Sunday, July 20, 2008

Building my Windows Vista Ultimate machine

***Not related to mobility or in fact anything else technical but I'd thought I'd post my experience here for any hardware geek readers out there! :)

I decided recently to build a Windows Vista machine to use on my network LAN at home and I thought I'd share my experiences here. This should have been a fairly simple task but turned out to be a bit of a nightmare but I finally got through it..... in the end.

The spec of this machine is as follows:

Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-P35-DQ6 (New Intel P35 chipset)
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E8200 2.66GHz (45nm) (not overclocked, not yet anyway)
Memory: Corsair 2GB DDR2 800 MHz/PC2-6400 XMS2 Non-ECC
HDD: Samsung Spinpoint 500GB
CD/DVD Drive: HP 1040d
Case: Coolermaster Elite 330 with Coolermaster eXtreme Power 460w PSU
Monitor: Samsung SyncMaster 2032BW (20" LCD)
Wireless: Netgear WG311T 108mbps Wireless PCI
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 8500 (512mb)
Sound: On board 8 channel (not bad at all for on-board)
Keyboard: KeySonic 2.4Ghz Wireless Compact Keyboard with Integrated Touchpad
Mouse: Acme laser something....need to get a decent mouse.
Web cam: Microsoft LifeCam 6000
Media Centre Support: Microsoft OEM Media Centre Remote Control (for controlling Media Centrer Extender - XBox 360)
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit SP1

The good the bad and the ugly:

1. Ugly: The first thing was to check the monitor didn't have any dead pixels. So I simply hooked this upto my ancient laptop, luckily the ancient laptop has a VGA port and the cool Samsung supports VGA! Now did the monitor have any dead pixels,Guess what, it did. This is unusal for Samsung, they have a zero dead pixel policy even though PC World told me otherwise! Having said this PC world replaced the deal pixel monitor with no problems.

2. Ugly: When the last component arrived from ebuyer the Coolermaster Elite 330 with the processor I was finally ready to build this machine. After several hours of putting it all together it failed to boot, just wouldn't turn on. I figured it might be a lack of power because the board is a bit of a beast. So I hooked up the additional 2x4 12v power connector in hope the board will have enough power from the PSU. And it turned on! but it just kept on rebooting. You could hear the HDD kick in, fans etc and before any output was displayed on the screen it would reboot as if it was in an endless loop.

After a bit of diagnostics, I found out there was a CMOS checksum error, so I decided to try and short (reset) the CMOS to see if that fixed the problem. It didn't, sadly. The motherboard was then sent back to the supplier for repair as I bought this motherboard more than 6 months earlier I didn't get a new one. I just hadn't had the time to built it.

The fixed motherboard arrived while I was away around 2 weeks later so I was quite excited that I might have a working board and moments away from a running system as these days building PC's is much easier than they used to be. So lets start again!

The board waiting to be unpacked.

It's a very nice looking board.

1. In the picture above, I've added the CPU and the memory (memory in dual mode as the board supports it). The stock fan was very difficult to install. Today these fans come with these springy type mounts that click into place. They no longer just stick onto of the CPU as they need very tight contact with the CPU to disperse as much heat as possible - multi-core CPUs run very hot. Getting all mounts through the motherboard was quite a task! You also need some conducting lube to help with heat flow.

The case with the side off, ready for the board to be inserted

The case comes with a 120mm stock fan to draw heat from the CPU. It doesn't have any BIOS regulator as it doesn't connect to the motherboard so there is no way to control the speed of it. This is unlike the CPU fan. All we have to do is hook it up to one of the power cables.

The 120mm fan extracing heat from the CPU and the north bridge

We do not have to install the PSU as it comes pre-installed.

2. Before we insert the board we will need to install the HDD so it makes it easier to get it in before we install the motherboard.

This case (Coolermaster Elite 330) contains the quick release drive sockets so we do not have to use a screwdriver - this feature I really liked. The case has another similar features for expansion cards. But to be honest, I used screws in addition to using the quick release gadget in the case as it didn't seem to secure the cards well enough in place for my likeing.

Samsung Spinpoint 500Gb HD501LJ

Hard drive installed

3. Now its time to install the CD ROM drive. Before we do this we need to prepare a bay for the drive to be installed.

The front of the case and the blank removed

The drive inserted - HP 1040d

The drive will not be flush against the case here, it will be flush againt the front of the case which is why it's sticking out a bit.

4. Now we need to hook up the IDE and power cables to the drive as it's an IDE drive.

5. Now we can install the motherboard into the case.

Board inserted

Now we have the board inserted. The GA-P35-DQ6 is an ATX board so just fits without the hard disk drive touching any part of the board.

6. Now its time to install the graphics card.

NVIDIA GeForce 8500 (512mb)

This graphics won't run a games like Crysis or COD4 on full graphics but I didn't build it for gaming, my xbox is for gaming.

Graphics installed into PCI-E x16 slot also the SATA HDD hooked up to the board

The case would support a much larger card such as the 8800 series without problems.

7. Now install the wireless NIC card.

Netgear WG311T

NIC card installed into the motherboard

8. Now we need to put the front of the case on.

9. We now need to install the external SATA blanking plate into the case and hook it up to the board. This enables us to plug in external HDD drives without somesort of caddy case.

The plate to install

The plate installed into the board

10. We will need to install additional USB ports. I do not have any photos of doing this but it's a simple case of installing a plate and screwing it into place and hooking it up to the motherboard.

11. There are a couple of finishing touches required to complete this build. Hooking up the USB the headphone and MIC ports available on the front of the case to the board. Note in the picture below, we have one spare 2.5" bay. This can either be a floppy drive, or a compact flash multiple support card reader which I will probebly buy as this feature would be very useful.

12. Hook up the monitor to the graphics card (DVI support).

The card also supports VGA and S-Video

You can see in the above picture the additional USB ports we installed. 12 in total!

The DVI cable in the back of the monitor

13. Bluetooth support. I will use my bluetooth card - a gift from Microsoft :) This is a simple case of plugging it into one of the spare USB ports.

14. Installing the webcam. Again this is a simple case of plugging it into a spare USB port.

Microsoft LifeCam 6000

And that is it. Finished. All that is required now is installation of all the software!

The finished article

Samsung SyncMaster 2032BW (20" LCD)

A couple of points to make. 2 GB of RAM is not enough. Vista sits idle using around 50% load on 2GB so as soon as you start hammering it, remote desktop sessions, Visual Studio etc the memory usage increases upto around 70% which is when Vista becomes a little unstable. I have ordered some more memory to cope with this.

The board supports dual memory too which helps on throughput. I don't recommend the KeySonic wireless 2.4 Ghz keyboard as it seems to disconnect on inactivity which then requires extra key presses to "wake it up".

The next machine I am building is a Windows Server 2008 box, I will post my experience of that here!

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