Anyway, the USB ports were limping along; what brought matters to a head was when a reshuffling of furniture in our bedroom led to the exile of the computer to the basement. I had a USB wireless adapter, but it wouldn't work in any of the USB ports on the machine--tried to load the operating software, but even though the little LED indicator on the adapter lit up just fine the operating software couldn't find it. Rezzer fezzer. OTOH, I'd been kind of itching to upgrade the system, so I took the opportunity to sink a few bucks into a better processor and a new motherboard. (Besides, MicroCenter was having a sale.) Thinking, of course, that I could keep the existing hard drive and optical drives, case, power supply, etc. (I mean, the old processor used about 90 W; the new one, a much faster quad-core Intel, used about 130 W. Processor efficiency, as autopope pointed out, has definitely come a long way.)
The new mobo fit just fine in the old case, but the first indications that all may not be well came when I tried to connect it to the power supply. Who knew that the 12V bus connection had gone from 4 pins to 8? Not I. So, new power supply needed. Then one of the optical drives used an IDE connection...of which there were none on the new mobo. Ah, well...the other optical drive was a SATA drive, and the new mobo had six SATA connections. But I still had to get a new power supply. At least MicroCenter had a sale on those, too. And it was a nice one as well--modular connectors, so there isn't quite the cable tangle inside the case that the old power supply engendered.
So I got everything put together, fired it up, and it started...but didn't seem to be talking to the monitor. Turns out that the DVI socket on the new mobo is close enough to the side of the opening in the back panel that the big fat DVI connector won't seat right. (I've sanded off a bunch of it and it's still not seating right. Still some plastic left on that side, though.) However, I had an old VGA cable around, and was able to use that to get the communication issue resolved. Success! I can get to the BIOS! However, the old Win7 installation on the hard drive isn't on speaking terms with the new mobo, and I can't get it to boot off of my Win7 repair disk. This is a problem. I decide that it's time to think about the fact that this is a seven-year-old hard drive, and maybe I should just suck it up and buy a new HD--I have a system image of the old HD, so should be able to salvage everything off of that.
Fortunately, Tiger Direct is having a sale on hard drives. I get a nice 240 Gb solid-state drive and mounting hardware, which installs easily. Then, of course, I still can't install Win7 on the empty hard drive--the idiot optical drive still isn't working as a boot device. That's when I borrowed the USB optical drive from work, and was able to run the installation just fine. So, success! Win7 installed! Now all I have to do is move stuff over from the disk image.
It is somewhere around this point that I discover that the disk image only includes the main partition on the old HD. WTF? This makes salvaging the data off of the HD rather more important. First, though, I need to get the wireless adapter working.
However, now I need to go eat. More to come later.