Towers Evaluation Process

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The purpose of Evaluation is to clean,test and give value to incoming computers and Devices.

  • Computers that pass Eval will be sent to Build.
  • Computers that fail Eval will be sent to Dismantling.
  • Devices and Antique Computers will be referred to staff.


At the Evaluation Station you will find all the tools you will need:

  • screwdrivers, pliers, etc.
  • testing video cards, RAM, Power supplies, cables etc.
  • cleaning supplies.
  • Vacuum.
  • Keeper Sheets.
  • Pens and Markers


Chose a computer to evaluate

Computers that come from Receiving are placed on a pallet to the right of the evaluation bench. Any computer piled here should be waiting for evaluation.

Initial inspection

1) Case Exterior Inspection

Visually inspect case checking for:
  • Discoloration, yellowing/browning, deep scratches, patches of missing paint, doodles in permanent marker, rust, algae, tar from excessive smoking
  • Damaged front cover (cracked, discolored, badly scratched, falls off easily or completely missing)
  • Dents, bent corners
  • Twisted, warped or distorted frame
  • Missing panels (sides, top, bottom, back, front)
  • Panels that don't fit (warped, bent, dented)
Sometimes panels and front covers from failed computers can be "harvested" to replace missing or damaged case parts

If it has any of these then they fail.

For cases that fail visual inspection:
  1. Open the case (see: 2) Open the Case)
  2. Remove hard drives (see: 3) Identify and Remove Hard Drives), power supply.
  3. Eval the motherboard, if the motherboard is worth saving (attach motherboard back plate to motherboard with tape).
  4. Close the case securing any loose parts/side panels
  5. Stack the case against the back wall of Dismantle:
    • On it's side in a safe secure manner
    • No higher than the white board (3' feet/1m meter)
From time to time we receive "nice cases" that require special attention

Keep cases that have the following features: (even if the internal components fail)

  • has a streamlined design
  • Cool stuff that glows or lights up
  • See through side and/or top panels
  • Mini-ITX form factor
  • Some cases made by: "Antec", "Lian-li", "Alienware", "Thermaltake", "Corsair",
  • Anything you think is really cool (the phrase "I'd pay money for that" comes to mind)

If you're unsure ask a staff member

If you find a nice case but the internal components fail see: Failed Computers With Nice Cases

2) Open the Case

Not all cases are made the same and trying to explain how to open all of them would take far to long.

Instead this section will cover the most common styles and will give hints for less common styles

  1. Lay the computer on its side with the motherboard on the bottom
    • The motherboard backplate (where all the connectors for keyboard, mouse, USB, Ethernet, are) will be closer to one side, that's the side the motherboard's attached to
  2. Remove screws holding the side panel (the side opposite the motherboard)
    • Keep case screws to secure side panels after eval (pass or fail, loose side panels are dangerous and can slide off or cause entire stacks of cases to fall)
    • Spare case screws can usually be "harvested" from the power supplies of failed computers
  3. Some side panels:
    • Slide to the back than off
    • Slide to the front than off (usually have to remove front cover)
    • Slide to the top than off (usually have to remove top cover)
    • Are 2 or 3 sided
    • Are hinged on one side
    • Have a tab, lever or button/s (usually on the sides or front for buttons, on the back or side's for levers, on the sides for tabs)
    • Are jammed or stuck and may require some "convincing" with a slot style screwdriver (please use cation when forcing things)
    • Are locked! (look for keys attached to the case and if you can't find any ask a staff member to help you)


  • On some cases only one side opens (this is good, it means everything is designed to come out from that side and possibly the front)
  • Dells usually have buttons on the top and bottom and are hinged at the front or have a lever at the back that releases the side panel
  • IBM/Lenovos usually have a lever at the back or on the side that releases the side panel, also there's usually a button at the back near the top that releases the front
  • Some servers have a lever at the back (usually near the bottom) and a button on the front (usually near the bottom) and are hinged at the top.

3) Identify and Remove Hard Drives

This is the most important step in Eval as hard drives could contain personal information


This means all hard drives MUST BE sent to hard drive testing

HDD/Hard disk drives come in different shapes and sizes but all have the same basic design:

  • Has a sealed metal casing (you can't put a disk/CD/DVD into it)
  • Usually has a 4 inch base (same size as a 3.5" floppy drive)
    • Sometimes has a 5 3/4" Base (same size as a CD/DVD drive)
  • Has connectors for data and power at the back:
    • SCSI: 50pin flat ribbon cable and 4pin power
    • IDE: 40pin flat ribbon cable and 4pin power
    • SATA: 8pin SATA ribbon cable and 15pin SATA power


  1. Disconnect the data and power cables
  2. Remove screws securing the hard drive/s to the case
    • Some cases have a tab/s or lever/s to release the hard drive/s (Dells, IBM/Lenovo)
    • Some cases have special mounting brackets/parts/cages, please reinstall these parts after removing the hard drive/s (It can be frustrating for builders when important hard drive mounting components are missing)
    • Remove any drive rails attached to the hard drive/s (part that guide's the hard drive/s in or out of the case)
  3. Stack hard drives on the eval bench (take Hard drives to the wiping area)

4) Vacuum the case

Pay attention to the bottom of the case, flat cables, and any place where fans have been blowing. Also vacuum the outside rear and front of the case.

Visual triage

Do an initial visual inspection and Fail the computer if you find any of the following:

  1. Any capacitors that are blown (Capacitor plague)
    Any capacitor which is bulging or has material coming out of the top is dead. Touching the top of the capacitor is the best method of locating bulged caps. There is a motherboard at Eval with examples of blown caps.
  2. If it has a slot style CPU (most PentiumII and PentiumIIIs)
  3. If it has Rambus RAM or SDRAM
    Some SDRAM computers may be worth continuing to evaluate if it looks very old or is very small.

If the computer Fails:

  1. Remove the CPU if it's a socket type (not slot style)
    • Wipe off the heat sink compound with a rag
    • If the CPU is 7000 series or newer dual core 2(Intel)/Quad Am2(AMD) or newer.
  2. Remove the RAM (place untested RAM in a bin marked RAM)
  3. Close the case securing any loose parts/side panels
  4. Stack the case against the back wall of Dismantle:
    • On it's side in a safe secure manner
    • No higher than the white board (3' feet/1m meter)

Post Triage

After a computer passes Visual triage attempt to determine whether the computer boots (posts) and is fast enough to be reused as build fodder.

  1. Check the computer for RAM and remove for testing.
    • Install the eval RAM provided.
    most servers use ECC RAM (not provided), ECC RAM can usually be obtained from Ram Testing
    If there is no ECC RAM available ask a staff member for assistance
  2. Check for video out
    Video out is usually a blue 15 pin (VGA) connector or a 29/23 pin (DVI) connector:
    If there is no video out connector install an eval video card
  3. Connect your stations keyboard
    If there is a 6 pin PS/2 connector (usually purple) than use a PS/2 keyboard if there is no USB, or it wont boot with USB.
    If there is no PS/2 connector than use a USB keyboard
  4. Connect your stations monitor
    If there is already a video card installed connect the monitor to this and not to the video out attached to the motherboard
  5. Most power supplies have a red (supply voltage selector) switch that is set to either: 115v or 230v
    It MUST be set to 115 or it could EXPLODE
    It is set to 115v when 115 is the only number visible on the switch

The computers that are donated to Free Geek are almost always post consumer (meaning they've been used) and are often donated because they do not work anymore. Any number of things could be wrong with the computers that are donated

  • Sometimes these problems can be fixed in eval, if you have trouble with the next steps see the It Won't Boot section for help

Attempt to determine the model and:

  • Clock speed for Intel
  • Performance rating for AMD

For Intels:

  • The clock speed will be in Ghz (gigahertz, 1.8Ghz or more) or Mhz (megahertz, 1800Mhz or more).

The POST screen (with the CPU model and clock speed/performance rating) usually clears before you have a chance to read it:

  • Use the pause key to pause the boot process
  • Use the space bar to resume the boot process
By pausing, resuming and pausing again you can step through the boot process
  1. Connect your stations power cord
  2. Turn on the computer
    • Some power supplies have an ON OFF switch (1 for ON, 0 for OFF)
    Set this to on (1)
    • If the computer does not turn on automatically than push the power button (usually on the front of the case)
    • The power button should be marked by a circle with a vertical line dividing the top (power button symbol)

Hopefully the computer now boots and shows some kind of POST

  • If the POST screen does not show the CPU information than try entering the BIOS
    • Restart the computer and repeatedly press the [Del], [F1], [F2]
    • If these keys don't work restart and try [Enter], [F10], [Ins]
    • If you still can't get into the BIOS refer to the BIOS sheet for likely key combinations

When you enter the BIOS setup use the arrow keys to navigate and enter to select submenus

Look for the following to find the CPU information:
  • Near the top of the screen
  • In the System Information submenu (sometimes the System Information submenu is under Advanced Settings)
  • In the Advanced Settings tab

Not all BIOS setups will show the CPU model and clock speed

  • If you cant find the CPU information ask a staff member for assistance, using Ultimate Boot disk
  • Complete a Keeper sheet (Do not turn off the computer before you've filled out the keeper sheet as its easy to forget what the CPU information was)
  • See: completing a Keeper sheet
  • Unplug the:
    1. Power
    2. Keyboard and monitor
    3. Any components you installed to eval the computer (eval RAM,eval video card)
  • Reattach any drive rails, important case parts that were removed during eval
  • Close the case securing any front/side panels with correct (coarse thread) case screws
  • Attach the complete keeper sheet to the front of the case with masking tape (Do not tape to cover plates that may fall off)
  • Store the passed computer with the Eval passes.

Evaluating Motherboards

If the motherboard is a name brand, (ASUS, Gigabyte, EVGA etc) at least a 775 (Intel) or AM2 (AMD) socket, or is special (ask staff) remove and tape on the back plate, take to Build.

It Won't Boot

play taps and wave it goodbye!

  • is the case worth saving for the store?
  • are there any part or cards that can go to build? (high end video cards)

Place computer in dismantle pile.

Filling Out A Keeper Sheet

For machines that pass Eval fill out a Keeper Sheet

Keeper Sheets are located on a clipboard on the Eval bench
  1. Start by filling in your volunteer number and Date. yy/mm/dd
  2. In the [Memory] section:
    • Indicate how many of what type of RAM by circling the appropriate number
  3. In the [CPU] section:
    1. Indicate Brand (Intel or AMD)
    2. Type (core 2 Duo, i7)
  4. In the [CPU Model Number/Speed] section:
    • With a pen write the speed in Gigahertz
  5. Indicate how many PCIex16 slots are available.
      • If there are other special expansion slots (CNR, ANR, WiFi) indicate how many in the [Notes] Secton
  6. Indicate any problems that you might have encountered during Eval:
    • If speacial RAM is needed (indicate what RAM was used to Eval) or indicate RAM needs testing in place.

Failed Computers With Nice Cases

If you find a nice case but the internal components fail:

  1. Identify and Remove Hard Drives
  2. Remove the motherboard and evaluate separately
  3. Remove any optical drives (keep drive rails)
  4. Remove the power supply.
  5. Vacuum the case
  6. Reattach any case parts removed for eval
  7. Close the case securing any loose parts/side panels
  8. clean the outside of the case
  9. take to store

Helpful Tips

If the power button connector(to the motherboard) is not connected see staff. Also check out the motherboard pin out page for certain models.

Having problems getting in the BIOS, check out the Entering BIOS page