A budding PC builder should understand one basic idea before they
begin. Money. That will effect what you are going to build more than
anything else. It also will determine if you really should build
your own PC or buy a pre-built system. If what you want is the best
PC for the money you intend to invest, do not believe that building
your own is always cheaper.
Now, I said that so you will be warned because if you set a budget
for your new PC… be realistic. Also, be realistic about what it is
you are going to build. It has been a few years now since I spent
some time with you, explaining the simple ease of building your own
PC. This is no great secret, just a lot of terminology that would
make an expert wonder about his ability to build a new PC. So, we
are going to cut right through all that nonsense, while building a
new server for my home network.
First the core component: the CPU
I am going to need is to decide first of all on what I am using this
PC to accomplish. That has already been said… it is my server. But,
what will it serve on the network? In my case it will supply loads
of hard drive space, it will be the primary print server, it will be
the primary CD/DVD writer and finally it will be the primary
download of files system on my network. Sounds like a lot of work
for one PC, right? Not really. Basically, I am off-loading many
system resource intensive tasks from my client machine and the four
other client machines on the network, though two client machines
belong to my sons. They are now 10 & 13 years old and each has had a
PC since he was 2 years old. Right now they are using PIII-900
systems with 512mg ram and 60gig hard drives. As you can imagine,
they do a lot of downloading on their own. They also have a
Microsoft X-Box on the network, but that device will have no effect
on the server.
So, we know now what I am going to use this system to achieve. Now,
I start by choosing my most key component, the CPU. Personally, I
found that the Pentium4 – 2.8gig chip is the most cost effective of
the Intel chips, the most punch for the dollars invested. But, I
have a special need for true multitasking of the processor, so I
have decided to go with a 3.4ghz Intel Pentium4 800mhz with 1mg
cache. This processor is going to require the 775 chipset and will
give my server the most utility. Let me explain what all this
information about the CPU means:
3.4ghz Intel Pentium4 800mhz 1mg cache
- 3.4ghz = speed the CPU processes data 3.4gigahertz or
- Intel = the manufacturer of the CPU
- Pentium4 = the generation of the CPU, the fourth
generation of Pentium
- 800mhz = this is the FSB or Front Side Bus. This is the
data path between the CPU and the Ram memory.
- 1mg cache = this is L2 cache or level 2 cache. When
data is read by the CPU it first stores it in the Ram memory, then
it passes through the L2 cache memory built into the CPU, then the
L1 cache memory before being processed. When the processor looks
to read the next data on the hard drive, it reads first through
the L1 cache on the CPU which is very small, (typically
32kilobytes), then it looks through the L2 cache which in this
case has the last 1meg of data transferred to the processor, now
on to the Ram memory and finally onto the hard drive. The closer
the CPU finds the data the faster it can process… so, if you have
the last 1meg of data in the L2 cache and the processor can find
some of what it needs, the whole process speeds up dramatically.
It is important to first choose the CPU. This gives us a clear
understanding of the requirements for our motherboard. Once the CPU
and motherboard are chosen, then it is simple to choose our memory,
case and other components required.
The motherboard choice was at one time a small decision due to the
few companies who built quality motherboards and the limited range
available for different CPUs. I should mention at this time that I
am very bigoted against AMD processors. It is an old hold over for
me from the early Pentium days. AMD processors were my bane. I
cannot remember how many simply fried in the motherboard and I never
overclock CPUs. So, I only use Intel products. Does that limit me in
the face of Athlon and Sempron AMD processors? Possibly. But, when I
install an Intel Pentium4 CPU, I almost never have lost one to heat.
But, I digress. I have over the years been drawn to different
brands of motherboards based on quality and price. In the days of
the first Pentium CPUs I exclusively used Tyan for my personal
systems, then I moved to ABIT motherboards and then onto Intel
motherboards. Today, all six of the systems in my home have ASUS
motherboards. I have used ASUS of and on for clients for a long
time. I have come to appreciate ASUS brand above all others,
trusting them to work every time and never finding a DOA board at
installation or losing one to heat later on.
During the recent years, Motherboard companies experimented with
installing many of the components on the motherboard. Some of the
early efforts were flawed. Then if you lost sound or network, you
either replaced the motherboard or added a card to solve the
problem. Today, I have found motherboards with numerous onboard
components to be very cost effective and rarely a failure point. I
like a board with sound, network adaptor, video and even raid
That is why I decided on the ASUS P5AD2 motherboard, actually
P5AD2 Deluxe motherboard. Now, not to confuse this with the Premium
version of this board, since the Premium version has two Network
adaptors and the Deluxe version has but one... It will supply not only sound, but also a
1,000Mgb network adaptor and 4 USB ports. It will allow me the use
of four (4) SATA hard drive ports and four (4) UltraDMA ATA
66/100/133 drive ports. I will need these for the setup I have in
mind. It also has two(2) PCI Express slots, but I have no interest
in these, but it does have a Video Express PCI 16X slot. Since I
intend to use a high-end video card and an ATI TV card, this should
give me the best of both worlds.
I always find it simple to make the decision about the Ram I am
going to use by going to
www.Cruicial.com and using their ram configuration form. I had
decided that this PC as a server would not be doing anything ram
intensive, like a web caching server. It will be processing original
DVDs and copying CDs and DVDs, but that does not take a lot of ram.
Therefore, I decided on ram modules of DDR2 / PC2-533, four (4) 512
megabyte SDRAM, 240pin DIMMS.
Case and Power Supply
Now, I am ready to make a choice about a case. I have built PCs with
rackmount cases, mini/mid/full tower cases, desktop cases and even
one in a cube case. Rackmount cases are for companies who intend to
have more than a couple of servers. Rackmounts cases allow you to
either use cabinets or telco racks, (telco racks are a bit like two
large pieces of steel standing straight up and down, with the
rackmount case suspended between them… this is the most economical
manner to mount rackmount cases). Rackmounts allow you to put from 8
to 40 computers in a vertical row, depending on the size of the
case. Anyway, I digress since I intend to use a full tower case. Why
a full tower? Simple. I intend to mount two hard drives initially
and four CD/DVD drives in the system. Although I probably could make
due with a mid tower, (they often have four 5 ˝” bays and two hard
drive bays), this server would be cramped inside and there would be
no room for expansion in the future. Personally, I like several
brands of cases based on utility, such as Inwin or Enlight. I am not
a person who buys into the new craze of case mods, like windows,
lights, fancy fans and more. My systems typically sit out of sight
and case mods make no sense. I have decided for this particular
server to go with the Inwin Q-500 case and a PC Power and Cooling
Turbo-Cool 510 Express power supply. I chose the Inwin case because
it has five (5) 5 ˝” external bays for CD/DVD drives and five (5)
internal hard drive bays. The power supply was also based on
providing lots of available connectors, with six (6) SATA connectors
and nine (9) standard 12 volt 4pin connectors, as well as the
required Pentium4 4pin motherboard connector. I should also mention
that PC Power and Cooling are the quietest and most dependable power
supplies, but I may be biased. They are expensive, but I believe
worth the cost.
Here I ran into a bit of a quandary. I want to have TV input into
the server so that it can do video capture from television. The
problem is finding a card like the ATI All-in-Wonder card for the
PCI Express 16X slot. No such card exists as of this writing. That
leaves me with a second option, adding two cards to the system: a
PCI Express 16X video card and a PCI TV-In card. Let's be honest
here, the primary reason for my choice of video card is price, as
inexpensive as possible, yet one that is functional with my TV card.
First I choose the ATI TV Wonder Pro card to handle the
television-in side of my multimedia. Since the video card must mate
to the television-in card, it is always best to choose the TV card
first since there is a vast choice of video cards and a limited
choice of TV cards.
ATI TV Wonder Pro
This is not a difficult choice for me. First, I know I am going with
Serial ATA drives or SATA. There are numerous quality manufacturers,
that gives me a wide range of options to check around for the best
prices on the Internet. I found three (3) Seagate SATA
250gigabytes drives for a very reasonable price. That gives me 750
gigabytes of hard drive storage.
The first thing to do is prepare the case. Most cases have a cover
that is a single unit covering the sides and top. A few screws
either in the front or rear, and off it pops. I choose the
InWin Q-500 case and it is different. This case has two side
panels that are held in place by two screws each on the rear of the
case. I remove the screws and slide off both of the side
panels. Then I removed the top panel also.
Okay, this step is real easy. I slid the power supply into
the case and aligned it into the back plane. The back plane
has a large rectangular opening where the power supply fits, with a
notch for the power-in plug... so alignment is real obvious.
This power supply secures into place with four screws... I
mention this since SFX cases use a special power supply that mounts
with three screws. But, that does not apply to a standard ATX
power supply I am using in this case.
Next, I removed three screws on the back plane of the case and the
base plane will slide out to install the motherboard. This is
handy so I am not struggling with my big hands inside the case.
This is a step that many disagree with me, even some of the
motherboard manufacturers. But, I like to install as many of
the screw stand-offs as I can. Tyan motherboards has for a
long time recommended that you only install one and populate the
remaining screw holes in the motherboard or MB with plastic
stand-offs, but that leaves the MB to slide around more than I like.
It is fairly universal that each motherboard has four mounting holes
in the back and three in the front. They are easily
distinguished by the metal around the hole that is used as a ground
for the MB. You can also lay the motherboard on the mounting
plane of the case. You will see the holes align with seven
threaded holes in mounting plane of the MB. I am putting a
threaded standoff in each hole.
I need to decide on the cover plate for the back
plane to align with the MB output/input connectors. The InWin
case comes with three different plates.
I am using the plate #3 above since it best fits the
motherboard. The plate simply snaps into place in the back
plane of the case.
The next step is to place the motherboard in the
case, on top of the standoffs. Using the appropriate screws
that accompany the case you can now fasten the motherboard into
We have our motherboard securely in place and it is
time now to install the CPU. Note the socket above and you
will realize that this motherboard uses something new, the LGA 775
socket. It is highly recommended by Intel that these CPUs be
professionally installed. That is because to-date Intel is
experiencing over 20% failure of these CPUs and it is in nearly
every case caused by bent pins on the CPU. If you are
concerned about this CPU, I recommend that you buy a CPU and
motherboard combination. Basically, the seller is installing
the CPU for you and for a small charge they test it to be sure it
works. But, if you are confident then I will explain the
install process, since I have installed numerous of these so far.
INSTALLING THE RAM MODULES
We are nearly ready to test our system. But, first we need to
install the ram memory and the video card. The ASUS P5AD2
motherboard has dual channel memory which is notable due to the four
ram slots divided into two sets, each set having first a colored
slot and a black slot. Each set is a different ram channel, so
if you have two or more ram modules, populate the colored slots
first, then the black slots. This allows for the motherboard
to take better advantage of the hyper-threading of our CPU. In
the case of this system, the good people at Micron have supplied me
with four (4) 512mg DDR2/PC2-533 SDRAM, 240pin DIMMS. This
allows me to populate all the slots equally for a total of two (2)
gigabytes of ram or one (1) gigabyte per channel. I highly
recommend buying two or four modules versus one module for the total
amount of ram you intend.
Installing the ram is rather simple, just be sure the locks on
each end of the ram slot are pressed back into the open state.
Slide the ram module straight down into the slot with even pressure.
The locks will close against each end when the module is fully in
place. You will notice the notch in the bottom of the
module... this is an alignment point. This notch will
only allow the module to be seated in one direction.
Now, before I start to get a lot of questions about
mixed ram in a Dual Channel motherboard, let me say this...
Dual-Channel Symmetric/Asymmetric mode will be
enabled even with different speeds of DDR2 installed. Intel
925X/915P chipset will automatically take the speed of the lower
frequency of the two DIMMs and downgrade the DIMM with higher
frequency to that frequency. (Example: DDR2 533 + DDR2 400 =
Dual-Channel at DDR2 400 speed ; DDR2 600 + DDR2 533 = Dual-Channel
at DDR2 533 speed).
Earlier I explained the reasons for my choice of video cards and
I have installed two cards to achieve all my ultimate goals.
One is the primary video display card and the other is a Television
in card that will allow me to play and capture television programs.
But, before we install the television card we are going to install
primary video card to begin. Remember this is a server and not
a PC that is intended to play games or other high-end graphics
options. That is why I am going to use an economical video
card, the Sapphire Radeon X300 SE 128MB DDR PCI-Express card.
I choose this card because it uses the ATI chipset,
so it will be an excellent mate to the TV card. The
motherboard has a special slot for this card, the first slot or the
slot closest to the CPU and Ram memory. This is the PCI
Express video slot on our motherboard, but it is also the position
for a AGP video slot if your motherboard is not equipt with PCI
When installing any I/O card, (in and out), be
careful handling the card, grasping it by the edges when ever
possible. You simply press the card into the slot, trying not
to use too much pressure since extreme pressure can cause damage to
the motherboard or the card. If the card does not easily press
into the slot, be sure the card and the slot match...
that the opening corresponds to the pin structure of the card.
It is rare that a card does not easily press into a proper slot for
installing a card in a new case, often you will find that the back
plane of the case has openings for the cards, yet the openings still
have metal pieces in the openings. Simply press on the metal
piece and you will find it is only attached on one side. Just
bend the piece back and forth until it gives way. If you
remove a piece and discover that you do not have a card that fits
into that slot, you can use filler pieces that are always included
in the case mounting kit, (screws, standoffs, cover-plates and so
Now is the time we find out if everything we have done so
far was right and if the basic components are all functional.
First I turn the PC up on its bottom or stand, plug in a monitor to
the video card and attach the power supply cord to an electrical
outlet. Then, we press the 'ON' button on the face of the case
and the PC will begin the Post phase. This is the first phase
of startup where the Bios begins to check the CMOS settings to the
hardware it detects. Usually, you will see it do a quick
memory test, then it tests the hard drives and any other IDE devices
attached. It will then move onto a block display screen of the
PC's hardware and at this point it will stop with an error message,
(after all we do not have any drives connected to provide an
Actually, this is the most important point in
building your first PC. If it came alive and the monitor began
to display data, as described above, all is well. If in fact,
the monitor remains dark, you have a problem and it is time for
Click Here for
Trouble Shooting System First Power-On
If your system powered up fine, then it is time to
move on to the second half of this tutorial:
Click Here for Part