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Dell Desktop PC Restoration – Part 1

On the weekend of June 6th 2021 I went camping on an old pecan farm in Kansas with some friends. On this farm land is an old chicken coup, stone water well, and a small collapsing farm house. The house has been abandoned  for over a decade. Most everything from the inside is long gone. The floor bent and squashed as I walked across it, on the verge of collapse.

Old farm house that contained the rusty Dell PC.

There were two things of possible value still inside the house. One, a tub of records located in the bathroom. Two, a late 1990’s era desktop computer trapped in the living room closet. It really was trapped, the floor and door had been wedged and fused together due to the floor’s moisture swelling. Considering all that moisture being present, it would be a long shot that this PC still worked, but you don’t know unless you try. The PC turns out to be a Dell XPS tower with a matching CRT stacked on top.

My brother and I stuffed the tired old equipment in the back seat of his sedan on top of our camping gear. The ride home was slightly smelly and I’m pretty sure I saw a spider dash out from the monitor at one point. Once we got home I stacked it next to my workbench in the basement.

Inside of desktop tower after vacuuming.

To be honest the filthy relic sat in my basement for a few weeks before I started checking it out.  First thing I did was hook up the CRT to a known working PC. After connecting the cables and pushing the power button I heard that satisfying CRT sound. You know the sound. The tube came to life, warmed up, and displayed the BIOS of my modern machine. It works just fine.

Initial CRT smoke test with my modern PC.

The tower turned out to be a different story. I had a feeling that just plugging it in and flipping it on could result in an unfortunate situation involving smoke. I thought it best to at least open up the case and give it a little visual inspection. I’m glad I decided this because opening it revealed very dirty and rusty situation. It looked like a small mammal had also lived in there for a short while or possibly the previous owner had cat or dog and just never cleaned out their case.

My next moves were to disassemble and clean. I vacuumed out all the fur, dust and rust. After verifying all was dry and clean of loose debris, I proceeded with the smoke test. I plugged it in and to my surprise I didn’t see any smoke. Nothing showed up on the monitor, however I did receive an audible POST (Power-on Self-test) message. Now this is a Dell computer with it’s own Dell diagnostics protocol, so I didn’t know what the message meant.

One thing I do know, the monitor never got a video signal which drew my attention to the video card. The back of the video card did not look great. It was very grimy and more than one of the tiny capacitors looked split. I hopped on Ebay and checked out the market. You can’t just shop for any video card, back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s these cards used an AGP (Advanced Graphics Port) port. That narrowed down my search, but luckily these last 32-bit systems are not yet in high demand. $20 USD got me a nice clean card with twice the performance.

Check out part two

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