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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?

Going Shopping
      TPC members have made some useful suggestions for shopping for components.
(1) Find a reputable store, and ask them if they give a discount for buying all the components at the same place. This might save you some money, and buying everything at the same store will make it easier to exchange any defective parts.
(2) Get a notebook or binder with those transparent pages cum pockets that hold receipts. For every purchase you make, put the receipt and the warranty in one of the pockets. Using a marker pen, write the date of purchase, name and model number of the part, store, employee, and warranty expiration date on the pocket. Maybe you think you don't need to do this, that you'll remember. Don't kid yourself.
(3) Check with the store about workshops. Some of the larger do-it-yourself stores have Saturday workshops for building your own. This could save you a lot of time, and even a lot of grief. Also, when you put your parts together under the scrutiny of the store, you can expect expert help if something doesn't work.
(4) If you're not interested in the workshops, and especially if you're too far away to be running back and forth to Akihabara, DenDen Town, or the nearest computerland, you might want to consider buying online. You can get a good deal and have it delivered to your door. Just make sure you're buying from a reputable dealer.

Laying it out
      You're going to need enough room to lay out all the parts while you cobble this baby together. Is your significant other going to let you use the kitchen table, or do you have to make other arrangements? Make sure you have room to do it, and you're not going to have to clear all of this stuff off come suppertime! Let's face it. You don't know how long this is going to take, but at best it will be a couple of hours, and at worst it could be laying there for days.

      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)
      Before you get too eager with that screwdriver, you probably ought to print out some directions. I found a place on the web called Price Combat ( that sells components, and to encourage sales has put up a reasonably good set of directions at I downloaded all 10 chapters and printed them out. Nice graphics. Look around on the web and you'll find more directions. Get some that you are comfortable with.

      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
      First, (1) install the FDD, HDD, and CDD and/or DVD drives. Then, (2) install the motherboard. (3) Connect the internal power supply to the motherboard connector, then (4) connect power supply cables to the FDD, HDD, and CDD. Next, (5) connect the cable between the FDD and the floppy controller on the motherboard. (Don't connect the HDD or CDD controllers just yet.) (6) Install some memory on the motherboard, and finally (7) firmly press your video card into the proper slot on the motherboard. Now close the case for initial testing before connecting anything else.

After closing the case
      First, (1) connect the video cable from the computer to the monitor, and then (2) plug in the monitor. Finally, (3) connect a power cord from the computer case to the outlet. (You should never open the case with the power cord connected. Just to be on the safe side, you should not only have the power off, but you should also have the cord unplugged whenever you are inside the case.) Now, (4) plug in your keyboard to the keyboard connector and your mouse to the PS/2 connector. Finally, (5) turn on the power supply on the back of the case if it has an on/off switch. You are now ready to press the switch on the front of the case.

Finally: Getting turned on
      Well, so far you've done everything right. You've researched the parts, bought them from a reputable dealer, you've printed out the instructions and read (and followed!) them carefully, and you're sure all the cables are hooked up properly.

      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)

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

July, 2001

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN