Putting Together the Budget PC
With parts at the ready (see Figure 14.7), your tools by your side, and a stretch of free time ahead (you can build this PC in an afternoon or evening), you're ready to start the build. The rest of this chapter takes you through the steps you need to follow. Happy building!
Figure 14.7 The budget PC, ready for the build.
Getting the Case Ready
The Antec case requires a bit of prep work before we can move on to more productive tasks:
- Remove the side panel—Remove the two thumb screws that attach the side panel to the back of the case. Slide the side panel's plastic handle toward the front of the case, swing the panel toward you, and then remove it.
- Liberate the screws, standoffs, and other case hardware—These bits and pieces are in a bag, and that bag is inside a box that comes behind the internal 3.5-inch drive bays, which consists of four removable metal trays. Remove the bottom two trays (for each tray, squeeze the metal clips toward each other until they release and then slide out the tray), remove the box, and then reinsert the drive trays.
- Remove the generic I/O shield—As you see in the next section, when test-fitting the motherboard in the case to determine where to put the standoffs, it helps if the I/O shield isn't in the way. Gently push the edges of the I/O shield back into the case until it's loose and you can remove it.
Installing the Motherboard Standoffs
A standoff (or a mount point, as it's often called) is a hex-nut screw, which means it actually consist of two parts: a bottom screw that enables you to insert the standoff into a hole in the side of the case and a top hex nut into which you can insert a screw. The idea is that you install from eight to ten (depending on the motherboard form factor) of these standoffs into the case, sit the motherboard on top of the standoffs, align the motherboard's holes with the hex nuts, and then attach the motherboard. This gives the board a solid footing but also separates the board from the metal case to prevent shorting out the board.
Installing the standoffs is easiest when the motherboard is bare, so that should be your first task:
- Find the standoffs that came with the case and put them aside.
- Lay the case flat on its side, with the open side facing up.
- Move all the case cables out of the way so you can clearly see the side panel that has the mounting holes. If you have trouble getting the power supply cable out of the way, consider temporarily removing the power supply, as described in Chapter 9, "Scavenging an Old PC for Parts."
See "Releasing the Power Supply," p. 234.
- Remove the preinstalled standoffs.
- If you haven't done so already, touch something metal to ground yourself.
- Take the motherboard out of its antistatic bag and lay the board inside the case, oriented so the board's back-panel I/O ports are lined up and flush with the case's I/O slot.
- Note which case holes correspond to the holes in the motherboard (see Figure 14.8). You might need to use a flashlight to ensure that there's a case hole under each motherboard hole.
Figure 14.8 The motherboard has ten holes through which you attach the board to the standoffs.
- Place the motherboard carefully aside.
- Screw the standoffs into the corresponding holes in the side of the case.
Just to be safe, you might want to place the motherboard into the case once again to double-check that each motherboard hole corresponds to a standoff.
Getting the Motherboard Ready for Action
Although you might be tempted to install the motherboard right away, and technically you can do that, it's better to hold off for a bit and do some of the work on the board while it's out of the case. We'll be installing the processor and the memory modules, and although it isn't impossible to install these parts with the board inside the case, it's a lot easier outside.
Before getting started, be sure to touch something metal to ground yourself. Now take the motherboard and lay it flat on your work surface. For the ASUS, it's best to orient the board so the I/O ports are facing away from you. This enables you to work with the processor socket without having to go over the heatsinks or the I/O ports.
Inserting the Processor
Begin by installing the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+ processor in the motherboard's AM2 socket. I won't go into the details here because I showed you how to insert AMD processors back in Chapter 8.
See "Installing an AMD CPU in a Socket AM2 Board," p. 219.
Installing the CPU Cooler
Now it's time to install the AMD stock cooler. We're using the stock cooler that came with the processor, so we already know it's compatible with both the CPU and the motherboard (and the AMD warranty on the processor remains in effect). Even better, the stock cooler already comes with the thermal compound preapplied, so we don't need to mess with any of that. I usually wait until the motherboard is installed in the case before adding the cooler, but the clip that holds the cooler in place is tricky to install even outside the case, and would be nearly impossible inside the case.
- If the plastic lever on the cooler's clip is perpendicular to the clip, pivot the lever counterclockwise so it stands straight up.
- Remove the plastic that covers the cooler's heatsink. Take care not to smudge the thermal grease on the underside of the heatsink.
- Orient the cooler over the CPU socket so the plastic lever that sticks up from the clip is on the same side of the CPU socket as the Northbridge (see Figure 14.9).
Figure 14.9 Orient the cooler over the CPU socket as shown here.
- On the side opposite the lever, maneuver the square hole in the clip over the rectangular protrusion in the plastic bracket that surrounds the CPU socket, as shown in Figure 14.10.
Figure 14.10 Slip one end of the clip onto the bracket.
- On the same side as the lever, press down on the clip and maneuver the square hole in the clip over the rectangular protrusion in the plastic bracket.
- Make sure the cooler's heatsink is lined up perfectly with the processor.
- Pivot the lever clockwise until it snaps into place, as shown in Figure 14.11.
Figure 14.11 Pivot the lever clockwise to secure the cooler.
- Connect the cooler's power cable to the motherboard's CPU fan header (labeled CPU_FAN), as shown in Figure 14.12.
Figure 14.12 Connect the CPU cooler's power cable to the motherboard's CPU fan header.
Inserting the Memory Modules
Now it's time to populate your board with your memory modules. Where you install the modules on the ASUS M2A-VM HDMI board depends on how many modules you're adding (see Figure 14.13):
- One module—Install the module in either socket A1 or in socket B1 (the yellow sockets).
- Two modules—Install identical modules in sockets A1 and B1 (the yellow sockets). This ensures a proper dual-channel configuration.
- Three modules—Install a set of identical modules in sockets A1 and B1 (the yellow sockets) and the third module in either socket A2 or socket B2. I don't recommend this configuration because the size of the memory channel is determined by the third memory stick. For example, if you have two 1GB modules A1 and B1, and a 1GB module in A2 or B2, then the memory bandwidth will be only 1GB.
- Four modules—Install one set of identical modules in sockets A1 and B1 (the yellow sockets) and a second set of identical modules in sockets A2 and B2 (the black sockets). This ensures a proper dual-channel configuration.
Figure 14.13 The memory module sockets on the ASUS M2A-VM HDMI.
I won't go through the installation steps here since I already covered how to install memory modules in Chapter 8, "Basic Skills for PC Building and Upgrading." Figure 14.14 shows our motherboard with our two 1GB modules installed.
Figure 14.14 Our motherboard with two 1GB memory modules in place.
See "Installing Memory Modules," p. 205.
Installing the Motherboard
With your motherboard populated with a processor, cooler, and memory, it's just about ready to roll. The next few sections take you through the detailed installation steps for the motherboard. This is the most finicky, most time-consuming, and most important part of the build. As you'll see, getting a motherboard configured involves lots of separate steps and lots of cable connections. It's crucial to take your time and make sure you've got all the connections just so.
Inserting the Motherboard I/O Shield
Earlier you removed the case's generic I/O shield, so now it's time to insert the I/O shield that came with the motherboard. Take the motherboard's I/O shield and fit it into the case's I/O opening. Make sure you have the I/O shield oriented properly:
- The two holes for the mouse and keyboard PS/2 ports should be at the top, while the three audio ports should be at the bottom.
- The protruding ridge that runs around the I/O shield should face the back of the case.
When the I/O shield is flush with the case, firmly press the bottom of the shield until it snaps into place; then press the top of the shield until it, too, snaps into place.
Attaching the Motherboard to the Case
With the custom I/O shield in place, you're now ready to install the motherboard inside the case. Here are the steps to follow:
- Move all the case cables out of the way so you can clearly see the side panel that has the mounting holes and the installed standoffs.
- If you haven't done so already, touch something metal to ground yourself.
- Gently and carefully maneuver the motherboard into the case and lay it on top of the standoffs.
- Adjust the position of the board so the board's back-panel I/O ports are lined up and flush with the openings in the I/O shield, as shown in Figure 14.15.
Figure 14.15 Make sure the motherboard's I/O ports are lined up and flush with the I/O shield's openings.
- You should now see a standoff under each motherboard mounting hole. If not, it likely means the I/O shield isn't fully seated. Remove the board, fix the I/O shield, and then try again.
- Use the mounting screws supplied with the case to attach the board to each standoff. To ensure a trouble-free installation, I use the following technique:
- First insert but don't tighten the upper-right screw.
- Next insert but don't tighten the bottom-left screw. (The bottom-left screw is often the hardest one to install because it's usually in the corner of the case. If you prefer to start with an easier target, insert the bottom-middle screw, instead.)
- Make sure all the holes and standoffs are properly aligned, and then tighten the first two screws.
- Insert and tighten all the rest of the screws.
Connecting the Front-Panel USB and eSATA Cables
Our Antec case offers the convenience of two front-panel USB 2.0 ports. You need to connect the USB 2.0 ports' cable (the connector is labeled USB) to one of the motherboard's internal USB headers.
One nice perk we get with the Antec case is a front-panel eSATA port, which will be super-convenient for connecting an external SATA drive for backups or whatever. For this port to work, you must connect its black SATA cable to one of the motherboard's SATA headers.
Figure 14.16 shows the USB and eSATA cable connections.
Figure 14.16 Connect the cable that runs from the USB 2.0 front-panel port to a USB headers, and connect the cable that runs from the eSATA front-panel port to a SATA header.
Connecting the Front-Panel Audio Cables
The rest of the Antec case's front-panel ports consist of Line Out (audio output) and Mic In (microphone input) audio ports. Note that the audio ports' cable has two connectors, one for standard audio (labeled AC '97) and one for high-definition audio (labeled HDA). Our ASUS motherboard supports HD audio, so you need to connect the HDA connector to the motherboard's audio header (labeled AAFP), as shown in Figure 14.17.
Figure 14.17 Connect the cable that runs from the front-panel audio ports to the AAFP audio header on the motherboard.
Connecting the Power Switch, Reset Switch, and LEDs
The next item on our build to-do list is to tackle the mess of wires snaking out from the front of the case, just below the external drive bays. These wires correspond to the following front panel features:
- Hard drive LED—This LED lights up when the hard drive is active. It consists of two wires with a single connector: the blue wire is the negative (ground) lead, the red wire is the positive (signal) lead, and the connector is labeled H.D.D. LED.
- Power switch—This is the button you press to turn the system on and off. Its lead consists of two wires, one white and one green, and the connector is labeled POWER SW.
- Reset switch—This is the button you press to reboot a running system. Its lead consists of two wires, one white and one blue, and the connector is labeled RESET SW.
- Power LED—This LED lights up when the system is powered up. It consists of two wires with a single connector: the blue wire is the negative (ground) lead, and the green wire is the positive (signal) lead; the connector is labeled POWER LED.
- Speaker—This is the lead for the case's external speaker. It consists of an orange and black pair of wires with a connector labeled SPEAKER.
Connecting all these wires is a bit tricky, but the good news is that the ASUS motherboard comes with a special connector that can greatly simplify things. It's called the Q Connector and contains the 12 pins that are required by the five front-panel connectors. Each pin is labeled, so you can easily see where each front-panel connector goes. After you've attached all five leads, you then attach the Q Connector itself to the motherboard's front-panel header.
Figure 14.18 shows the pin assignments on the Q Connector.
Figure 14.18 The pin assignments used on the Q Connector.
Given the pin assignments shown in Figure 14.18, here's how you connect the front-panel wires:
- Hard drive LED—Connect this with the red wire on IDE LED + and the blue wire on IDE LED –.
- Power switch—Connect this with the green wire on PWR and the white wire on Ground (Power).
- Reset switch—Connect this with the blue wire on Reset and the white wire on Ground (Reset).
- Power LED—Connect this with the green wire on PLED + and the blue wire on PLED –.
- Speaker—Connect this with the orange wire on +5V and the black wire on Speaker.
Figure 14.19 shows the wires connected to the Q Connector and points out the motherboard's front-panel header to which you attach the Q Connector.
Figure 14.19 Connect the front-panel wires to the Q Connector, and connect the Q Connector to the motherboard's front-panel header.
Installing the Hard Drive
The Antec case offers four internal hard drive bays, each of which has a metal bracket that slides in and out of the bay. You remove the brackets, attach the hard drive, and then reinsert the bracket.
Here are the steps to follow to install a hard drive:
- Pull the bracket out of the drive bay you want to use.
- Lay the hard drive inside the bracket as follows:
- The interface and power connectors should face toward the back (open) end of the bracket.
- The hard drive label should be facing up (that is, the underside of the hard drive—the side where the circuit board appears—should sit on the silicone grommets inside the bracket).
- Align the four holes on the underside of the hard drive with the four holes on the bracket, and then use screws to attach the hard drive to the bracket. Figure 14.20 shows the hard drive attached to the bracket, and it also shows one of the screws you need to use to make the attachment.
Figure 14.20 Each drive bay contains a bracket to which you attach the hard drive.
- Slide the bracket/hard drive into the drive bay until it clicks into place.
- Run a SATA cable from the hard drive's interface connection to a SATA header on the motherboard, as shown in Figure 14.21.
Figure 14.21 The hard drive with a SATA interface cable attached.
Installing the Optical Drive
You add the optical drive to your system by inserting it into one of the Antec case's 5.25-inch external drive bays. Here are the steps to follow:
- Touch something metal to ground yourself.
- Open the bezel door in the front of the case.
- Remove the plastic cover for the top drive bay.
- Remove the two purple rails that are attached to the inside of the drive bay cover.
- Use screws to attach the rails to the sides of the optical drive, as shown in Figure 14.22.
Figure 14.22 Attach a purple rail to each side of the optical drive.
- With the optical drive's connectors facing the inside of the case, slide the drive into a drive bay until it clicks into place. The front face of the optical drive should be lined up with the case bezel.
- Close the bezel door.
- Run a SATA interface cable from the optical drive's interface connection to one of the motherboard's SATA headers, as shown in Figure 14.23.
Figure 14.23 The optical drive's SATA interface connection.
Inserting the HDMI Card
Finally, we need to install the HDMI card that came with the ASUS board. This is a PCI Express x16 card, so it will fill our board's single x16 slot. I won't go into all the details here because I gave you specific instructions on inserting an expansion card in Chapter 8.
See "Installing an Expansion Card," p. 211.
Here are the basic steps:
- Touch something metal to ground yourself.
- Remove the screw and the slot cover that corresponds to the PCIe x16 slot.
- Insert the HDMI card into the slot and attach it to the case with the screw.
- Connect the HDMI card's S/PDIF digital audio cable to the motherboard's S/PDIF Out digital audio header, as shown in Figure 14.24.
Figure 14.24 Connect the HDMI card's digital audio cable to the digital audio header on the motherboard.
Installing the Case Intake Fan
To ensure good airflow through the case, we should add to the case's default exhaust fan an intake fan. Our Antec TriCool 120mm fan attaches to the fan mount, which is on the outside wall of the 3.5-inch drive bays. (By outside, I mean that part of the wall that faces the motherboard.)
Here are the steps to follow:
- Orient the fan so the Antec label faces the inside of the case.
- Align the fan with the mount's four holes.
- Use the long screws that came with the Antec case to attach the fan to the mount, as shown in Figure 14.25.
Figure 14.25 Attach the intake fan to the fan mount on the wall of the 3.5-inch drive bays.
Connecting the Power Cables
Our next order of business is to connect the power cables that supply juice to the motherboard and peripherals.
First, note that our ASUS board has two power headers:
- A 24-pin main power header, into which you plug the power supply's 24-pin connector, as pointed out in Figure 14.26.
Figure 14.26 Connect the power supply's 24-pin and 4-pin connectors to the corresponding headers on the motherboard.
- A 4-pin 12V header, into which you plug the power supply's 4-pin connector, as pointed out in Figure 14.26.
Your next chore is to connect the power leads for the two case fans. The rear exhaust fan (the one that came with the Antec case) only has a 4-pin Molex connector, so you must connect it to a 4-pin Molex connector on a power supply peripheral rail. The front intake fan that we added earlier comes with both a 4-pin Molex connector and a 3-pin motherboard connector. Attach the Molex connector to a 4-pin Molex connector on a power supply peripheral rail, and attach the 3-pin connector to the motherboard fan header labeled CHA_FAN1, which is located in the upper-right corner of the board.
Finally, you need to get power to the drives:
- Connect a SATA power cable from the power supply to the optical drive's power connector.
- Connect a SATA power cable from the power supply to the hard drive's power connector.
Okay, your budget PC is just about done. However, there are a few tasks you should perform and a few things you need to check. Here's the list:
- Route and tie off the cables—A well-built PC doesn't just have cables all over the place. Instead, the cables should be routed as far away from the motherboard as possible, and as close to the sides of the case as possible. This makes the inside of the case look neater and improves airflow throughout the case. Use cable ties if need be to keep unruly cables out of the way.
- Double-check connections—Go through all the connections and make sure they're properly seated.
- Double-check devices—Check the hard drive, optical drive, and expansion cards to ensure that they're not loose.
- Look for loose screws—Make sure there are no loose screws or other extraneous bits and pieces in the case.