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Learn about the computer I built

Up until this experience, I hadn't had much experience building computers. I had messed around inside the case on many machines I had access to over the years. Those experiences taught me about the internal structure of a personal computer. I learned how to connect and disconnect drives, jumper, and change PCI/AGP cards. This is easy to do when you have hardware that you already know works. This time around, the situation was different as I was putting the pieces of the system together by hand.

Phase I : Research

The first step in this journey was to research about the system I wanted and determine what parts to buy. I had a basic idea about what components I wanted but I didn't have the list completely ironed out yet. I knew I wanted to get a fast Pentium 4 but I wasn't sure about the exact speed and things like bus speed. I did some research on the web using google and sites like Tom's Hardware to find reviews and explanations about various parts. I decided to get a Pentium 4 2.4 Ghz based upon prices and reviews. I discovered that some of the Pentium 4's come in different bus speeds so I agreed on the better 533 Mhz model. Next, I decided to research motherboards, something I knew nothing about. I found some more reviews on Tom's Hardware. Once particular review caught my eye that compared new Pentium 4 motherboards. They chose the ASUS P4PE as the winner. I agreed with the main points of the review so I went with Tom's advice. The P4PE has USB2, integrated Ethernet, IEEE 1394, and integrated audio, all features which I desired. In addition, the board comes with support for a new emerging drive standard called Serial ATA. It also featured support for RAID 0 and 1 in combination with this controller. While these were not necessary features, they add to the overall attractiveness of this particular motherboard.

With the motherboard and CPU chosen, I picking RAM was easy since I had to use RAM supported by the motherboard. In this case, PC2700 DDR333 RAM did the trick. I decided that I wanted at least 512 MB of ram to start with. Next, I chose hard drives. I decided to get one of the special edition Western Digital drives that featured the 8 meg cache. I figured that extra cache would help boost drive performance. Then I decided that I wanted 120 GB of storage or above.

Next, I considered the CD-ROM drives. I knew I wanted two, a burner and a DVD player. I decided I would buy a cheap and simple CD-ROM and a DVD-RW/DVD+RW/CD-RW drive. I was unable to decide on a brand or model so I put those decisions on hold. I also determined I would buy a cheap floppy drive.

Then I decided to try to pick a graphics card. I knew I wanted a card that supports mulitple monitors with multiple outs. I soon learned that surprisingly (to me at least) that many of the cards on the market already supported this. Next, I weighed the nVidia vs. ATI issue. Based on price and performance, I decided that a mid range ATI would be for me. This was based on the fact that I wanted to be able to game in the rare instances where I had the desire but I also did not want to shell out for a top of the line card that would mostly be under utilized. DVI output became a requirement.

Lastly, I considered the case. Idealy, I wanted an aluminum case with a window. I wanted to spice things up with nice looking LEDs and a cold cathode kit. The window was then essential, even if it ended up costing me a little more than I planned to spend initially.

For the operating system, I decided to buy a fresh liscence of Windows XP Pro.

Phase II : Finding deals

Having my requriements established, the next part of the process was to procure the supplies needed to build the machine. Online stores had the cheapest merchandise, and since I was shopping just after Christmas, prices overall were significantly reduced. That said, the two most crucial tools for building the new machine were two websites: Pricewatch and Fat Wallet. Using these two websites, I found all of my components as decent prices. From the start, one of my main goals was keep the cost down. These sites helped make that happen. I looked for the cheapest possible model of the Western Digital drives that I wanted. I ended up settling on a 160GB drive from for $287.89. However, it came with a total of $140 in rebates which is why I decided to go for this drive. I also bought a BUSLink 52x24x52 CD-RW drive which came with $35 worth of rebates. None of the rebates have come in yet, and I am starting to get nervous about ever receiving them. In the future, I might not buy items that have rebates.

Phase III : Building

The building phase of the project was quite challenging. This was something that I had never attempted to do before. I decided I would follow the manual exactly.

One of the early problems I found was the backing. I thought that ATX was an exact standard but I found that the designs for shapes of the grills that have the mouse, USB, ethernet, and sound connections varied by motherboard model. Luckily my motherboard came with a replacement face plate.

Screwing the motherboard into place was a new experience for me and I followed the procedure in the manual precisely. The manual for the motherboard suggested putting the RAM in first to avoid potential physical logistics problems. I followed the directions.

Next, I opened the boxed CPU. I was surprised to realize the small size of the CPU itself. In relation to the fan, the CPU was much smaller. I tooke careful care to follow all handling instrcutions.

Next, I followed the instructions to get the CPU and fan into the case. I also hooked up the fan's power supply.

The P4PE came with a large number of external support conenctions that hook into a PCI slot on the back of the case without taking up a PCI slot. I continued by hooking up connections for a game pad, firewire, and usb2. I also added connections for the digital audio cables.

Next I installed all hard drived and CD-ROMS (I got my DVD-ROM from my old machine), cathod lights, L.E.D. fans. Once everything looked to be in order, I booted up for the first time. Once I realized everything seemed normal, I began the install of Windows XP. I was on my way to a new system.

Phase IV : Aftermath

Things were going well at the beginning. Most stuff seemed to work. Then all of a sudden, Windows XP Pro would blue screen and reboot when running Windows Update. I was confused but I was able to trace it to a version of the Intel Application Accellerator which came with my motherboard and I had installed. I found from Intel that a better verion for Windows XP was available so I downloaded and tried that copy. But the blue screens and reboots continued. On closer inspection of the even logs, I found that windows was getting an error from the disk drive while paging to disk. Uh oh, I disk could be going bad. I immediately pulled out my Western Digital boot disk and ran the diagnostics (which take an hour) on my disk for it to say that errors were found and fixed. However, this did not stop the problems. Rerunning the WD utility would always find errors. Luckily, Western Digital was willing to issue an RMA and ship me a new drive. Luckily, that drive has worked beautifully for me. It's the drive I use now.


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