Five Minutes

maxtor I've had my computer for about two years.

I got it when I arrived in Hong Kong. With an 8.4 GB hard drive, I thought I had plenty of room.

I was wrong. Over the past week, I've found the system was running low on drive space. Added to that was the sudden realisation I had zero backup of critical data. Two people I know had suffered total hard drive failure and lost valuable information. The need for space coupled with creeping paranoia of a crashed hard disk led me to add a slave drive.

"I was experiencing what even veteran computer geeks refer to as inside-the-case anxiety ..."

The main issue was I had only a basic idea how to install a hard drive. It's not as though I'd never opened up the tower, but I was experiencing what even veteran computer geeks refer to as inside-the-case anxiety: that nagging little fear that I was going to screw up something and render my computer useless.

To make matters worse, I couldn't remember if I had enough room in the case for another drive. I mentioned it to my good friend Jim McCormick. He told me it would be no problem to install a slave. He'd done the same thing not long ago.

"Five minutes," he said.

I wanted to believe him. Somewhat relieved, I did research. I decided on the Maxtor Diamondback, which rated high on quality and performance. All I had to do was locate one. That's where things became difficult.

In Hong Kong, nothing is simple. Large, one-stop computer stores are non-existent. Instead, there are computer malls: two or three floors of a building crammed with small stores, each with glass fronts jammed full of merchandise. Some are better organised than others, but most are a disaster: boxes, hardware, software, parts, peripherals; a cacophony of colours. Just looking at it made my eyes hurt.

Most of the staff speak little or no English. As I'm not fluent in Cantonese, asking for technical information was out of the question.

My first stop was nearby Windsor House, floors 10 through 12. The only way to find what I wanted was to cruise by each store front, scanning for hard drives. If they weren't in the window, chances are the shop didn't carry them.

Walk, scan, walk, scan. Ten was a washout. Up the escalator to 11. Walk, scan, walk, scan. Nothing. Up to 12. Two stores carried hard drives: IBM and Seagate, but no Maxtor.

Sigh.

Next stop, Wan Chai Computer Center. I hopped on the MTR and was there in five minutes. It had two floors, but more stores. I bought my web cam at a store there, so I made that shop my first destination.

Success! They had a line of Maxtor drives. The price of the one I wanted was excellent. For the next hour, I cruised the other stores to see what other options and prices were available. Satisfied with my efforts, I bought the drive.

During the research I'd learned installing a slave drive shouldn't prove difficult, but I'd made one mistake: I didn't open the tower before I made my purchase.

Bonehead. When I cracked open the case, I saw I was in trouble. It was configured with two 5.25-inch bays and three 3.5-inch bays. I had one bay free, and it was a 5.25-incher. Too big.

Five minutes indeed.

· ƒ ·

I had a small dilemma on my hands. If I used the bay, I'd have no room left for the DVD player I wanted, and I'd have to buy parts to enable me to install the drive. The other option was to buy a new tower with more bays, dismantle and transfer the system. Big job.

Sigh.

Back to Windsor House. Despite three floors of computer stores, I couldn't find a selection of towers, and not one store carried parts. Not a good sign.

Trudge, trudge, trudge. Back to Wan Chai Computer Center. I found a hardware adapter at the first shop I visited. Score: Adapter 1, Tower 0. Decision: Forget the DVD player. Plus, going this way was cheaper than buying a new case. When I asked if they had mounting screws, they gave me a blank look.

Uh oh.

"Sorry, we don't have screws."

Sigh.

I spent the next hour casing all the stores for the tiny screws. I was astounded that shops selling hard drives didn't carry something as necessary and basic as common computer case screws.

I was beginning to lose hope. On a hunch, I went into a store that carried towers and motherboards. When I showed the part to the tech dude, he gave me a bunch of screws, free of charge. Miracle!

"That sound was me slamming my head onto my desktop."

As soon as I got back home, I went to work. I had the adapter in one hand, hard drive in the other. It didn't fit. The screw holes on the drive did not line up with rails on the adapter.

Whap! Whap! Whap! That sound was me slamming my head onto my desktop.

For five minutes.

What next? I peered inside and realised I'd have to perform surgery to make this work. Steeling myself against my anxiety, I thought: How hard can it be?

I had to perform a Zip drive-ectomy, which meant unplugging ribbon connectors and power plugs from everything. Things were packed in tight. After gingerly removing the ribbons and mounting screws, I pushed the Zip drive out the front of the case; I had no room to do anything else. Then I held my breath. The Zip drive fit the adapter, which I secured and installed into the large bay. All that was left to do was install the hard drive and hook everything back up.

The Maxtor was a snug fit, but I was able to slide it between the existing hard drive and the floppy drive. I had to make sure I didn't create static that might fry the new drive before I fired it up.

Next came reconnecting all the ribbon cables and power. I had to make sure they were in the right order so the computer would recognise them when I booted the system.

Everything worked. So far, so good, but for one small detail; the system couldn't see the new hard drive. I'd have to mess about with the BIOS, which I wasn't familiar with. I read the details in Maxtor's installation guide.

It took a lot longer than five minutes.

After an hour of trying several different configurations, I was able to get the computer to see the drive, and I worked the other bugs out of the system, including an out-of-sequence ribbon cable to the floppy drive that was driving me insane. After that I formatted and partitioned the drive for use.

Funny thing, it took about five minutes.

Now I have an additional 30.7 GB of hard drive space. I gained a great deal of knowledge about my system, and I feel a lot more confident in my ability to modify it. In retrospect, it wasn't that difficult. Now that I know what I'm doing, I could do it again.

Maybe even in five minutes.

October 28, 2000

Next Tale: You Know