIRE! AND MOVIES! Oh joy!