May my Squeezebox Server rest in peace
Sunday, 26 February 2012
It has been quite a long time since I have posted anything here—the spam bucket was choked with well over a hundred pages of who-knows-what when I first came back.
One thing I did notice was that several folks have taken advantage of the iTunes-to-Playlist script that I put together last year, and that’s always encouraging. I haven’t really done any work on tweaking or refining the script because there was a small bit of a problem in the homestead: my happy little Shuttle server died an untimely death.
I bought it off of eBay brand new for a little over a hundred bucks last February and was quite pleased with my purchase. It was a Shuttle K45, a pretty old platform with a lightweight processor, but more than enough horsepower to be a home Squeezebox server as well as a Wiki server and a CVS server.
But it was too good to be true. After I had settled in and set up my workflow around my silent little Shuttle box, it simply died one day. I pressed the power button to restart it and was greeted with a blinking light that was anything but encouraging—the server was dead. An autopsy revealed the probable cause of death to be bad capacitors.
If you find yourself dealing with wonky hardware problems, such as a PC that doesn’t boot or frequent BSOD when watching video, pop open the case and give the caps a gander. You might save yourself hours of troubleshooting effort. See below for details…
Shuttle K45 = Bad Caps
I now know why I occasionally find new-in-box K45s on eBay: there was a bad production run of them.
Just do a quick search for “Shuttle K45 bad capacitors” and you will find plenty of complaints. Here is a good example of a post about the problem from Tom’s Hardware.
Here’s the Problem
This is how the motherboard looked. That bit of brown goop that is oozing out of the top of the capacitor on the left is a sure sign of death. You might note that the one on the far right seems to be bulging a bit at the top as well, ready to blow. In fact, that’s why the manufacturer put the little cross hatch in the top of the aluminum can: it’s a sort of safety release when pressure gets to great within.
I checked all of them, and there were a half dozen of them that were oozing brown stuff.
Not the first time
As I had alluded to at the start, I have seen this behavior before: I once wasted many hours of my time trying to track down the demons that were causing random blue screens on my old Windows Media Server box.
I had re-imaged the machine twice with the factory disks and had even gone so far as to run a live CD version of Linux in order to eliminate Windows and the hard drive from the equation. Indeed, watching video in Ubuntu caused similar hard crashes, so it was clear that I had a hardware problem.
I had a distant memory of having read some article talking about bulging electrolytic capacitors, so on a hunch I popped off the cover and looked at the video card. Sure enough, the caps on that old ATI card had little brown dots in their crowns. That episode ended fairly well: I bought a new video card and that particular machine returned to service for several more years.
A Heroic Repair Attempt
I really did like my little Shuttle server and hated to see it go, so I immediately began looking in to how I might bring it back to life. I have wielded a soldering iron before and so I decided to roll up my sleeves and fix it myself.
I didn’t find the right capacitor sizes at Radio Shack—it’s sad to see that their selection has diminished greatly from my childhood memories of going to buy parts for radio kits with my dad.
Here they are, fresh out of the plastic baggie:
My soldering exercise took about two hours, after which I understood the following statements to be true:
- Desoldering is much more annoying than soldering.
- Those solder sucker tools just don’t work. Maybe I needed to use that desoldering braid.
- The motherboard of a K45 is a sweet pain in the backside to extract from the case.
- The server was just as dead after my efforts as it was before.
I decided that I had already invested too much time and effort into this exercise and threw in the towel. I lost no data in the process—it was all backed up elsewhere. Life is good!
Last week I set up a new server on an aging Dell PC, but I’m on the hunt for a new server.