Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Buying and assembling the heart of the HTPC

Its been a up and down couple of days.

After being convinced that I would order my components online at the cheapest prices I could possibly find, discretion got the better part of valor and I visited the friendly PC shop on Yorke St in Sydney - Octagon Computers. I figured that for the savings of 20 or 30 dollars (by the time postage is factored in), I might need some help.

Anyway - on Tuesday I purchased the motherboard, CPU and 2 GB of DDR3 Corsair RAM. I had to work back that night, but got home at around 8.30 ish and carefully assembled it all in the case. A couple of things stood out.

Firstly, the CPU lever needs a fair bit of force to lever it back into position once the CPU is in place. I was concerned that it would crush all of the fine pins.

Secondly, the CPU manual talked about smearing 'thermal paste' onto the top of the CPU, presumably to conduct heat away from the CPU chip and into the heatsink. The motherboard made no mention of this and I didnt have any - I figure that if its so important that they would have included it.... maybe its up inside of the fan assembly anyway. I'll check with Octagon tomorrow.

Thirdly, there doesnt seem to be an easy way to know which way to connect all of the little lights and switches. I eventually worked out that the white lead is negative and the writing is always facing out, but heck, the little triangles on the plugs point to either positive or negative!

Fourthly - the onboard speaker is in a tiny little plastic bag that came with the case. For a while I thought that I was short a speaker.

OK - so I plug it all in and press the power on. The light goes on and the fans start... but no beep.

That doesnt sound good, but I don't really know how computers are supposed to behave without a hard drive. Deep down though, I know that BIOS is stored in the hardware somewhere and makes that beep sound.

No beep = serious problem.

Connecting up a monitor also showed absolutely no signal. I rationalised this by finding in the manual that PCI was the default graphics output... but also deep down, knew that this was rubbish, because how are you supposed to change the default if you dont have a PCI card?

I didnt sleep well that night- visions of crushed CPU pins haunted my dreams.

Anyway... went back to Octagon and they spoke about making sure that a little 2x2 power plug was correctly plugged in. I said it was.

It turns out that I was confusing this with the 2x2 extension to the 10x2 main power cables. There is a second 2x2 power plug that is near the CPU. I discovered this while desperately browsing the web looking for possible reasons - most of the reasons are scary ones about frying chips and motherboards. Anyway, buried in Tom's hardware is the off-hand remark about making sure you've plugged in the power near the CPU as well as the main plug.

Well... I was 99% sure that I'd overlooked this. Despite reading the manual.

Just goes to show - don't gloss over ANYTHING.

Got home at 8'ish tonight after catching up with a friend - plugged in the stray plug and powered on.

For a few seconds there is enough silence for me to look to see whether the internal speaker is wired in - and then the magical one beep!

It works!

I even connected it up to the monitor of my PC upstairs and browsed the BIOS menus like a long lost lover!

Here are some pics of how it looks tonight - no graphics card, no Blu-ray, no HDD - but all beautifully working!

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