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Undertaking: Reviving an HP e-Vectra SFF Desktop PC

Undertaking: Reviving an HP e-Vectra SFF Desktop PC

2023-01-15 05:51:40

Again in 2020, I opined my love for the HP e-Vectra small form-factor desktop PC from 2000. Maybe by now, there is probably not many fond recollections remaining, however after overlaying it in some element again in 2020, I rediscovered it sitting on my shelf wanting slightly unhappy.

There comes a time in a single’s life after they begin to realise they’ve too many issues to do and never sufficient time, and/or too many bodily issues and never sufficient area. Regardless of my love for this field, in its current state, it had little sensible use apart from reminding me of its slightly novel design for the time.

So I resolved to both repair it … or junk it. There was no level hanging onto it if it wasn’t going to be helpful, seeing it has already had one weblog put up.

Fixing the e-Vectra

The issue was that the board makes solely the slightest “blink” of the LAN LEDs on a power-up try however in any other case, no motion to notice. I’ve already speculated that unhealthy capacitors are the trigger, regardless of none bodily being bulged or leaking.

Having beforehand disassembled and photographed the machine, it was a straightforward job to get again in there and begin tallying the board up.

Utilizing an “embossed” black-and-white picture of the board above, I began to notice the capacitor values and places – it turns on the market are 11 kinds of capacitor and a complete of 43 of them. As I used to be unsure which of them had been unhealthy, I made a decision it might be most secure to exchange all of them.

I didn’t pay a lot consideration to heights and diameters of capacitors on the time – I made some tough measurements of some, however then gave up midway. I made a decision to pilfer my current inventory of capacitors …

… whereas ordering in some new capacitors for the values I didn’t have at hand (and couldn’t shoehorn a higher-voltage capacitor as an alternative). This journey wouldn’t be low-cost, particularly as a result of there are supply-chain difficulties which meant capacitors coming in from the UK, with few picks and per week’s ready for cargo. If I had to purchase all of the capacitors new, I don’t suppose I’d have a lot change from AU$50.

Recapping was accomplished with the help of a PCB holder, which proved simply large enough for the small motherboard. Due to the multi-layer development of the board and the actual fact I nonetheless don’t have a desoldering gun, I didn’t need to do the soldering iron and one-leg-at-a-time trick as a slightly-too-cool joint might simply trigger the through-hole plating to be torn out. I didn’t need to attempt snapping the capacitors off the board and extracting the remnants both, as a result of I needed to do a little bit of a autopsy to grasp which capacitors had been accountable … assuming they had been accountable within the first place.

So, this time, I used the recent air gun from the again and heated up the board from behind till each joints had been molten after which easily extracted the capacitor, whereas shortly feeding within the new one and letting it cool. Afterward, I’d come again with the iron to touch-up all of the joints and clip the legs. This isn’t a risk-free process, as the warmth of the hot-air-gun will trigger the board to exceed its glass-transition temperature, which causes it to change into mushy and flexible. This might result in harm to the board whether it is harassed, but additionally, might simply result in charring the board itself if the temperature will get too excessive. Weakening of the epoxy would result in the board’s structural energy being compromised. Within the above, some discolouration of the solder resist and presumably board pre-preg materials is seen, however being localised, I felt this was acceptable.

This left me a pleasant pile of capacitors which had been probably suspect. I’d say this course of would have in all probability taken about two-to-three hours to map out and do, however I couldn’t do it multi function sitting as a result of want to attend for the arrival of lacking elements.

The Second of Reality

Placing it collectively was not fairly as simple as I first thought – I made a mistake with my 1500uF capacitors and ordered ones which had been thinner however taller. This induced one of many capacitors (CT32) to intervene with the fan cooling shroud. Because of this, I needed to reduce a slot into the shroud to make it match – this was simpler than making an attempt to vary the capacitor once more. However, I plugged all of it in as per earlier than … pushed the button and …

… yay! It’s alive – these BIOS messages are encouraging. The keyboard error? That was me mashing <DEL> to try to get into the BIOS.

I had forgotten that such an previous machine had a full-screen BIOS emblem … it feels extra fashionable than it truly is.

Whereas initially shipped with Home windows 98 SE, I had an set up of Home windows 2000 Professional on it that booted up simply positive. It’s a little bit of a time-capsule of applications – lots of which had been probably not best for this explicit machine and had been put in anyway only for enjoyable. Who remembers MSN Messenger with the “Plus” modifications so you could possibly run a number of cases?

The unique 80mm fan nonetheless sounds completely positive and the CD-ROM nonetheless features completely. The onerous drive is a bit noisy … however all of them had been from that period. It nonetheless features positive and a full-surface verify didn’t reveal any further reallocations from the 49 it had after I first accepted it as second-hand inventory. In fact, I might presumably change it up for a nicer IDE drive, CF card or SD-card, but it surely’d be much less genuine in consequence.

A Capacitor Submit-Mortem

With all of the capacitors in-hand, I made a decision to measure them utilizing the B&K Precision BA6010 Battery Analyser as a 1kHz LCR meter.

The outcomes present that many capacitors had been getting near the -20% tolerance of electrolytics, however just a few had been actually really unserviceable – the I.Q. branded 1000uF 10V capacitors had been all toast and the Choyo XR 330uF 6.3V capacitors had been a combined bunch. The opposite capacitors truly appeared to be serviceable for now, however being from the identical questionable distributors, I made a decision to not threat it.

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This time, I used calipers to measure the precise dimensions of the extracted capacitors, in case anybody else who’s doing this job wants the data to order the proper capacitors, not like me …

Sizing it As much as a Fashionable SFF

As a lot as I liked the e-Vectra and believed it to have probably impressed the likes of Shuttle XPCs and later SFFs such because the Intel NUC, Gigabyte Brix and different clones, I truly acquired one other “refurb” SFF simply this week for somewhat greater than AU$116. The machine in query is a Lenovo ThinkCentre M700 Desktop Tiny from 2017, with an Intel i5-6400T CPU, 8GB RAM and a couple of.5″ 500GB Laborious Drive.

Placing them side-by-side, it’s clear the Lenovo has a smaller footprint of about half the realm.

From the entrance, it’s clear that the unit is kind of a bit thinner too – that is partially because the HP e-Vectra has an optical drive which the Lenovo Tiny doesn’t.

The rear of the Lenovo Tiny exhibits a format that eschews nearly all legacy ports in desire for DisplayPort, USB 3.0 and Ethernet, with the one exception being a 3.5mm audio jack. The HP e-Vectra has a mixture of legacy and “new” for the time USB 1.1. That is what 17 to 18-years of progress will get you.

Nonetheless, if one stops and thinks somewhat – the e-Vectra’s accomplishments get much more superb. Seeing my earlier put up, you could have realised that the e-Vectra has a full desktop CPU and chipset, makes use of a full-size DIMM, homes a full-size 3.5″ half-height onerous disk. The one factor that’s small is the optical drive which is a slim-line laptop computer CD-ROM, and the ability provide which is a laptop computer one as properly. Figuring out this, what HP and FIC managed to realize in 2000 was fairly superb – to the purpose that these lived on for years after their helpful lives as “carputers”.

The price of reviving the e-Vectra might be unhealthy worth in comparison with shopping for the Lenovo Tiny. The unit got here very clear and the onerous disk inside solely had 43 hours on it. Likelihood is, many of those hours might have come from the info destruction course of and these models didn’t truly see a lot in the best way of any precise use. The followers are utterly mud free! I’ve since upgraded the RAM and swapped in an SSD into the Lenovo Tiny, utilizing elements I had left over from different laptop computer/desktop upgrades.


Plainly the HP e-Vectra failed as a result of traditional wrongdoer of unhealthy capacitors. With a little bit of persistence, it’s attainable to exchange all the capacitors and produce it again to life. I attempted a brand new approach with a hot-air-gun which appeared to work, however did depart some discolouration on the board and should have been annoying to the substrate of the board. It was, in all probability, higher than utilizing a single iron and a one-leg-at-a-time rocking approach which I used to make use of … however ideally, maybe a desoldering gun is one of the best ways. Solely two values appeared to really take a look at unhealthy – however alternative of all capacitors is advisable for reliability causes. That is one thing you may undertake out of “love” for the unit, slightly than practicality – newer refurb SFFs are a lot low-cost and rather more succesful.

It was by evaluating the e-Vectra to a more recent SFF that I’m reminded of what HP and FIC achieved – the power to shoehorn a full-fat desktop CPU, chipset, full-size DIMM and full-size onerous drive right into a field with a laptop computer optical drive and a laptop computer energy adapter. Most of the later SFFs such because the NUC and even the Lenovo Tiny are primarily based round laptop computer elements that are inherently low-power and compact, with some efficiency and value disadvantages. The e-Vectra appears to have been fairly compact, with none of those downsides, which is why I liked it a lot again then … and nonetheless have a soft-spot for it right this moment.

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