Analog Angle Article

Cleaning up my (cabling) act

I recently had some intermittent problems with my very modest home PC and network setup. Don't worry, this is not going to be yet another recounting of someone's problems and how they were solved–we all have our tales of troubleshooting and debug and frustration, and you don't need to hear mine. (It's analogous to the first line of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina , just substitute “systems” for “families” here: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”)

Before I started any sort of logical, organized debugging, I stepped back and remembered the first guideline a mentor taught me back in the day, especially useful when dealing with intermittent problems. He said that you should first do nothing except a) stop, b) think, and c) make sure the basics of your system are solid. In other words, make sure your power supply is OK (if it is even remotely a possible factor) and make sure all connectors, connections, cables and similar are verified, tight, and properly dressed and strain relieved.

So I looked at the rat's nest of cables and boxes I had, even in my modest system. I had a modem, a router, and a small dc-power switchbox precariously perched on top of the PC tower, with the weight of the interconnection cables pulling on the connectors. Duh. . . . I know full well that standard RJ-xx connectors, or the simple plug/receptacle of DC wall-wart adapter, are not designed to take much pull from their cables, either straight on (axial) or sideways (radial or angular). Unless you are using those solid industrial/military connectors with true locking mechanism, cables/connectors are the first source of potential problems, and the easiest to fix up-front.

This is not the first time I have dealt with cable and wiring headaches, but previously it was only on the AC line and AC/DC side, see “Strong satisfaction from simple projects”. But now it was time to face today's reality, that my basic cabling was not as rugged as it should be, even for this benign environment. As with so many such installations, it was a case of small steps over the years leading to a buildup of cables, boxes, and more, with each add-on just a little more clutter. In other words, it looked OK differentially, but when I stepped back and looked at it on an absolute scale, it wasn't good.

So I invested an hour, and installed a simple shelf under the desktop, with cut-outs at the back for cable routing. I also added cable clamps to the bottom of the shelf, to which the hanging cables could be tied, to take their weight off the connectors and prevent inadvertent movement.

The boxes and cabling set-up, after improvement: (left to right) DSL modem, DC adapter on/off box, and wired/wireless router.

(Click on image to enlarge)

End result: no, this did not make my problems go away, but that was OK, I hadn't assumed it was the cabling. But at least I could take them out of the debug analysis, once I had verified their basic integrity and continuity.

I did find the problem and deal with it. But I now also can be confident that my cabling and connectors should not be a problem in the future, and the various boxes resting precariously on top to the PC have a secure place to rest and operate. And I reinforceed that old lesson: before beginning the troubleshooting process, make sure the basics are verified and solid, and then proceed. &#9830

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