PC building

Part of this weekend was spent assembling PCs. We decided to upgrade both sets of parents to newer systems for Christmas, since they are running years-old machines with Windows 98, which I consider to be unsafe to be on the Internet, and definitely unsafe for online banking and shopping.

One of my wife's colleagues recently decided to upgrade his Dell for a newer system (the prices of new machines having tumbled in the past 12 months), so he gave me his old one. I was amazed – it was a Pentium 4, and literally only a couple of years old. He'd asked me to strip out the hard disk so that he could destroy it and any confidential data it contained. That was very straightforward – I ordered a new "PATA" 160Gb disk, cleaned the innards of the machine a bit, and that machine is ready to go over to Poland. Once it gets there I will have the entertaining job of trying to install the Polish language version of Windows XP, which my parents-in-law need for their banking applications (they run their own business).

The other machine was far more fun. Over the past few years I have collected various old PC boxes and spares, and decided to make use of them. I ordered a cheap motherboard/processor/memory bundle from Novatech, running a Sempron 2800 which is probably even more than my mother needs, but should last well. I took the opportunity to upgrade the graphics card and DVD drive in my own home-built machine, so the new machine inherited those. I already had a case, floppy drive, PCI modem, and several PSUs. The PSUs I had either didn't work, or were underpowered for modern CPUs, so I took a trip to Maplin where I picked up a cheap new 350W PSU, and remembered to get an SATA power cable while I was there. I forgot to get the SATA data cable, though, so had to make a second trip.

<rant>WHY don't motherboard and drive manufacturers ship SATA cables? The motherboard bundle came with a bunch of IDE cables, which have now gone into my bits box. Why not include SATA cables? Of course, I know – it's a ploy to get us to spend more on kit.</rant>

As another aside, the other bizarre thing that happened was that the second time I was at Maplin, I ended up translating a transaction between a couple of Polish guys who wanted to buy some SD cards for their digital cameras, and the shop assistant who seemed to not be very interested in trying to understand or assist them. Gave me a bit of a boost to be able to use my language skills, although I know my vocabulary is still pretty limited.

Back to building: the problem that nearly scuppered the whole thing was the case. To be fair, it is an old case. Although it was an ATX motherboard going into an ATX case, it turned out that the main power connector on the board was positioned directly underneath the 5.25" drive cage, which was bolted (not screwed) into the case. I decided that about a two inch by half-inch cut was needed to the back of the drive cage. Fortunately my neighbour owns a grinder, so he was able to cut that portion out for me so the board fitted and the power cable could be plugged in without further issues.

Once the machine was built, I first booted a Fedora Core 4 DVD in rescue mode and had a look at the system via the /proc filesystem. It looked like all of the devices were in good shape. Unfortunately, against my own principles, I then went on to install Windows XP SP2 OEM. Let the Windows-vs-Linux debate (and abuse towards me) commence.

I'd read that Windows XP has trouble installing onto SATA drives, so I was fully expecting to have to load a driver disk with SATA drivers during the install. As it happened, everything just worked first time. I had some fun working out the model of the modem, as the Device Manager simply showed it as a "PCI Simple Communications Device" with no driver. In the end, the OS build went pretty smoothly.

My first acts post-build were to install Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, and AVG antivirus.

1 thought on “PC building”

  1. […] Last Christmas I built new systems for my mother and my parents-in-law. My mother’s PC is on dial-up (still!), and my in-laws in Poland are on satellite broadband, so I haven’t been able to do anything particularly dever like sorting out dynamic DNS addresses. Actually I did try to get a DynDNS address working for my in-laws, but there were weird issues to do with NAT’ing from a router that I couldn’t get access to – upshot is, my plans for providing remote support got ruined early on.  […]

Leave a Reply