So this isn’t a blow by blow account of how to build a PC from scratch. I have tried to include any obvious gotchas that caught me out. In general I was very pleasantly surprised by the level of documentation that came with all the bits.
On the left you’ll see the large pile of stuff that arrived from NewEgg. The two brown paper bags aren’t my lunch they’re the two SATA 750Gb HDDs in “OEM packaging” a brown paper bag to you and me.
You’ll also notice a laptop in the picture. Turns out this is vital for looking stuff up and downloading bits of documentation that didn’t come with the OEM parts.
Assembling the case
Aerocool’s idea of a manual stretches the common definition of the word. More of a sort of handout really. It sort of says “connect some stuff” and that’s about it. Luckily the connectors are all labeled but we’ll get to that later.
Putting the power supply is the first step and that’s pretty straightforward. It’s held in by four screws at the back. There’s nothing to connect it to at this point just a lot of wires. Until the motherboard is in there’s nothing to start connecting. If you’re going to replace the stock Aerocool fan then now is a good time to remove it (I didn’t do this but probably should have).
The motherboard and processor
I assembled the motherboard before trying to fit it into the case. This is not your mother’s motherboard. Things have moved on since I last serious dug around inside a computer (a BBC Micro circa 1986). Luckily BIOSTAR include a nice color diagram and AMD come up with the goods providing full videos on how to install the processor. Once I have the processor installed I thought that the cooler wasn’t going to fit but actually you have to completely remove the stock AMD retention module (the black rectangle surrounding the processor socket in the picture) and replace it with the one that comes with the fan.
Arctic Fan’s instructions for their processor cooler are straightforward although some care is required as this is a semi one shot deal as the fan is glued onto the top of the processor with conductive paste. You could remove it but that seems likely to be messy. Keep the instructions handy as you’ll need them to explain how to daisy chain all the fans together. For now just make sure that the processor cooler is plugged in. Bad things will happen if the processor overheats… Think China Syndrome, and no I don’t mean Jane Fonda getting all investigative reporter on you.
Finally you need to install the memory. These just slot into place with a bit for firm pressure.
Installing the motherboard and wires and more wires
First find the spacers that came with the case, these are little hexagonal steel tubes with a screw thread sticking out the bottom and a threaded hole in the top. Put one in each of the mounting points in the case bottom marked with an ‘A’.
Installing the motherboard requires a little bit of care as scratching it on the spacers would be bad, you might nick a track on the motherboard… Think Nightmare on Elm Street but with less blood but more orders to NewEgg. Screw the board in snug with the screws provided (hint: they’re a different size to all the others).
So now it’s time for the only really challenging bit. Connecting all the wires in the right places. Two things count in your favor here; most of the connectors are unique and most of the ones that aren’t from the M40 are labeled. The main ones are the 4 and 24 pin ATX power connectors from the power supply. Don’t worry about the PCI-E, SATA and all but one peripheral power connectors for the moment. You just need to connect one of the peripheral connectors to the case power the rest can safely be ignored.
Power on test
At this point more systematic builders would suggest installing the SATA drives and generally tiding the wiring up. I wanted to know if it worked or not. I’m told people call me impatient, but I’ve never hung around long enough to listen. So, once I’d got the power supply hooked up to the motherboard it was time to make sure the PC wasn’t dead on arrival.
Double check the connectors and plug it in. Throw the switch on the back and… nothing happens. I’m embarrassed to say much head scratching took place at this point before I remembered that there at two power switches, the one on the power supply and the one I just connected on the front of the case. What can I say… it was getting late at that point.
The end result was that the machine booted and I could see the BIOS setup and the fans were functioning correctly. You can see in the picture that there are no SATA drives installed.
Put in the hard drives and clean up
So power off and install the disks. I opted to put the two 3.5″ drives in the two 5.25″ bays at the front of the case, leaving the remaining two 3.5″ bays for later expansion. In fact you could add an SATA backplane in the front and squeeze in three 3.5″ drives. I might do this if I need the room later but for now two sets of mounting brackets for three bucks total seemed a better deal than a sixty dollar backplane with yet another fan. The only advantage of the backplane is if you plan to swap disks in and out.
Mounting the SATA drives involves a fair amount of fiddling with small screws in tight corners of the case but after that connecting the drives is trivial I mounted both but only connected the upper one until I had WHS installed and fully patched I didn’t want it getting clever with two disks. You can repeat the power on test (above) now and make sure that the boot screen shows that the SATA devices have been detected.
At this point I also replaced the stock 120mm case fan with the Arctic Fan I bought and added an 80mm fan to the back of the case. The Arctic Fan instructions explain how to daisy chain the fans together off the single four pin CPU cooler connector on the motherboard. After some experiments later with the fans and BIOS settings I figured that I actually didn’t need the 80mm fan on the back.
Now is also a good time to tidy up the cables in the case. I used the twist ties that came in the packaging, rather than buy cable ties, and it’s not the most beautiful case interior you’ve ever seen but the cables are out of the way of the fan blades and generally don’t block the airflow.
You’re now ready to install the software. The more observant reader may have noticed that I’ve not installed any CD or DVD drive, largely because I only expect to use it once (to install WHS and the network drivers). Up next my cunning plan to boot off a USB drive and what to do when that utterly fails.