Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

featured build log   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build ProcessHaving recently heard the woes of some family who are getting by with a tiny netbook and some kind of obscure Linux, I decided to build them a real computer for Christmas using components I have left over after various upgrades. I thought it would make for an interesting article to document the build process with photos, so here it is.

This isn’t a how-to article though – I couldn’t possibly write about how to build a PC from scratch in one article. Instead, I will give tips and describe the process in a whirlwind manner, but you should maybe think of it more as motivation for you to try the same. The whole process took about 2 hours.

If you haven’t already seen them, we have a number of fantastic free downloadable guides on the matter:

Here’s what I gathered together to work with:

    • An Asus p5B motherboard, dual core Intel CPU, and 2GB RAM. This was left over after my last upgrade so it’s already assembled.

2 motherboard   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

    • A standard ATX case I’ve had sitting around boxed for about 10 years.

1 case   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

  • 380w power supply, with a variety of molex and SATA connectors, bought recently for under $50.
  • A nice 17″ Dell monitor I rescued from the trash at Kyoto University last year, and a USB mouse and keyboard.
  • Selection of 160GB SATA hard drives (I’ll be using 3 for this).
  • Multi-DVD RW drive (IDE).

So here we go. The first step is to open up the case and add the motherboard spacers.

3 motherboard risers   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

These screw into holes in the case and raise the motherboard, and must be matched to the form factor of the motherboard you are using.

Connecting The Case Switches

This is probably the hardest step of all. Before securing the motherboard to the case, I made sure to write down a quick diagram of the jumper pins for the case switches and LEDs as they’re difficult to see once the motherboard is in place. These can be found on the bottom left, if you were looking down into the machine, and they look like this:

4 switcher pins   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

There are 5 things which need to be connected here:

  • Power switch
  • Speaker
  • Reset switch
  • Power LED
  • Hard disk LED (sometimes IDE LED)

+ve LED leads are coloured or red, -ve are black or white. These match up to the corresponding pins on the board. This can be immensely fiddly.

5 case switch cables   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

USB

Some cases have USB ports on the front, which need to be connected to the motherboard to be functional, the pins for which are situated next to the switch pins we just connected. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have a bundle of 8 cables which must connected one by one to the matching jumper.

7 usb   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

A quick Google search for my “asus p5b usb pinout” led me to this helpful diagram:

usb   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

Each USB port requires 4 cables, so the bundle of 8 can be split up into two sets of 4 cables. One USB port uses the top set of pins, one the bottom. The cables should be labelled with either a 1 or 2, plus something similar to the following:

  • V on the motherboard = VCC or +5 cable
  • - on the motherboard = D- on the cable
  • + = D+
  • G = GROUND

Power Supply

You may find your power supply doesn’t match up if your case is particularly old and you’re trying to use it with a newish motherboard. Older PSUs have only 20 pins, while newer ones have 24. You can see the difference in this photo.

8 psu motherboard connectors   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

There’s another 4 pin power cable next to the CPU that needs to be attached.

9 4 pin cpu power   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

Before screwing in the PSU, verify everything is working. Connect the power suppy and try to power it on. Without a video card installed yet, there’s an initial error beep – but this is fine, it’s just to check the switch wiring, and the motherboard fan is spinning.

Video Card

Next up is the video card. They come in 3 types:

  • PCI – the long white slots in the photo below. These graphics cards are the oldest you’re going to find.
  • AGP – brown or blue slots (not pictured).
  • PCI-Enhanced – the black slot in the picture below.

10 pci vs pci e   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

Motherboards from the last 4 years or so will likely have either AGP or PCI-E (not both). The two are not interchangeable.

Hard Drives

I won’t get into details here as I covered it quite throughly before in how to add a second SATA hard drive (and an IDE guide for older PCs). In this case I have 1 IDE channel and 4 SATA ports.

13 SATA and IDE connectors   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

I have a few drives, so I dug out a 7,200RPM as the main bootable system drive, with some slower ones to act as data drives.

15 hard disks going in   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

DVD-Drive

Most DVD drives need to be installed from the front, so that means taking the front panel off carefully and avoid pulling the wires for the power switch. It’s also better to connect any cables now before it’s slotted in, as things can get quite tight back there.

12 front off dvd in   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

Power For Everything

Power for system components will come from either a regular molex 4 pin, or SATA style plug for SATA devices. Case fans will often come with daisy chain connectors for regular molex power plugs, like this.

14 daisy chain power   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

Checking The BIOS

After connecting a keyboard, the first thing to do is access the BIOS setup screen. I’m looking first to see that it’s correctly recognised the three hard drives and DVD drive I put in:

17 bos HD check   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

All good. Then I examine the hardware monitor to see if the system temperature or CPU is abnormal. I leave this running for a while, just to check that they’re not rising which might indicate a fan failure somewhere.

18 temperature check   Building A PC For Christmas: A Visual Diary Of The Build Process

Then once Windows is installed, I’m sure we can all agree that the most essential final step is to install Google Chrome!

That’s it from me. I hope you enjoyed this little visual build-log. If you’d like to try the same thing yourself, keep an eye on FreeCycle, or head down to the city dump and find old some old PCs to play with. Just tearing them apart fully, mixing a few components, and trying to make them work again is a fantastic learning experience. Comments are welcome, but I might not be able to answer any specific hardware related questions for your particular build.

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2 Comments -

0 votes

Tim Bain

Nice way to show it isn’t rocket science. Mentioning memory  and the need to ground yourself would be cool. I used to find photos of old setups before I too them to bits came in handy when re-using them …motherboard connectors seriusly need a rethink don’t they? :))

0 votes

Quartier

Hey Dominik!!Hammer Video!! Mir persf6nlich waren zwar die dcberge4nge ein bisschen zu lange und haben den Fludf gestf6rt, aber deine Infos waren Top.Ich werde jetzt auch bei meniem Air bleiben. Nur eine Frage besche4ftig mich schon:Gibt es ein Programm, mit dem es mf6glich ist das Display des Air abzuschalten, we4hrend ich es am externe Monitor betreibe? Also zuklappen ist schon klar hab dann aber Angst das es zu heidf werden kf6nnte, gerade bei Flashanwendungen?