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Upgrading and Repairing PCs Tip #23: Building Your Own Computer: 16 Steps for Powering on Your System for the First Time

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So you've built your computer, but now will it work? In this excerpt from the 22nd edition of Scott Mueller's Upgrading and Repairing PCs, Scott walks you through 16 steps to powering on your new system.

Find more tips from Upgrading and Repairing PCs here.

From the book

At this point, you are ready to power on the system for the first time. To prepare for this, connect the following:

  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Display
  • Power

Note that I did not include connecting a network cable. I usually recommend you do that after the OS has been installed, along with any service packs, and after you have ensured you are either behind a router or have the OS’s built-in firewall turned on.

Now that everything is connected, you can power up the system and run the BIOS Setup program. This enables you to configure the motherboard to access the installed devices and set the system date and time. The system POST (power-on self-test) also runs to determine whether any major problems exist. To run the BIOS Setup and configure the system, do the following:

  1. Power on the monitor first and then the system unit. Observe the operation via the screen and listen for any beeps from the system speaker.
  2. The system should automatically go through a POST consisting of video BIOS checking, a RAM test, and usually an installed component report. If a fatal error occurs during the POST, you might not see anything onscreen, and the system might beep several times, indicating a specific problem. Check the motherboard, BIOS documentation to determine what the beep codes mean. A list of POST codes is included in Chapter 19. Systems that use UEFI might create an error log that can be viewed before the system starts or use beep codes for some types of errors.
  3. If there are no fatal errors, you should see the POST display onscreen. Depending on the type of motherboard BIOS or UEFI used, such as Phoenix, AMI, Award, or others, you have to press a key to interrupt the normal boot sequence and get to the BIOS Setup program screens that enable you to enter important system information. Normally, the system indicates via the onscreen display which key to press to activate the BIOS or UEFI Setup program during the POST, but if not, check the motherboard manual for the key(s) to press to enter Setup. Common keys used to enter BIOS or UEFI Setup are F1, F2, Del, F10, Esc, and Ins.
  4. √√ See the Chapter 5 section “Running or Accessing the BIOS Setup Program,” p. 310.

  5. Press the appropriate key to enter the BIOS Setup when prompted. Because the POST in modern motherboards is so fast, it is easy to miss the time you are supposed to press the key, so I usually start tapping the key repeatedly just a second or two after powering on. In some cases this can generate a keyboard error message, which you can ignore as the BIOS Setup screen appears. You should now be in the BIOS Setup. If you didn’t press the key in time, reset the system and try again.
  6. Check the BIOS version reported on the main Setup screen and ensure that it is the latest version. If it isn’t, now would be a good time to install the updated flash BIOS image. The easiest method to do a BIOS upgrade on newer systems is via a bootable CD containing the BIOS image. To do this, on another system visit the motherboard manufacturer website and download the bootable CD image (*.ISO) file. Burn this image to a CD, and then place the CD into the optical drive of the new system and reset it. Follow the prompts on the screen to complete the BIOS update.
  7. Check the various BIOS Setup screens to ensure your processor and memory are being properly recognized and supported. Check CPU type, speed, cache, total RAM, dual channel mode, and so on.
  8. Disable any ports or devices that will not be used, such as serial ports, parallel ports, consumer infrared ports, and so on.
  9. Check to see that all the installed drives are being detected.
  10. Check the Drive Configuration. Ensure that the system is set to AHCI at a minimum, or even better, ensure that it is set to RAID mode. I recommend RAID mode even if you don’t plan to use RAID because it includes all AHCI functionality and allows for a future RAID migration without having to reinstall the OS or drivers. This is called “RAID Ready.” Set the IDE (backward compatible) mode if you are installing an older OS that does not have AHCI or RAID drivers. This will unfortunately reduce driver performance because advanced SATA features such as NCQ (Native Command Queuing) will be disabled. Note: you cannot use IDE mode with an SSD.
  11. Check Fan Control and Hardware Monitoring (called PC Health on some systems) to see that all fans are being recognized and that the fans are reporting proper rotational speeds. Also observe component temperatures. Note that some components such as the chipset ICH (I/O Controller Hub) are “designed” to run from 90°C to 115°C (up to 239°F), so high temperatures are normal and even expected for that chip.
  12. Check Memory Configuration. I recommend leaving the default Auto settings, which will automatically set the memory timing according to the modules you have installed.
  13. Check the Chipset Configuration. If you’re running Windows Vista or newer, I recommend enabling the HPET (High Precision Event Timer) because it is supported in these versions of Windows, but not in Windows XP.
  14. In the Security menu, enable VT (Virtualization Technology) if available. This allows virtualization software such as Virtual PC or VMware to use the hardware virtualization circuitry in the chip, which improves the performance of virtualized OSs and applications.
  15. In the Power menu, check the ACPI Suspend State. Ensure that it is set to S3 (Suspend to RAM) instead of S1 (Sleep). The reason is that S3 uses virtually the same amount of power as being completely off, thus saving you up to $100 per year or more in energy costs per system!
  16. In the Boot menu, check the boot order. Ensure that the optical or USB flash drive precedes the hard disk or solid-state drives, which will enable a successful OS installation from CD/DVD or bootable USB flash drive.
  17. After you check all the settings in the BIOS Setup, follow the instructions onscreen or in the motherboard manual to save the settings and exit the Setup menu.
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