Internal changes scared your computer silly?

Question: Recently I needed to install a new heat sink fan in my 486 DX2-66 computer. I got that in OK but, when I was installing it, my controller card got half unplugged. When I turned my computer on nothing happened – just a blank screen. It wouldn’t boot up or anything. Then something sounded like it was shorting out. When I realized the controller card was half unplugged, I pushed it back in.
Now everything works fine, EXCEPT for my floppy drives. When I put a disk in the drive, Windows 3.1 says that it is not formatted. This happens with every disk I have. I can’t use my 3.5″ floppies at all. Please help! Is it my controller card, or mymotherboard, or something else? –K.H.

Answer: The best case scenario is that you need to unseat and reseat all of your cards. Worst case: Your motherboard may now have the functionality of a breakfast waffle.

Before you do anything, be sure to ground yourself. A refresher on that is at the end of the column. “First thing I would try is taking out and re-seating all the cards,” suggests Mathew Fiszer of Logicorp Service Group in Edmonton.

He should know. I installed a second hard drive a year ago. My machine wouldn’t boot after I was done. Fiszer kindly made it work again without calling me names. Apparently, I’d forgotten to plug one of the cables back in. Consequently, his e-mail solution added, “Also, checking all the internal cables is a good idea. Unplug them and re-plug them back in.”

If that fails, try to seat the controller card in a different slot. “That way you can almost eliminate a motherboard problem,” Fiszer said. “If the controller card does not work in the other slot, then most likely the controller card is at fault.”

If it does work in a different slot, then the original slot could be faulty. If that doesn’t solve the problem, the next step requires trying a different controller card. “If all else fails, it’s your motherboard,” he advised.

A local computer store technician might be willing to take a look for you. If you’re a regular customer, maybe he’ll even do it for free.

By the way, for the uninitiated, a heat sink is a piece of metal that carries heat away from an electronic component. In computers, they’re usually glued onto processor chips. Heat sinks often have fins to increase their surface area. They occasionally have fans attached as well. Take a look at some here.

The power should be turned off before the system unit is opened, but it should also be left plugged into the wall socket. Computers use a grounded three-prong power cord. In the event of a static electricity discharge from the person servicing the computer into the components in the box, the electricity can escape through the ground lead in the power cord and safely be eliminated via the building wiring. If the power cord is left unplugged and the parts inside are shocked, the electricity will stay in the system unit and damage some or all of the sensitive electronics inside.

As I said before, it’s important to ground yourself before working on the insides of a computer so you don’t fry any other components. As an added precaution, always touch the power supply or another metal part of the system unit to discharge any static electricity safely before starting work.