Roll Your Own!         Part 2
Buying the Parts and Screwing them together   Ralph Sumner
So you're really going to give it a go? You're going to select all those hot components you've been telling your significant other that you need, and you're going to build your own Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby! Well, let's check and make sure you're ready. You have decided you don't need the new software that comes with an off-the-shelf unit, right? You understand that you won't be getting a one-year guarantee that these parts will all work together? Most importantly, you do realize that making sure all this stuff works together is your problem, there will be no support staff and no place to return it for repairs if it doesn't work right the first time you turn it on?
Well, now that you've decided, have you also finished your research? Checking out the information on the components is the essential first step in rolling your own.
Let's assume you already have your own OS (Operating System, e.g. Win2000) and application software (e.g., word processor, database, hot games, etc.) and you know what you're going to use the computer for. That helps in deciding which motherboard and CPU you're going to choose. You have followed the suggestions in last month's newsletter and carefully researched the CPU/motherboard combination you're going to buy, you've made your list and discussed it on the TPC newsgroups, and now you're eager to get the project under way.
After you've decided on the brains and backbone (CPU/motherboard) you need a body to put them in: a case. Wandering through shops in Akihabara and looking at cases, you've probably realized that there is a huge price range available. What do you get for your money? One factor is size. The bigger the case, the easier it is to work with. Also, larger units have more bays for hard disk drives and CD drives. How many of those are you going to want? On the other hand, will a bigger case fit where you are going to use it? How big is the power supply? If you've decided on an AMD CPU, is the power supply approved for that CPU? Does it have a good case fan? Compare cooling arrangements with different cases. Also, try opening and closing the panels. Since you're building this, you'll probably spend a lot of time opening the case. Is the layout convenient, and is the case easy to get into? Last but not least, is this the esthetically appealing case of your dreams?
Laying it out
Carpets are notorious for creating static electricity, which will zap your electronics into stir-fry heaven faster than the room goes dark when the lights are turned out. Have you got a good, clean non-static place for working? Do you have one of those neat wrist bands with an alligator clip cord that connects to a ground, to keep you free of static electricity while you're touching the parts? If not, you can make your own just by tying one end of a wire to your wrist and the other to some sort of metal ground (making sure you've got bare wire contacting both your wrist and the ground). Oh, and don't use that magnetic screwdriver.
Lay out some newspapers if you're putting this stuff on the carpet, you don't
want it directly on the carpet itself. While not as bad as putting it in the microwave, it could have the same
disastrous results. Better yet, find somewhere with linoleum or wood or tatami or anything but carpet. It
will be much safer.
Getting the screwdriver
(and the directions)
I also printed out the manual for the motherboard. My motherboard package came with a small manual in Japanese, so I went to the manufacturer's home page and found a thorough manual in English, which I printed out. All 108 pages! I read it before starting to rev up the screwdriver. It's worth your time.
Now you're ready to start screwing this thing together.
If you've looked at the directions, you'll know what the different types of screws look like, and you'll be able to put your motherboard in the case. You'll want to do that first, because it seems like the obvious thing to do. The directions I found on the web even say to do that first.
First, mount your hard disk drives (HDD), your CD drives (CDD), and your floppy drive (FDD) in their proper bays. That way, you won't be taking chances with banging your motherboard around while installing them, and you've got a little more room. Also, getting rid of those old ribbon cables makes it a lot easier to work with these drives. When you buy your drives, they will probably come with ribbon cables, but I paid extra for new cables that have ribbon cable connectors, but the wires coming off the connectors are bundled as a narrow cord, making it much easier to work with them. You don't need to put the cables in just yet, though. That comes after installing the motherboard.
I'm not going to get too detailed here with installation procedures. You'll be much better off printing out a very thorough, step-by-step set of instructions from a good web page. Let's just make a lite summary of the installation steps here.
Before closing the case
After closing the case
Finally: Getting turned on
Let's not stuff your computer to the gills with add-on cards (SCSI controllers, modems, game cards, etc.) just yet. Let's keep it simple and make sure the basic configuration works properly first. Then we can add one thing at a time and see how each part is accepted, kind of like a Japanese mother bringing her child to the park for the playground debut.
The essentials are just the video card, the floppy disk drive, and some memory for the motherboard. I suggest not even connecting the HDD cables or the CDD cables until after the initial testing.
You are so eager to get this baby turned on and see the colors light up the screen that your knees are knocking. And you're really afraid that while the whole family gathers around for your moment of triumph that the damn thing is going to crap out on you.
Hey, don't get too upset. It might work.
(Next month: Roll Your Own: Getting turned on and setting up the BIOS)
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