Tangent: hardware manufacturers stink at documentation

Wednesday, August 31, 2005 8:22 AM

In putting together my Media Center last night, I encountered something I seen to hit every single time I am installing new hardware: the manuals/drawings/instructions almost always SUCK!

I’m a developer… and I know enough about hardware to get by.  When I started looking at parts for my Media Center, the term “PCI Express” was brand new to me… so was “SATA”.  No problem there, we can all do a bit of research and find out why it’s so much better.  Anyway, that’s not the point of this post…

When I opened up the case, I saw quite a few wires coming from the front of the box… ok, no sweat… that’s common as every case has lights and buttons on it.  This case has even more than usual though because it’s got a VFD/IR panel, a function knob, and audio buttons (forward/next/play/stop/pause/volume/etc).  What goes with what?  Of course, the manual didn’t really explain it clearly.  So I look at the motherboard map and it shows 2 pins for the power LED… but the cable has as 3–pin connector… arg!!!  I’ll just plug it in and see what happens.. I’m sure some will have to be tweaked.

The case has another feature.  If you look at the image, you’ll see a bundle of blue wires, a grey wire, and a black wire.  What the heck is all that?  Oh yeah, the case included a 3.5” panel that fit the 3.5” open slot on the front of the case that contains 4 USB2.0 ports, 1 Firewire port, audio out, and a mic port.  Ah… all the blue ones are the USB’s, the grey one is for audio, and the black is for Firewire.  OK, maybe it wasn’t that hard to figure that out as the female pin connections had “USB”, “1394” for Firewire, and something crazy that looked nothing like “audio”, but it matches perfectly with the available pins on the motherboard (I’ll wait to see if the sound card has this as I would prefer to have it on the card and not the board).  This was the first time I’ve seen what internal onboard USB/FireWire ports looked like… pretty cool! 

Uh, one issue.  This case has 4 USB2.0 ports in the 3.5” panel, 1 USB2.0 for the VFD/IR, 1 USB2.0 for the function nob, and 1 USB2.0 for the audio buttons on the front.  That totals 7… but the board only has 4 internal boards.  Thankfully the VFD/IR is a the non-pin looking USB2.0 (the one that mice, memory sticks, keyboards have… sorry, don’t know the technical term) so I can pop open one of the PCI slots in the back and just run it through to the back of the case to use one of the 4 USB2.0 slots on the back of the case.  But what about the other two run-overs?  I chose to not connect one of the USB ports on the expanded panel and the function knob (don’t see using it all that much honestly).  But it got me thinking… wonder if there’s such a thing as an adapter converting the USB2.0 male/female connector (the type you have on the back of your laptop or PC) and the pin-based connection (the type you have on the motherboard)?  I’ll find out… have to run to the local computer store this afternoon to get a screw-set for a motherboard/case since mine didn’t include them (not to mention screw sets for drives as none of them included screws… damn OEM purchase!).

None of the manuals really explained any of this… it showed some tiny thumbnail, grainy, B&W pictures.  How hard is it to say “the green & white wire with XXXX on the connector”, or “all the blue shielded cables are USB2.0 from the ports”.  Oh, and with one of the SATA drives I got, it didn’t have the legacy 4–pin power ports.  It only had the SATA power port.  Hey, no problem, but I hadn’t seen that (remember, SATA is new to this developer).  So, why in the heck did the manual tell me to plug in a 4–pin power cable into the drive when it’s not even there?  The model number on the box, drive, and manual are all the same!  GRRR…

So, in an open plea to hardware manufacturers… PLEASE provide some decent documentation.