Friday, June 23, 2006

My New PC: Assembly

As is apparently the norm at Newegg, all of my parts arrived in two big boxes three days after I ordered them. Thanks Newegg!

I opened the box and inventoried everything to make sure it was complete, but I wasn't going to be able to work on anything until the weekend. So, I warned my son to be ready for an all day assembly on Sunday and put everything back in the boxes.

A long week later, it was finally Sunday morning. My son Ashton who is always up early chose this weekend to sleep in. Eager to get started, I finally decided that opening the Sonata II box and prepping the case was acceptable without Ashton, three minutes later that was done, now what... Finally, at 9:30, Ashon came up stairs, and said the magic words: "OK, I'm ready".

I opened the second box (with everything else in it), pulled out the grounding straps, and we were off.

The motherboard went in fine. It took a couple of minutes to line up the motherboard with the right holes in the Sonata II case. This was more difficult than it should have been because there was no map to indicate which holes needed the motherboard offsets for ATX motherboards (as opposed to micro ATX motherboards). Even so, it only took a minute to slide the motherboard in place and note which holes in the case aligned with the screw holes in the motherboard.

We quickly installed the offset anchors and then the motherboard. No problems. the crude instructions for the motherboard said the next step is to install the CPU. So, I started reading the details of CPU installation for an INTEL LGA775 motherboard. It's a very easy process, but it still pays to be comfortable with the instructions before you plug any of these expensive pieces together.

While I was reading this, Ashton had skipped ahead and was reading the Zalamn CPU fan installation instructions. As I pulled the protective cover off the CPU, Ashton uttered the dreaded words: "Uh Oh..." It seems that the Zalamn installs differently than the stock INTEL cooling fan. We need to install a plastic bracket underneath the motherboard.

Oh well, backtracking is expected with this kind of operation.

I slipped the CPU protective cover back on, and we quickly pulled pulled the motherboard back out. Sure enough, the Zalman requires that a plastic collar be instaled and screwed down before the motherboard is installed. This was not a documentation problem, just a consiequence of our switching CPU fans. OK, a couple of minutes later, the CPU FAN mounting bracket is on the motherboard, and the motherboard is back in place.

Now, back to the CPU. I carefully removed the protective cover again. Opened up the CPU socket, aligned the arrows on the cpu with the indicator on the cpu socket and dropped it in place. Cool, that was a lot easier than the last time I did this. It fit perfectly and all I had to do was drop the lever to lock the cpu into place.

OK, now, to mount the CPU fan. First, put the thermal paste on the CPU, and spread a very thin layer. OK, done.

Now the instructions say (paraphrased): place the cooler on top of the cpu and align the locking rocker arm. Firmly press down on the rocking arm and install the screws, alternate tightening the screws to insure even alignment.

OK problem: It isn't possible to hold the rocker in place on both sides. There just isn't enough room on the back side of the CPU socket.

OK, plan B. We removed the CPU fan, and put the backside screw in place and tightened it down about 1/4 of the way. We then very carefully slid the CPU fan mounting plate under the rocker and onto the top of the CPU. Now it became tough. The locking rocker arm is very stiff, but it has to be bent down to roughly where it will be when last screw is in place and is 1/4 of the way tightened. This takes considerable amount of force, and it is still very cramped. Holding the rocker arm in place, while starting the screw is tricky. It took about 5 minutes for the stars to align, but finally, the screw catches, and we are able to thread it far enough to start. Now we are back in line with the instructions, so a minute later, it's thoruoughly tightened down we are all set to go.

Next Step, insert the memory. No problems, it's a DIMM module. Lign up the slots, slide the memory in, press down carefully but firmly and lock the mounting brackets. Cool, 30 seconds, all done.

Now, to connect up the power supply to all of the various motherboard ports. There are a lot of them, and a few are confusing, but taking it slowly, we think we have them all. There are several extra power leads, but this is not a modular power supply, so there should be extras.

On to the case ports. USB Ports up first. No problem, the are clearly labeled, so match the cable to the motherboard port and hook them up. Now the SATA ports. No problem, they line up as well, 30 seconds, all done.

Now on to the case LEDs and Power Switch and Reset switch. No problem, the cables are all labeled, and the motherboard is labeld. So hook them up. No wait, these are not keyed cables, they are reversable. How do I know which way to align the text on the cable labels? No help in the doc for either the case or the motherboard.

OK, the last time I assembled a motherboard, the instuctions were to put the text facing out, so that they could be read after installed. So, lets try that. Snap, snap they are all on. These are very tighly packed, so it takes some fiddling to get them all on the right pins and seated properly, but a few minutes later, it looks right to us.

Same thing for the PC Audio connections. Match all of the leads, snap on the cables.

All done with the basic motherboard cabling. On to the Hard Disk. This is easy. Pull out the hard disk quick mounting rails (which have rubber grommets to help keep the hard disk quite). Screw the rails into the drive. slide the drive with the rails back in place. Very easy. I like the fact that the Sonata II mounts the internal drives facing the side of the case, rather than the front of the case. It makes mounting a bit easier.

Same thing for the Optical drive. Pull the rails, mount them on the drive, snap the drive back in place.

Now the cabling. SATA power and SATA connector to the hard disk. Other end of the SATA connector to the SATA port on the motherboard. Standard ATA calble to the motherboard and then to the optical drive. Power to the optical drive. Easy, 5 minutes total, the drives are in and cabled.

OK, now the monitor. Pull the monitor, mouse and keyboard off the old pc, and plug them all in.

Final check, everything in place, all cables out of the way. Check.

It's time to fire it up. Ashton plugged in the power cord and a green light on the motherboard lit up. Check.

I pressed the power button, and... a big fat nothing.

Crap, what could be wrong. Bad components? Could be, but we probably did something wrong.

What could it be? Oh year, remember the case power switch cable that we didn't know which way to mount. What if we reversed it. This one was a pain, its cramped and needs to be mounted with in a bank of pins with empty pins on both sides. A couple of minutes later the cable is reversed and we are ready to try again.

OK, fingers crossed. Press the power button, and it springs to life. the Zalman fan and its embedded LCDs kick on. Hurray!

Wait a second, Crap! The monitor is blank.

What could be wrong. We tried everything, powered up and down, tried a different LCD panel, tried the other graphics port on the VGA card.

Crap, Crap, Crap. Bad card? No, we've probably done something wrong. It's been two hours and its past lunch time now, so we get a sandwich and start reading the motherboard doc again while we eat.

Thirty minutes later HAH!!! There is mention of a +12V motherboard connector that I don't remember. Its a 4 pronged, square connector that is located right next to the CPU and above the PCI-E16 bank. Flashlight please... Sure enough it is not connected and it matches one of the spare cables from the power supply. Cool. Ashton has smaller hands and is more nimble (that teenage boy thing) so he volunteers to hook up the cable. It takes some fiddling, it's really tight between the Zalmann fan and the IO block but after some fiddling, he manges to get it in place.

Fingers crossed, I replug in the power. Motherboard green light is on. Press the power button.


The screen comes to life, the standard bios checks pass and it's up and running.

Total elapsed time about 3.5 hours. Total time wasted by missing the power connector, reversing the power switch cable and not mounting the fan support first: 1.25 hours. All in all, not bad. Good father and son project Ashtron saw that it is complicated but doable, and had to suffer through a few mistakes (some self imposed and some not) but in a relatively short period of time we have built a pc from raw components.

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