My Dream Machine: Construction

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This Part 2 of a 3 part series on My Dream Machine (Part 1)

Tinkering with bits and pieces is a part of growing up on a farm. Attempting to repair a motorbike's fuel system, fixing implements with some wire and a rope, through to more traditional toys such as Lego, meccano and electronics. However, I was never good at what our school called 'tech studies'. In fact, I was streamed into tech-studies-remedial, and recommended to never touch any hardware tools ever again.

So, working on my own PCs results in injuries. Cuts and scratches on my fingers and hands, and blood on clothing. I am just clumsy, and fiddly things just seem to annoy my nerve endings. Building my own PC, apart from a mental challenge, is going to be a daunting physical challenge, too. Onward to my personal everest!

Just before I start, I have to confess way back in history, I was a trained Macintosh Level-1 Sevice Technician. I'd like to also throw out a big thanks to Peter Harris, who had enough patience and bandaids to teach me the basics of electronic stuff. Like soldering in new Adobe ROMs onto the logic board of one of those original Apple LaserWriter (circa 20 years ago!) to obtain more fonts. On a US$7,000 device, with one mis-solder away from job firing: I owe Pete a lot.

Initial build

Boxes arrive

  • The bit start arriving from AusPCMarket, within 24 hours of ordering. In Australia, this is a major achievement! Thanks to Hillary in the Microsoft Australia Mail Room for excellent service, too. You guys rock.
  • Open the case and install the power supply. Case being a black anodised Lian Li case. Power Supply, a Corsair 620W. Simple thumbscrews and snaking the power cable from the rear to the front of the case. Fan in the power supply points forward. Fan at the rear of the case to flow air from front to rear, at the base of the case.

    Hard disk drives
  • Hard drives, DVD/CD installed with power. Just wired the the Western Digital 10000RPM boot drive to a SATA connector motherboard to simplify the install process.
  • The modular power supply has a range of cables to wire up power from itself to the rear of the SATA drive. SATA power connectors are unique, and simple to install. With the Corsair beastie, each power coupler for SATA has three 'power take-offs'

    In goes the 620W Corsair
  • Fans on the logic board use either the four-pin Molex connectors, or smaller three-pin connectors. Looking at the fans, I noticed that each have three conductive cables: two for power, one to throttle/measure the speed of the fan. Connecting these to the correct places on the motherboard has benefits when tuning. That's for episode 3.

  • Download the 64-bit (x64) "floppy" driver and place onto USB drive. Windows Vista x64 install is provided with many off-the-CD drivers to permit the operating system to install and bootstrap itself. However, some motherboards require later drivers to install correctly. In my instance, I gathered the Gigabyte Pre-install driver for Vista x64 and placed this onto a USB key for later use during the operating system install.

  • Picture note: The clamp for the processor is to but shut, thermal grease to be applied and CPU fan to be installed. Beauty of making your own is that I can purchase another, faster CPU in the future and self-install the wee beastie.
  • Place Beating heart into chest.  The CPU is the beating heart of the PC. In my instance, I have chose the Intel Q6600 processor being inserted into a Gigabyte GA-X38-DQ6 Motherboard.
  • Intel CPUs going into "775" slots are female, with male pins already on the motherboard. Using thermal paste, a gooey silver-gray substance that assists the CPU to fan thermal coupling so the CPU fan can remove heat, applied to the top of the CPU. Fans supplied with CPUs are usually noisy and not as heat-efficient as after-market devices. In the first installation, I used the supplied CPU fan. Connect fan to the correct pins on the motherboard.
  • Intel CPU fans for the "775" slots have this strange "push in" connection that sort of snaps into place. I must admit, I didn't like pushing that hard on the motherboard: it felt like I was going to break something.

    Motherboard in case
  • There are a multitude of wires starting from the front of the case that demand insertion. These cables connect to the front: USB, Firewire; and also power, reset and lights. Being able the read the manual's schematic diagram and reading the notice on the connectors assists in correct insertion. If these don't seem to have a "gender" (in other words, which way around they should be plugged in), my rule becase "text on cable such that it's readable"
  • Fans connected to motherboard. Power to motherboard. SATA connectors to motherboard. DVD/CD drive inserted, SATA and power connected.
  • Memory: DDR2 memory inserted into the first two connectors: whilst I am installing x64 Windows Vista, I am starting with 2Gb of memory to keep the beastie cool.
  • Install video card in to one of the light blue PCI-E slots; and wire in the separate power line for the plan of installing an NVidia 8600 video card whilst waiting for the NVideo 8800GT to arrive. as it has its own fan and dedicated memory. The video card is like a mini motherboard and CPU all of its own.

  • Picture note: the NB_FAN sits underneath a white connector. This is a fan connector containing power plus feedback on the speed of the fan. NB stands for Northbridge; which is a bunch of chips on the motherboard responsible for Input/output and the PC cards. As these chips get hot, they have their own heat-sink: that's the copper coloured lines and bits that remove heat, and can also have their own fan.
  • Find an old PS/2 style (or USB) keyboard and mouse. Plug in. Screen connected. Ethernet (network) connected. Countdown to launch begins.
  • Time to construct: 1h30minutes. I think I also did some emails in the midst of construction, too!

Initial Startup and Operating System Installation:

  • The magic of BIOS! The gigabyte BIOS finds all the pieces of hardware, including RAM, and just boots. Back in the olden-days, you had to set jumper pins to tell the computer where and when it's memory existed.

    Vista Ultimate x64 Install
  • Put in Windows Vista x64. Tell the BIOS to have the CD/DVD as the secondary boot device. Restart, and were in Vista install.
  • After typing in the key, and starting a Full Install; Vista asks you which disk to install onto. Plug in the USB key with drivers gathered above, do a re-format of the drive. Install.
  • An extremely rapid install. That hard drive it nuts. Reboot. Windows Vista x64 starts up.

Post-Initial Boot Steps:

  • Update BIOS. Using the Gigabyte @BIOS configuration, gather and install the latest revision.
  • Update disk drivers, sound drivers, ethernet (network) drivers - including the hardware RAID drivers
  • Gather and install Video card driver.
  • Install Windows Vista updates; including Vista Ultimate extras.
  • Shutdown, install 2 x 500Gb drives into what is known as the G-SATA connectors
  • Reboot, use GSATA BIOS to configure two matching drives as RAID (to allow for redundant data storage)
  • In Vista, reformat drive (two drives seen as one by the operating system).
  • Using Vista's Backup and Restore: Backup boot drive. Just in case.
  • Install anti-virus and firewall. Just in case.

after 8600 GT installled

4.7 is a long way from my stated goal of 5.9. Whilst the performance of the 8800GT video card should improve performance, the memory result of 5.6 is a little disappointing. Therefore, more research!

It's tuning time.

The Discussion

  • User profile image

    Hey Now Nick,

    Looking good, that sounded like a lot of fun work.

    Thc 4 the info,


  • User profile image
    Ryan Tessier


    I'm really enjoying your 'beastie' construction post series. Thanks for sharing this sacred ritual with us. Tongue Out Beastie has awoken!

  • User profile image

    The only thing I can think of regarding memory is the CAS latency settings in the BIOS. They might be different than what the memory actually is.

    Enjoying your posts. Most of my parts arrived today, case should be here tomorrow, I'll probably wait till the weekend to start messing with it though.

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