Monday, October 31, 2011

Brought to life on Halloween

Now that it's (almost) complete, I've been wondering if it was a really good idea to bring a new machine to life on Halloween.

It is a night when all sorts of weird things are supposed to come out to play. Oh hell, maybe this is the best night of the year. All the gremlins will be out on the town instead of waiting to creep inside a machine as you build it.

By this point you're wondering : What's he been up to? While my laptop is almost 2 years old now (and starting to feel its age, aka it needs a dustbusting) my main desktop PC was built in April 2006. Even with a graphics upgrade along the way, that's Oooold for a games box. What have I got ?

Cpu - was Athlon X2-3800+ (dual core 2GHz + tricks) to Intel i5-2500K (quad core 3.3GHz +)
Graphcs - was ATi X4850, now nVidia 560Ti (overclocked)
Memory - was 2GB, now 8GB
Storage - was 74GB + 250GB, now 60GB solid state + the 250GB which I'm robbing
Motherboard - was Asus, now Asrock
And the rest is fairly generic : Thermaltake V3Black case, Corsair 600W power supply, Samsung blu-ray drive, Zalman cooler and Windows 7 Home Ed

I've been building my PCs for years and it's always guaranteed lost skin from somewhere. This time, I don't think I've lost any skin (decent case design) but it's definitely broken one build theme : Software install usually takes ages, hardware build not so much. Here's the timeline :

Build start - 17.49 as I have the PC box out of its packaging and I'm looking at the power supply.
Power supply is in at 17.59 after a fight with the case.

The Thermaltake case holds the power supply in quite tightly but has something you need to unscrew to get it in that tight. The instructions supplied with the case are utterly inadequate. As in : "Place the power supply in proper location and secure it with screws." Nothing about unscrewing the widget. And that theme continues with the rest of the build, lots of "ok, how's that supposed to work" when putting things in the case. A shame too, as the build quality of the case is pretty good. I'd like things a little different (the top is riveted on, cutting access) but it'll be a very solid case that will not rattle.

Ok - next is the hard disc, which took 15 minutes to figure out where to put it. More rubbish instructions. It lives on the bottom of the case. It'll be joined by another one later from my old box. Plan A was to get a conventional 1TB hard disc, which is plenty of space. However ... there's been floods around the factories that make hard discs and the prices have hit the roof. A 1TB drive would have cost me £45 a fortnight ago. Last week that was £65, now that drive is £95 and rising. So I went Plan B, which incidentally gets me a quicker machine :

Plan B : steal 250GB hard disc from old machine. Buy 60GB solid state drive (SSD). The difference with the SSD is that instead of taking 1/1000ths of seconds to find Stuff on the drive including moving an arm over to it, the SSD takes under 1/1000th of a second. (Thought it was quicker). As well as the latency being better, the SSD can read many parts of itself at once, which a conventional hard disc can't do. They're just a lot faster. Anyway, 40GB for Windows, 20GB for what's called SSD caching where it will make a bigger conventional drive much quicker.

What's next ? Blu-ray player didn't take long, just 4 minutes. The case has a quick release mechanism here, one for 5.25" drives and 2 for 3.5" internal drives. I then rearranged the power cables a little to get them out of the way for the motherboard to come in.

To make it easier, it's best to put all components into the mainboard before you put that into the case when you have lots of access to all the plugs. Better before, rather than after when you need Tiny Fingers for Tiny Plugs.

Here's where the headaches start. To make chips quicker, they have to make them smaller. There's no pins on the Intel i7 2nd Gen chip, just pads on the bottom. This is held in the socket by something that in no way can be called "Zero Insertion Force". Around the socket goes the heatsink arrangement. There's a plastic surround which bolts on to the mainboard. Mistake 1 was to put the surround on before putting in the cpu. Oops. Nothing broken. I left the rest of the heatsink for a little later.

Memory went in at 18.50, this is easy as it is push-fit. One issue is that my memory comes with heatsinks which protrude upwards a bit. The memory heatsinks almost clash with the cpu heatsink and let to me moving them to the other 2 sockets. (4 sockets, 2 used, 2 spare).

The cpu heatsink I've used is a Zalman CNPS10X Extreme. "Extreme" is no exaggeration, this thing is HUGE weighing in at 920grammes. With domestic fans, bigger is better to a huge degree, as a bigger fan can be run slower. A slow big fan is much quieter than a quick small fan. Installation of these is "interesting" though. There's a bracket that needs to be "just so" before you can tighten it down. That took some adjusting ...

Next step - putting the motherboard in the case. Interesting Times for sure. The Thermaltake case comes with its own spacers for holding the board away from all the conductive case stuff. That mostly works but it took a little swearing and poking to get the board aligned with the screw holes. Board finished going in at 19.52.

Graphics was next. My budget is decent but still modest. I've put money into cpu this time with graphics being "average" instead of "amazing". I've got a Gigabyte GeForce 560Ti card, factory overclocked to 900MHz (10% faster than normal). Curious to see how Shiny that will be. By this point, I was ignoring the case manual which made putting this card in much simpler.

Graphics in at 20.00, side of case on at 20.02, with Squeaky Bum Time (first power up) coming shortly after. Another difference this time is that I could hook it up to the telly, so an opportunity to test in the open before committing it to its hidey-hole. (I need to move the sofa to easily get at the hidey-hole).

From here on, it's almost without incident (eerily). First power up went with no hitches at 20.12. I had a good check of the BIOS (the bit that runs the machine behind Windows) to make sure things were configured ok. This is also a good time in a build to go to "Hardware Monitoring" and keep an eye on the temperatures. It doesn't give "in the green" but stable idle temps of 30 degrees C are Good. You don't want that going up much, it means the heatsink isn't doing its job.

I started off loading Windows 7 at 20.17 and the surprising thing is that it only took 23 minutes from starting to being able to see the internet on the machine. Bit less time to get a Windows screen up but it needed to be told how to see the net.

I decided to call a halt after a bit more temperature monitoring. Was getting hungry and could no longer focus-ignore that ... I'll reconvene tomorrow after moving the hard disc across to the new machine. Then I can see how Shiny the graphics will be.

How about the name ? I went for a Halloween theme name there : "Pumpkin". Although my mind is now thinking along the lines of "Frankenstein" or "Horrifido".

1 comment:

  1. 6 months after comments :

    Thermaltake case - I wouldn't get another. The feet fall off if you try to slide the case along the ground.
    SSD - is an essential item, it increases smoothness no end.
    Bluray drive - don't bother. Copyprotect paranoia means you can't take screenshots and I doubt bluray data will become a big thing for PCs.

    It's been 99% stable, with only a couple of "grr-crash" dropouts. Battlefield 3 wouldn't run but that's either overclocked graphics or incompatibility with sound. If just one game has stability problems, I'm included to blame bad software.

    I haven't overclocked the machine but with max temps of 52degrees C for cpu on load in the summer and 62degrees C for the graphics, I reckon it could go past 4GHz easy. But as I don't intend to burn the machine out any time soon ... Overclocking is not something I'm going to do.


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