July 10, 2007
Yesterday, we completed a basic build of Scott Hanselman's computer. We built the system up enough to boot to the BIOS screen successfully. Today, we'll complete the build by installing an operating system and burning it in.
The first thing we'll need is hard drives. The Antec P182 case has a well engineered drive mounting system. The bottom cage holds 4 drives, with soft rubber grommets to support each drive, and more importantly, to isolate the case from transmitted, resonant hard drive vibration noise. After all, they are giant hunks of circular metal spinning at 7,200 to 10,000 RPMs.
The boot drive is a 10,000 RPM Raptor, which I can't recommend highly enough. The secondary drive is a run of the mill 500 GB model. I slid them in and secured them using the long screws provided with the case.
I connected two SATA cables and threaded them down to the bottom channel through the center cutout. I snapped a modular SATA power cable into the Corsair HX series power supply, and routed that cable around the back, into the hard drive compartment.
Houston, we have storage!
But we can't install an OS without an optical drive. Fortunately, DVD drives are dirt cheap; I chose the latest Lite-On DVD drive, in black to match the case. I suppose eventually we'll be buying HD-DVD or Blu-Ray drives, but until the format war is decided, it's DVD all the way for me.
The 5 1/4" drive bays at the top of the P182 require the use of rails, which are provided with the case. I find rail mounting annoying, but since we're only installing a single DVD-R drive, I can deal. It took a bit of trial and error, but I got the rails screwed into each side of the drive and snapped it in to the top bay.
This is not one of those fancy new SATA DVD drives, so we'll need to break out the old-school Parallel ATA cable included with the motherboard. I snapped in another modular power connector to provide the necessary 4-pin power. As usual I routed the power cable along the back of the motherboard tray to preserve the clean interior layout.
We're now ready to boot up the machine. Plug in the power cord, connect a keyboard and mouse, then hit the power switch. During boot, press DELETE to enter the BIOS setup screen. Go into the basic settings and verify that all the drives we installed are properly detected by the motherboard.
Looks good-- all three drives are showing up. From here you may want to adjust a few basic BIOS settings. For example, I always set the floppy drive to "Disabled". You'll definitely want to set the boot order to ensure the right drives are booting first-- in our case, it's DVD-R, Raptor, then the second drive. Beyond those basic settings, mucking around in the BIOS isn't required at this point; we want to test the system with stock settings anyway.
However, do I recommend flashing the motherboard BIOS to the latest version before you go any further. You'd be surprised how often motherboards ship with out-of-date BIOSes. It isn't required, but your life will be easier if you flash to the latest BIOS now before you complete system setup. A full description of how to flash your motherboard's BIOS is outside the scope of this article, but here's the condensed version:
- Check the manufacturer's website for the latest motherboard BIOS. Be absolutely, positively sure you have the BIOS for the correct motherboard model!
- Copy the BIOS files to a bootable USB Flash drive.
- Boot from the flash drive and follow the instructions.
This is a typical BIOS flash scenario. Some vendors do make it easier, though. On my ASUS P5B Deluxe, the flash program is embedded into the BIOS. Others provide programs that allow you to flash the BIOS from within Windows using a friendly GUI.
At any rate, BIOS update or not, we can now install an operating system. I placed my OEM copy of Windows Vista into the DVD tray, rebooted, and selected a 120-day trial of Windows Vista Ultimate.
Here's one thing I've learned from experience: if your system can't finish a clean install of Windows, it's not stable. Period. It's tempting to blame Microsoft, but the only possible culprit if you have problems at this stage is the hardware (or possibly a scratched DVD). Trust me on this one.
Fortunately, our new system completed the Windows install without a hitch. Remember those driver CDs that came with the motherboard? Throw them right in the trash. They're way out of date by the time the motherboard gets from the factory, to the vendor, and then finally to you. The MSI P6N SLI motherboard we chose is based on the well-regarded NVIDIA 650i SLI chipset, so we have a one stop shop at the NVIDIA drivers page. I downloaded the 650i SLI platform drivers for Windows Vista x86, and the latest 8600 GTS graphics driver.
Now that we have Windows installed, and our platform drivers firmly in place, we know our system is reasonably stable. But we want to confirm that our system is totally stable.
To do that, we'll need to download a few essential burn-in utilities:
I run through basic benchmarks first. If the system can't complete a run of 3DMark or PCMark, it's definitely not stable. The rig we just built generated these scores:
And of course the obligatory Windows Experience results:
These tests aren't just for stability; they're also reality checks. Make sure these scores are in the ballpark for comparable systems. If not, you got something wrong in the build and somehow crippled your system's performance. Fortunately, these numbers check out (although the memory subscore is suspiciously low), and we didn't have any crashes or reboots during the benchmark runs. So far so good.
Now for the real torture test. We'll use:
- Four instances of Prime95 (one per core) to load the CPU
- Real-Time HDR IBL (RTHDRIBL) to load the GPU
- CoreTemp to monitor temperatures
To run four instances of Prime95, create four shortcuts to Prime95.exe using the -A(n) flag, where (n) is the core number. That's documented in this forum thread. Start with "Small FFTs" on the Options | Torture Test dialog in each instance. Then launch RTHDRIBL in a maximized window, and CoreTemp, as pictured here.
Now we need to monitor our patient during the torture test, at least for the first 30 minutes or so.
I use my trusty Kill-a-Watt to determine how much power the system is consuming. I saw 130 watts at the Windows desktop, and during the extreme CPU and GPU torture test, 220 watts.
That gives us a rough idea of how much power dissipation, and therefore heat, we have to worry about. I also use my temperature gun to spot check various heatsinks in the system and make sure they're not getting unusually hot. Here, I'm checking the northbridge heatsink, which gets pretty toasty in modern systems.
Fancy laser temperature guns are fun, but they're not required. I often use my built-in Mark I finger to touch various items in the computer (but not the bare electrical components, obviously) and make sure they're within normal temperature ranges. You might call me "The PC Whisperer"-- I love nothing more than getting in there and physically touching everything that's at risk of temperature damage:
- CPU heatsink
- Video card heatsink
- Hard drives
You'll know you're in the danger zone when something is too hot to leave your finger on for more than a few seconds. I'm happy to report that all the temperatures on this system check out, both with my temperature gun and my Mk. I finger-- even after hours and hours of torture testing.
Looks like we have a stable, complete system. And when you have a stable, complete system, it's clearly time to overclock it until it breaks. The CPU heatsink remained quite cool throughout the torture test, and CoreTemp confirms relatively low temperatures on each core. This is a very good omen for future overclocking. We'll do that tomorrow.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
You'll know you're in the danger zone when something is too hot to leave your finger on for more than a few seconds.
I'm not sure how valid that really is... Under load things have wildly different safe operating temperatures. For example, I've had some graphics chipsets over the years that have been safe upto 120C... Assuming it was only buzzing around 90C, I'd still not be able to touch that.
While I agree that it's a good test when you know your hardware, you really should find out what the safe operating temps before you start "optimising" or even burning in.
Hmm, that memory score (5.0) seems low ... I'm used to seeing at least 5.4 / 5.5 for Core 2 Duo systems with DDR2-667 chips at 1066 MHz FSB.
I'm a fan of the Sony/NEC/Optiarc DVD RW drives on newegg right now because (1) they're cheap (but they ALL are! :), and (2) they're SATA! No more IDE cables :D They don't have "LightScribe" though. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827152079
I agree with the "can't install Windows = bad hardware or disc" assertion. When I set up my newest workstation in December, the Vista installer refused to operate. Turns out my disc had a subtle scratch on the outer track. Boo! A replacement worked like a charm.
Don't know if you'll cover this, but sometimes it is puzzling to know when mobo drivers on the CD are needed, or not. E.g., video drivers on the mobo CD vs. the video card drivers.
Well, you CAN install an OS without an optical drive. It just wouldn't be any of Microsoft's systems...
Wow, that's a ton of power. I'm idling on a 300 Mhz OpenBSD box with 32 MB RAM. Seems to run a lot cooler than what you've got and does its job as a dev box quite well.
If the maximum power draw under load was 220 watts isn't a 520 watt PSU overkill, wouldn't a 300 watt PSU given you enough headroom for later expansion, e.g. more drives, more power hungry graphics card etc.?
Jeff, thanks, I'm loving this stuff. I thought you guys were going for 4GB? Isn't the low score just because 2GB is a bit on the low side?
Scandalous memory score Jeff - what's up? ;) You noticed it, obviously. Is it a BIOS setting, or bad RAM? Also, I thought we were x64 - only 2gigs?
The memory score is based on speed, not size, AFAIK.
..But yours *is* low: My 2GB Vista system gives a memory score of 5.7 with a Core 2 Duo 6600, and 2GB of OCZ DDR2 800MHz/PC2-6400. That's on an ASUS P5B mobo without any tweaking.
"You'd be surprised how often motherboards ship with out-of-date BIOSes"
I'd have to disagree here, I'm pretty sure that the motherboards ship with the most up-to-date bios. Unfortunately, no-one has yet invented the over-the-air bios update for components sat on vendors' shelves for 6 months...
In seriousness though, I think these two articles are great - I wonder if I can get away with sending the links to my dad and then classing that as dealing with his 'I need a new computer, Son' request....
forgot to mention that I built a similar spec machine a few months ago, based loosely around Jeff's suggestions. Generally, I'm really pleased, but I had a couple of niggles:-
The Antec P180 case is big. REALLY big. And heavy, when it's fully loaded. Health and Safety probably wouldn't let me lift it unassisted. I had a AMD X64-based Shuttle XPC before, and the P180 is probably 3x the height, and 2x the depth. And 5x the weight.
Graphic card cooling: I bought a Sapphire X1950Pro without doing enough research :-( Good chipset, LOUSY fan. I upgraded the fan to an Arctic Accelero X2 within 48 hours, and the difference is phenomenal.
You'll definitely want to set the boot order to ensure the right drives are booting first-- in our case, it's DVD-R, Raptor, then the second drive.
I've always preferred to disable CD drive booting. It slows down the boot process, and when I want to boot from a CD I will use the BIOS boot menu (F12 on mine).
Is there anything specific we should be monitoring for while burning in ? I see your looking at power usage and heat, but there's no info on what to look for within the burn in tools themselves.
Are there red flags that we should be aware of while watching the Prime95, RTHDRIBL, and CoreTemp application windows?
Why not install an easy version of Linux ?
Be a Devil !
Was the foldable keyboard used just to get it up and running, or is that the final configuration? I think one of those would quickly drive me insane if I had to use it for development.
However, do I recommend flashing the motherboard BIOS to the latest
version before you go any further.
The one time I tried flashing my BIOS, I ended up with a dead motherboard. I'm not ever doing that again, unless it is absolutely required.
Remember those driver CDs that came with the motherboard? Throw them
right in the trash. They're way out of date by the time the
motherboard gets from the factory, to the vendor, and then finally
Hehe. I'm tempted to agree entirely. However, a sad reality intrudes. Typically networking is non-functional until the motherboard drivers are installed. That leaves you with a bit of a chicken and egg problem here, no?
The smart solution is to download the latest drivers for your motherboard *before* you start, so that you have them on hand for this step. Not being that smart, what I typically end up doing is installing the shipped drivers from the CD to get my networking going, then downloading the latest drivers for all my hardware and installing them from the hard drive.
The rough sequence is:
Install MB drivers from CD (probably reboot multiple times)
Get Networking operable.
Download MB drivers from manufacturer and install (probably reboot multiple times)
Download patches/updates from Microsoft Update site (reboot oodles of times)
Download Firefox (IE is only used for MS Update from here on in)
Download Video drivers from NVidia (or chipset manufacturer)
On occasion, some of the MS update has to be done earlier, due to dependencies on service packs or Direct X or whatnot.
The "burn in" phase, I never thought of doing. Frankly at this point I'm usually nearly a man-day into the project, and too anxious to use the rig to wait. Its a darn good idea though.
Otherwise, I agree with the post entirely. It was quite well-written and informative too.
Yeah, I agree on that memory score seeming low. Mine's at 5.7, and I only have a lowly C2D 4300 (at stock 1.8GHz) and 2GB of DDR2-800 with an 800MHz FSB. Are all four sticks working properly?
By the way, I agree with going with a tower instead of a XPC. For one, two 8600GTS video cards would never fit in an XPC; even if they fit, the heat would set it on fire. Second, I just upgraded from a Shuttle XPC (Athlon 2100) to a tower (Thermaltake Aguila). The tower is significantly cooler and quieter, making overclocking much easier.
To whom it may concern.
The new machine and the Kill-A-Watt picture reminded me of an odd problem I ran into a couple of months ago after building my latest box.
It had been running great for a few weeks when I got my Kill-A-Watt meter and tested the hardware with it. Well, over the course of the next few weeks my new machine started showing "An error was detected on device \Device\Harddisk0\DR0 during a paging operation" warnings intermittently and the machine would freeze up for 30 seconds at a time. After some unsuccessful troubleshooting, I realized I still had the Kill-A-Watt in the wall as it was out of sight. Removed the meter and the errors stopped. Fortunately, no damage done.
Lesson learned. Don't leave the meter in the wall too long for appliances and hardware you like.
Was the foldable keyboard used just to get it up and running, or is that the final configuration? I think one of those would quickly drive me insane if I had to use it for development.
The foldable keyboard is a utility keyboard I keep around for "emergency" use.. building systems and so forth. I keep it folded up and stowed out of the way normally.
You're right, it's an absolutely terrible typing experience. But it's handy in a pinch!
WHOA I just noticed a critical error in your post! You mention you're going to install an OS and then installed Windows! WHOOPS! Then you made another error, you said it was 'reasonably stable'!
Really though, I hope you're wiping that thing before you give it to your friend.
"when I want to boot from a CD I will use the BIOS boot menu (F12 on mine)."
I *HATE* having to play whack-a-mole to try and boot from the CD.
"The foldable keyboard is a utility keyboard I keep around for "emergency" use"
I have an earlier version of that keyboard. It works great out in my shop which also houses a table saw.
Any chance you could use your own hosting to host the images from this article? ALL of the popular image hosting sites are blocked by websense as personal storage/data transfer or some other BS. It makes it hard to read a picture-heavy article from work.
Aww, you didn't get approval from the Feline Inspection Board this time. ;) I can't believe how much system-testing equipment you have around for someone who doesn't do it all the time.
Is it me or was there some gigs missing from the windows experience index for RAM and HD?
His amazon S3 hosting is blocked as a 'personal storage/data transfer' server? This type of set up is pretty common... do you have this issue with a lot of websites?
Jeff, great article; you make me want a new computer... again. Actually you make me want several new computers haha. One for use as a media center, one as a file server/sandbox, and one for dev. Anyway I'm really looking forward to the overclocking portion ;)
The BIOS screen indicates the DVD drive is on secondary slave. Wouldn't it be better for it to be the master? I'm sure the old bugs optical drives used to have when set up as the slave have long since been resolved, but does this arrangement affect performance? Maybe not, since there is no master device on the bus?
Want to know why the memory score is lower?
Roddy, says it based on speed, not size. He's right.
When you increase the number of buses that have to connect to cache, and/or increase the cache size, you increase the number of transistors a signal has to go through to get to the end.
In short, a equally clocked memory bus for a dual versus quad, will always have the quad disadvantaged by latency. It's a very small amount, but per transaction it's not that small of a percentage. It's there.
Another good burn in utility: Memtest86+. Runs a variety of patterns designed to detect bad memory, and report any failures it finds.
You don't even need an OS installed to run it, so it's usually the first test I run.
annoying inconsistency I noticed with this post; you show a Vista Home Premium retail box in one of the photos but the Vista Experience summary says it's running Vista Ultimate
Next time take the time to read the article.
Great stuff, this. Where can I get me one of these Mark I fingers you describe? grin Seriously, can you post the cost breakout of the rig you're building? Thanks.
I've found with recent mobos the BIOS can be flashed from Windows. This is much much simpler - download, run and reboot.
Jake: "Seriously, can you post the cost breakout of the rig you're building? Thanks."
There's a link to the hardware over at Scott's blog in yesterday's post (right at the top).
Anybody else experiencing problems rendering the pictures on this post?
I'm curious about troubleshooting procedures when things don't go smoothly. For example, I just recently built my own computer as well (with a surprisingly similar build to yours, independently arrived at). It worked well for a few days, but now when I turn it on I get power and fans turn on, but the BIOS POST messages never start - no beep, no monitor activity, nothing. How do I go about troubleshooting this?
Have a look over at http://blogs.ipona.com/dan/archive/2007/08/02/8412.aspx which covers a few things like memtest, livecds and things to think about if things go wrong.
If the power is going on and the fans are working, but you're not getting any post messages, have a look and see if your motherboard has a CMOS reset jumper or button. It's usually used to get overclockers out of trouble and reset their settings back to the defaults when they overclock too high, but in your case, it might just get the BIOS to realise its been switched on. Failing that, my suggestion would be to ask on the mobo manufacturers forum. The lights are on but nobody's home.
Core Temp bombs out under Vista 64-bit (says "The driver has failed to load! Some information will not be available" in a dialog box, then pops up a new copy of that dialog box at one second intervals until I nuke the process). Do you know of a good temp monitoring program to use under Vista 64-bit?
How come I am unable to run more than one instance of Prime95?
What do you do if the motherboard doesn't recognize the drives?? I have a cd drive and a hard drive that are not recognized and I don't know what to do. They are both SATA. Lost
I'm still trying to figure out how you managed to hide all the power cables behind the mobo. I've got almost the exact same configuration but all those ugly thick cables are all jamming up the front of the case, quasi-held-in-place by those sliding plastic things.
I wouldn't build myself a new workstation today without RAID 1 set of disks. My configuration would probably be a Raptor + RAID 1 disks.
(RAID 1 = Mirrored disks)
I'm quite sure Joel Spolsky wrote about this (RAID1) some years ago.
But now I can't seem to find the link. If I recall correctly, mirrored disks is company policy at Fog Creek.