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    Building a New PC (2004-2005)


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 3,400megahertz
  • 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.

Motherboard
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 onboard.

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.

Ram Memory
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.

Video Cards
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

Hard Drives
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.




Assembling the PC

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 place.

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.

 

Open socket lever by pushing lever down and away from socket (A). Lift lever (B).
Open load plate (C).  Do not touch Socket contacts (D) under any circumstances.
Remove protective cover (E) from load plate.  Do not discard protective cover in case you need to remove the CPU.  This socket must always be covered with either the cover plate or a CPU.
Remove processor from protective cover.  Hold the processor only by the edges and never touch the bottom of the processor.  Also do not discard the processor cover in case you need to remove the CPU.  You will need it to protect the CPU.
I cannot tell you strong enough NOT to touch the bottom of the processor or the inside of the socket.  They can be easily damaged by just your finger touching them.
Hold processor with thumb and index fingers oriented as shown.  Ensure fingers align to socket cutouts (F).

Align notches (G) with Socket (H).  Lower processor straight down.  DO NOT SLIDE OR TILT THE PROCESSOR, as doing so will bend the pins.  This is the most delicate part of the installation.

Close load plate.

Pressing down on load plate (I) close and engage socket lever (J).

If you have been careful and followed the instructions, your CPU has been installed.

Place the fan on the motherboard, aligning the fasteners with the holes. 

Be careful not to damage the heatsink material on the bottom of the fan/heatsink during this process.

 

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).

Video Card
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 Express.

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 the card.

NOTE: When 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 forth).

First Test
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 operating system).

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 troubleshooting. 

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 Two

 




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