Friday, August 8, 2008

Video Card Problems

I need help. I'm having a hell of a time getting the video card in my desktop to work. A few weeks ago, I tried to turn on my tower. It powered up fine, but the monitor indicated "No Signal" when I turned it on. I unplugged everything and plugged everything back up and it worked fine.

A couple of days ago, I had the same problem again, but this time, unplugging the cables did nothing. I made sure the video card was seated properly, but still, same issue. I took it to my office and had the IT guy look at it. After removing the copious amounts of dust, nothing had changed. Due to some discoloration to the PCB on the card, the IT guy came to the conclusion that the card was probably fried. I should let you know that this card was the stock card in my HP machine, an nVidia GeFoce 7500LE. Well, this was an OEM card, so I couldn't order an exact replacement. I got an nVidia GeForce 8600GT from NewEgg and tried to install it. No luck. I tried every possible combination of driver installation/uninstallation. I tried reseating the card, reseating the RAM, turning off the on board video, everything. I know the computer works fine, because the TV out on the motherboard itself still works, but no matter what, the video card will not work. If someone has a similar problem or has an idea of what I could do, I'd grealty appreciate any advice. I'm about to drop the whole thing off a very, very tall building.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Open a file in Windows Media Player in Full Screen

I've created a cool little Flash executable that shows a list of my movies I've put on my computer, along with a little summary and the run time. I set it up so that all you had to do is browse for the movie within the program, then just click play and Windows Media Player would automatically play the file. Unfortunately, I could find no way within WMP to have the file START automatically in Full Screen Mode. I'd always have to do it manually.

Long story short, I eventually found the answer in a forum somewhere and have decided to re-post it here, so more people can gain access to it.

For my application, I simply updated a .bat file to fill in the correct movie name everytime. If you only want it for one movie file though, simply create a .bat file that contains the following code:

"%ProgramFiles%Windows Media Player/wmplayer.exe" C:/path_to_movie.avi /fullscreen

Note: There are spaces between the words in "Windows Media Player", and there is a space after the location of your movie file and the parameter "/fullscreen".

Hope it helps.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Stuck before Boot Screen?

This post is another effort to save people time and headache. Last night I decided to wipe Vista off my laptop and replace it with XP. I booted from my XP disk and chose to delete the partitioned space on my HDD to make a completely clean install. Vista was wiped off fine. Somewhere between that and a finished install of XP, something happened. I walked back to the living room to find my laptop stuck at the startup splash screen. I've got an Alienware laptop (piece of crap), so the big white letters of the ALIENWARE logo were stuck on my screen. Nothing would get it to move on.

I tried a series of things that DID NOT WORK:
1. Pressing DEL to get into the BIOS Post screen showed that it recognized several components, but when it got to the hard drive, it froze (the code 0078 appeared in the bottom corner of the screen).

2. I tried pressing F8 once I was in the BIOS Post screen to select my boot device, but nothing happened.

3. I tried booting from CD, and the drive would spin a little, but nothing happened.

So, here's what I did that eventaully worked. USE CAUTION when proceeding with these steps. It requires you to work with the internals of the computer WHILE IT IS POWERED ON! This is usually not advised, but I was desperate.

First, unplug your hard drive from the laptop. (Be sure you disconnect the right end of the cable. Don't disconnect the cable from the motherboard. It should have a sticker that says M/B). I recommend leaving the cover off for this entire process.

Next, power on your computer and press whatever key will allow you to select the boot device (mine was F8).

Insert the CD for installing XP (or, at this point, any operating system you wish).

Once the CD has booted, BEFORE IT SEARCHES FOR YOUR HARD DRIVE, flip the laptop over and plug the drive back in.

For me, these steps worked. I believe that when I initially tried to install XP, I somehow corrupted something on the HDD. When the computer defaulted to booting from the HDD, it simply froze. There was no way to get around it unless I removed the HDD all together. We are essentially tricking the computer to boot into CD, and then before the CD has to recognize the drive, add it back to the system.

If you are able to boot from CD with no problems with the Hard Drive removed, then these steps SHOULD work for you, assuming your HDD is not fried completely.

DISCLAIMER: Please be extremely careful when working on a computer while it is plugged into the AC outlet. I suggest working with one hand in your pocket if possible, and minimize what you have to do beforehand. Unscrew everything so all you have to do once the power is on is unplug it. If you feel like you aren't able to do this safely, don't do it. I take no responsibility if you get electrocuted or if you fry something else in the process. Take your laptop to a repair shop and see what they can do.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Personal Movie Server Introduction

There are two flavors of Personal Movie Servers. You can either have it "on-the-grid" or "off-the-grid". In fact, you can even make a blend of the two. I'll explain each individually below:


On "Off-The-Grid" movie server is one that exists solely on your home network and is not accessible from the outside world. This way, you don't have to worry so much about password protecting your files, or having the MPAA or the FBI knock on your door to request an audit of all your movies you've posted on the internet. In order to set up a closed system movie server, you really only need two things:

1. Front-end device, such as a small PC, a modded xbox, a laptop, etc.

2. Back-end device: PC w/ HDD.

You can sometimes mesh the two together if you want, but I have always liked having them split up. The following is the setup of my system:

For the frontend, I have a soft-modded Original Xbox with Xbox Media Center (XBMC). The software is free, and you only really need an exploit disk and a way to move some files from your PC to your Xbox before the mod (I bought one of those cables that allows you to connect an Xbox memory card to your computer). I'll write up a detailed guide for installing XBMC at a later date. The frontend is then connected to my home network.

For the backend, I have an old (OLD!) HP Vectra running Windows XP and Xserver (used to deliever content to the Xbox). This piece of crap sits in my closet and is always on. I connected an external 250Gb HDD via USB, which is where I keep all my .avi movie files. Once all the configuration is done, its really easy to sync the files on the Vectra with the Xbox frontend. XBMC even downloads the latest info from IMDB, like cast, director, year, a plot synopsis, and even the DVD cover.

Now all I have to do is turn on the Xbox, and I have a library of all my DVD movies sitting in front of me.


This version of the setup can be started after you've already built the Off-the-grid version if you like, or it can be setup from scratch. You don't need a frontend, just a backend. For this, you'll have to have a static IP address (or a DynDNS account, which is free). You simply point the DynDNS account to a webpage that lists all the links to your movies. I had a pretty cool setup with a searchable database of plot synopsis, run time, etc. The only problem was that for movies of considerable size (which is most movies if they are in .avi), the buffer time was too long to be functional. On the occasions that it DID work, it was awesome. My Vectra served as the backend, and I could watch Casino Royale from Nashville simply by pointing my web browser to my static IP page. It was a pretty slick setup.

I'll post an in-depth HOW TO in a few days, this was just to get everyone inspired.

Friday, June 20, 2008

HP vs19d Fix

***UPDATE*** This project summary and any further comments/updates have been moved to Please visit the new site for up-to-date info, and to see all the other cool projects!

**UPDATE: VS19e monitor repair instructions and pics now available: VS19E

The other day, I rolled out of bed in the morning and after a cup of
Gevalia's finest, I sat down at my computer to check the weather. To
my dismay, upon clicking the power button on my HP vs19d LCD monitor, nothing happened. The blue LED would light up for a few seconds, I would hear a high pitched squeal from inside the monitor, and then nothing. This process would repeat itself until I eventually unplugged the monitor. I later called HP tech support to find that the monitor would have to be replaced. Good thing I bought that expensive three year extension warranty, right? Well, turns out that my warranty only covered my desktop and didn't extend to the monitor. Excellent.
It seemed like I had one of two options. I could either attempt to fix the monitor myself, or buy a new one. I needed to access my computer to get some files for work, and the HP LCD was the only monitor I had. So, making my decision, I visited NewEgg from work and bought a 19" WS Acer for a great price.
But I still wasn't happy that my monitor was only two years old and on its way to the dump. So I decided to crack it open and have a look around. If you're having a similar problem, follow along, because now my monitor works fine. To fix yours up, you'll need:

A phillips head and flathead screwdriver
Some replacement caps (I needed 3x 1000 microF caps rated at 10V or above)
A soldering iron
Desoldering tool or braid

Ok, first, we need to get the back stand off. Remove the two visible screws, and then pop the plate off the top of the stand to gain access to the third screw.Now slide the base out from the back of the monitor. Whenever the monitor is laying face down, it's good practice to lay it on an old clean cotton tshirt or something to keep it from getting scratched up. Now we need to pry the front plate off from the rest of the monitor. Using a flathead screwdriver, gently insert the tip into the crack along the side of the monitor and pry until you hear one of the snaps come loose. After the first one, it gets easier. Continue in this fashion to completley remove the front panel.

Once you've done this, gently remove the LCD screen and the PCB that holds the buttons from the plastic case. The LCD assembly will still be attached to the plastic by the speaker cords, so it obviously can't be completley removed. Once you have them separated, turn the LCD over and you should see this:

The larger metal case on the right holds the power supply, while the smaller case on the left holds some of the display circuitry. Gently peel back the metal tape and unscrew the two screws that hold the metal case down. Carefully fold the metal case to the right to expose the power board:

So I could more easily move the board around, I also removed the two screws that held in the power cord socket:

Now it's time to investigate where the problem lies. I checked over all the capacitors and found these three in one of the corners of the board. Two of them had dried electrolytic fluid on top, indicating that they were blown. The third one (on the left) was bulged out on the top, which meant it had probably blown too, but the 'X' vent on top hadn't cracked open. So, these were the caps I needed to replace. Make sure you read the side of them to see what size (Farads) you need to get.
I propped the board up in the air (it was pretty tricky to do this part) and used a nice soldering iron to melt the solder that attached these caps while I gently pulled on them. Eventually, I got all three loose.
Using the new caps I bought from Radio Shack for $1.59 each...I then proceeded to solder the new caps into place. BE SURE YOU GET POLARITY RIGHT. On mine, the black half circle that was printed on the PCB indicated the negative terminal. Pay attention to which way the busted caps are oriented and make sure you orient the new ones in the same fashion.

Now we have the new caps soldered and in place, so put all the screws back into place, replace the metal box and the metal tape, gently set the LCD back into the plastic case (be sure to stick the buttons PCB back where it belongs), snap on the front cover and reattach the base. If you've done everything correctly, and the caps were the problem, then your LCD monitor should be good as new! Funny that little things like capacitors can cause such a headache.
If this tutorial saved you lots of money or time, a small donation would be enormously appreciated. This little stream of income allows me to dedicate more time to helping others with their problems. Thanks for stopping by!