Sunday, 22 May 2011

Another PC build...

This is not so much about games today as I am in a bit of a lull with new games to play. I know gamers out there will wonder what I am talking about though, given the fresh set of releases this last month. Brink, L.A.Noire, Duke Nukem Forever... ohh wait that was delayed again. But anyway I have that on pre-purchase so will be aiming for a post-release review of that one.

I have been a little busy with other stuff, however, and right now this is one of the things I have been working on. Another rebuild of my old PC.

This one has been an adventure, and a couple of things have happened since my last blog on system building. The brief of the last blog is this.

  • Wanted to rebuild an old Compaq desktop I am using as a media server.
  • I spoke about the huge games machine I built the year before to replace it.
  • I have USB on my TV and am currently moving new media files from the PC upstairs via network on my laptop.
  • Wanted to find a better way, hopefully with wifi NAS system.
  • Upgrading the games rig to Win 7 and maybe using it on the media rebuild too.
  • The Win 7 family upgrade packs were no longer available to buy for 3 users
So what have I been doing since then?

First I addressed my needs for Win 7 when I saw on the website for PC World that they were back in stock, and not only that but they were on a special offer you can get by reserving the software to buy in a store. Instead of costing £159, I could reserve it for £113. This was a hell of a bargain, and given my wondering if I should go with a single upgrade version for about £90 and then buy a full version for about £120 for the new PC, this works out a hell of a lot better. They are only upgrade licences, but I did mention my having a second copy of Windows XP 64 pro I could put on the PC when I rebuild it. So I can use one of them upgrades on that once installed and established. I have already used the other on my gaming PC so this is now all up to date and I am much happier.

Next I looked at the USB hard drive connection to a TV by going with one of the suggestions I had in my last blog about the Seagate GoFlex range of hard drives. Again, this was on an offer online for a 2tb desktop version, which I would need since the TV cannot kick out enough power to work with a portable drive. The GoFlex range have interchangeable dock connections you can buy on their own for about £13 each. They can be firewire, USB 3.0 and 2.0, ESATA and so on. And they also do a network attach dock with ethernet. Sadly they do not do a wifi version with a USB output which would be ultimately the best option. I could have the disk caddy mounted to it on the TV stand, connected via USB to the TV and accessible via Wifi using auto backup software with the media PC... with me so far?

Still the system here is a little easier than before, but it means I should just take the caddy up to the media PC where a spare dock would be plugged in at all times, mount it and move stuff over to it. It still means I have to do most of it manually but at least I will not have to reach around behind the TV and the PC to disconnect and reconnect and so on when I want to do it.

So, this is now all set and I will always keep an eye on stuff as I need.

Next, onto the PC.

I have found a small problem with the old desktop now as its age continues to roll on week by week. It has issues running HD media without stuttering now. Not to mention it has become more and more buggy. I installed a 1tb internal drive to expand the storage after a friend gave me 500gb (almost) of Anime on my portable external drive. No way the two 160gb disks will take those and another issue was the external drive came back to me unable to connect to the desktop. Nothing I could do would get it to communicate so I had to use my large desktop to access it and move the files once I got the bigger hard drive in the media PC.

A myriad of other glitches and issues like not being able to move and delete some folders that the PC thought were in use but clearly were not etc forced me to look at replacing the software quicker than the hardware. And the license issue I mention in my last blog would make this difficult so I looked at other solutions in the form of Ubuntu. I won't go into some kind of mini-review of Ubuntu and I am not really the kind of person to review it separate to this either, so I will just say to anyone wondering what it is like to burn themselves a live CD on their site and give it a try without needing to install it. It might be your cup of tea, but for me it was just a stop gap. Though as I used it more, happy that some of the issue I had in the old XP were fixed again, I did find issues with the drivers for Nvidia on my existing card and outputting to the TV via the DVI>HDMI adapter I was using. It never worked well at the best of times but to get it to output to the TV as a primary display and give me the right resolution options I had to disable the extra TFT monitor I have plugged in, purely as an emergency measure whenever the TV fails to work with the PC.

Now, keep this in mind as I go on a little...

I researched new hardware, and I did say I would maybe look for an i7 but have realised for what I want this PC to do I don;t need it. I also had a consultation with a friend who suggested I did not need a dedicated gfx card with HDMI and should make use of the iCore series' HD graphics processor on the motherboard. For this I needed a motherboard with dedicated HDMI, in the form of an Intel H55 board (has onboard HDMI, which the P55 boards don't), and only really needed an Intel i3, so I selected the i3-560 and the Intel Hunter Cove DH55HC board. I would also need to replace the old and weaker power supply and the board is DD3 memory, while my old memory is DDR. So I got a pack of 2 2gb sticks and a 500w PSU, both from Corsair.

Take 1
And so it began early last week, but before I got anything else of the packaging, a thought hit me. I remember being told, once, by someone I worked with that Compaq did not use a standard case and that some normal PSUs do not fit the cases. So I unbox my PSU and measure it up before I take anything apart and am happy to see it does fit. Next I had a thought that my old DVD drive will not be SATA and might be IDE... and sure enough it was. Does the new board have IDE? Of course not. This does me no favours, as I cannot install the driver disks for the new board, and my last PC build to make the games PC taught me something about this when putting my new board into the PC with the old hard drive. It wiped the drivers for the old hardware, but could not install the new ones, and left the PC in a half-installed state that was essentially useless without a reinstall of windows after putting the original hardware back as it was. I wanted to avoid this if I could, especially since I was switching from AMD to Intel here. Maybe I had nothing to worry about in this instance since it is a slightly different situation to the last time so if anyone knows if this would not have caused an issue, then please let me know. But I still would not have been able to install anything at all driver wise, so it would have been largely useless even if I could get it to boot to the OS.

So, take 1 of the PC build was halted there until I got a new optical drive. I had planned this to be a later upgrade and invest in a BluRay player, and they are not very expensive for internal desktops now. You can get them for around £70 but I would have rather kept that in my pocket for now and get the basic principals up and running.

So I stick the PC side plate back on and box up the PSU and go to connect it back to the TV and TFT. I power it up and the TV refuses to connect to it again. Well guess I have to fiddle with the strange Ubuntu settings for the displays and see if I can remember how to get it working again. Only issue is the TFT was not working either. I pulled out a spare, not really expecting that the old one was conveniently faulty, and sure enough this one did not work either. If you remember I had told Ubunto to disable the TFT output to get the TV one working at the right resolutions. Seems Ubuntu cannot re-enable it on plug and play like Windows would. I had even planned on keeping Ubuntu on the PC after the rebuild, since I was happy with it. This has now changed my mind as the only means I have to access the PC is using the live CD method I linked earlier, but I cannot edit the settings in that mode since it is not the actual install shell, or I could just reinstall the whole thing. Given it would take me most of my evening to do so, only to take the PC apart again and install windows anyway, I did not see the point and left it alone until I got my new optical drive, which I had already ordered by now. But see below for more details.

Take 2
With the bit between my teeth and my holiday week from work ticking down and time shortening, I made the splash and ordered a BluRay drive from Samsung on overnight delivery from Ebuyer. It was on special offer too, at £40, and has a faster read speed than the more expensive LG one. It came the next morning which I had hoped to have a long sleep in bed for but what the hell. As always you never know if a delivery will come at 8am or not, and getting up at 7:30 to make sure I am awake means only one thing. The delivery will not be until about 11am. Still, once it arrived I started tearing into the guts of my old PC finally and removing everything I will not need. After about 20 mins of careful gutting, I had done and unpacked the motherboard first. With Intel processors and boards, the heatsinks are connected by a backplate that screws onto the board when you are attaching the heatsink over the CUP. As opposed to an AMD which you screw the plate on first before putting the motherboard into the case, and then you can put the board in before attaching anything else as the heatsinks clip onto this back plate. Why am I telling you this? Because this was on my mind to check first before putting in the board so I don't make a mess and have to start again. However as I take the board out of the antistatic sheath, it looks a little long to me.

I measure it up and realise the case is not tall enough to accommodate the board. It is not a mini or micro ATX case, and the board I took out is an ATX board. Or so I thought.It is a non-standard ATX form and the case was made to measure for it. This is the old Compaq issue I had been told about and it seems the problem is the motherboard, not the PSU. So this is the end of Take 2 and I left it again. Back online I go to look for a new case.

Take 3
I found a case, the Xigmatek Asgard black tower that seemed from the screenshots to have the space for the new board. It was also a tool-less system like my Coolermaster case, though much smaller, so installing a lot of the components would be easier than the old Compaq case. Still, having had to go to these lengths by now I cannot help but think I would have been better planning an entire full build to begin with and my plan to reuse the case I have and upgrade the optical drive later has not worked out well so far. I did not want this to be delivered again, and would have had to wait until Monday by now since it was Saturday when I started looking for the case. So I found it at PC World and reserved it online to find the shop with the stock. The local branch where I work has stopped selling system cases now so it was only in the larger branch. And I could have that long lie in bed I wanted as well.

So today, I head out to get the case and bring it home, grabbing a late breakfast on the way in. I measure it all up and get my stuff ready to install and, as soon as I put the motherboard in, I realise one more problem... there is no system fan on the back of the case. This is essential as without it the PC could overheat as I run the bench test. (Which is where I only have the basics powered up, connected to a monitor, and watch the heat settings in the bios) So, naturally, I now need a fan for the case since my old case's fan is only an 80mm fan, and the screw mounts do not go that small.

So this is as far as I have made it, which is not a great deal of progress other than further having to empty my wallet further.

Don't get me wrong here, despite all the issues I have had so far I do like building my own systems, and I have spent about £100 less than it would cost to by a pre-made unit of the same spec anyway even with the surprise purchases of the optical drive, case and now case fans. So it is still a good thing in a way. And I get to configure my own hardware and know it more intimately inside and out when it comes to upgrading in the future.

I expect later this week to get the fans, once I return to work, and will finally be up and running. So to just look ahead for a bit, this is what I have to do. Install the motherboard, connect the CPU and heat transfer paste, connect the heatsink (and the new case has a second panel I can open on the back side where I can access the backplate, making installing the heatsink a little easier as I can fix in the board first). I then connect in the PSU, and install one of the two RAM sticks and do a boot test. If it works, I remove it and try the other stick and test again. Ensuring both work, I put both back in on the primary channel, and run the PC on the bios without anything else connected and monitor the heat settings for an hour or two. Finally I connect the optical drive, bot test again, connect the system disk, boot test and then reboot with the Windows install disk inside. Install my old version of XP 64 pro first, install the board driver disks for things like ethernet drivers and graphics. Then finally, after activating the XP license I run the Win 7 upgrade disk, activate it and ensure it is all up to date.

This is a long job, and takes most of the day to make the PC usable while making sure nothing is wrong with the hardware.

Anyway, the real test after it is built is to connect the HDMI and see what it does. It should see the TV right away and swap displays without any drama, as well as carry the audio as well.

So, wish me luck people.

1 comment:

  1. Luck! You have your work cut out for you. :)