Part 1 of Adventures in PC Crafting can be found here.
We’ve all made that mistake, jumped before we had done enough research, spent a little more than we’d intended. All I wanted was a new motherboard and CPU. A small upgrade, just $400. Good God, did I not have a clue what I was getting into.
Gearing up for Battle
Waking up on Sunday, I have one purpose in mind. Church? Ha, very funny. No, I’m headed to any store that will sell me a mid or full tower case to house all my shiny new PC parts. Unfortunately, I live in a part of Texas where there isn’t a single large retail store close. The nearest Best Buy is thirty minutes away (thanks to traffic and there is always traffic). I’ve determined that, while it will cost me quite a bit more, I’ll pick up a nice case at said Best Buy. Sometimes, you pay for convenience.
Getting ready, I hop in my trusty Chevy and hit the road. Thirty minutes later, I’m wandering around the computer section of Best Buy…and I can’t find any cases. Their online store said they carry cases, I made sure to check before I left the house, but there’s not a one actually in stock. After fifteen minutes, I give up the search and flag down one of the ‘nice’ men in blue shirts.
This one turns out actually to be nice and doesn’t dismiss me because of my gender (Yes, this happens to me all the fucking time at Best Buy, but that’s another blog for another time). He takes me to the PC gaming section, which they’ve apparently moved since my last visit to the gaming section. Now I understand why I couldn’t find anything and my hopes at a quick purchase and journey home rise…only to be dashed upon the shitty grey carpet that covers the store. They don’t have a case in stock. In fact, they never stock cases in stores, but if I want to wait for five to seven business days, they can get one sent up from the warehouse.
Ha, ha…fuck that. The entire reason I went to shop for an overpriced PC case at this store was because I wanted it now. I bid the salesman a nice afternoon and head back out the door.
There’s only one thing left to do, because I’m set on this course of action and I won’t be dissuaded by no common sense! Thirty minutes from this Best Buy, is a Fry’s. Anything I could possibly want to purchase for this endeavor is stocked in this megastore. Hoping back into my truck, I continued south, secure in my knowledge that this time I will not be foiled.
Sure enough, I have a salesman helping me ten minutes after stepping into the store and realizing the daunting options that lie before me. Without even asking, he takes me straight to the mid towers that are already on sale. I make a quick purchase of a full tower black case, blue LED fans, 7 expansion slots, and spiffy tray on top (which I cannot find online anywhere) and hurry back home. There’s a PC to build!
The Boss Battle Begins
Arriving home, I cart the monstrous box containing my case into my office, shut the cats outside (darn static generators), tie up my hair (stupid static generator), and get to work! In no time, screws are everywhere.Who knew a computer was held together with that many screws?
Tip for anyone building a PC for the first time: Get a roll of masking tape, attach one end to a wall, then stick each screw to it in order that you remove it from your PC. Since I was working with two cases, I should have done this twice, one piece of tape for each to keep them separate. As it was, I tossed them all into the same little plastic case and quickly became confused as to which screw went into what hole.
First thing I want to get in place, is that darned motherboard. Popping in the port plate into the case, I slide in the motherboard. If it doesn’t fit inside the case, at least I’ll know immediately. Lo and behold, it fits! Eight screws are required to hold it in place and I’m ready to move on to the CPU
Breaking out the thermal paste in its cute little tube, I navigate the intricate (read childproof levels of frustrating) lock that holds the small bit of metal in place. Then I realize I didn’t have to do that and put it back in the snug little compartment. Smearing a dollop of paste onto the back of the CPU, I attach the gigantic heat-sink/fan to the back and screw that into place as well. The CPU fan is easily plugged in and so far, we’re off to a running start!
Breaking out the motherboard’s manual (I’m not a dude, I read manuals), I figure out which PCI slot will take my video card and plug it in. Unfortunately I haven’t removed the metal cover that will allow access to the VGA connectors. Pulling it out again, I unscrew a plate and try again. The hole isn’t big enough. Unscrewing a second plate, I plug-in the card and voila! Success. Four more screws and my video card is now in place.
Tip for anyone building a PC for the first time: The motherboard manual is a goldmine of information. Not only will it tell you what parts your motherboard is compatible with, it will tell you how to put them all together! Your first stop when stuck should be to check your manual.
Since I have the manual still out, I find the PCI slot for my sound card and repeat the above steps with one difference. I remove the plate covering the ports before I plug it in. Two more screws and the card is in place in half the time of the video card. Progress!
Now for something tricky, the power supply. This thing is heavy and could, in theory, kill me. It’s not likely, but I’m one of those people who worries about being that 1% no one wants to be. Surprisingly, the process is incredibly simple. I slid it into place and plug in point a to point b. And point c to point d. And…where are my cords? While taking apart my old PC, I’ve misplaced two different cords that were once attached to my power supply. I know they’re still in the room with me, but so are about a dozen other cords.
After a little comparison, I find the cords I’m looking for still attached to my old case and quickly free them from the dinosaur. I put each where I think they’re supposed to go, 12pin to the motherboard, 4 pin to the motherboard, other 4 pins to…the power supply? Sure. It looks right and nothing blows up. I move on.
Finding my hard drive still inside the old case, I free it from the monster’s clutches, after stripping a screw, and try to figure out how the front of my new case works. Eventually, I figure out there are three panels I can remove completely for DVD drives and the like. The other four come in sets of two, one fan each, and slide out in sections and are used for hard drives. At that point, it’s merely a matter of getting the hard drive in place, screwing it in, and sliding its section back into the case.
Unfortunately, when I go to screw the section back into place inside the case, the screws won’t go back into the correct holes. It takes me nearly ten minutes to figure out that I put the section in upside down and another ten minutes to get it into place correctly. Thankfully, the DVD drive takes half that time since I’ve figured out the intricacies of the case’s parts.
I’m nearly finished! All I have to do is plug the DVD drive, hard drive, and case buttons into the motherboard and I can power this baby up (or so I tell myself). This bit gets a little tricky as my hard drive is old enough to be backwards compatible with six pin power ports and I spend nearly twenty minutes trying to find a connector that I don’t even own. I nearly give up I’m so frustrated trying to figure out where I put this stupid cord. It’s only when I give up looking do I realize the same power cord going to my DVD drive can be hooked into my hard drive.
Tip for anyone building a PC for the first time: Keep all the cords from your drives and power supplies labeled with where they were originally plugged in! You can do this easily with a bit of masking tape and a sharpie. Don’t be stuck hunting for cords, or plug the wrong device into the wrong port!
That’s not the end of my woes. When I try to attach the hard drive and DVD drive to the motherboard, I realize my video card is in the way. Now I need to unscrew that, pull it out, plug-in my drives and then plug-in the video card again.
Lastly, but certainly not least, comes the case buttons, ports and fans. These are simple, easily labeled and, with a little help from my manual, I have them all plugged in under ten minutes. Immensely pleased with myself (and relieved that this is finally over), I attach all the pieces of my computer that sit outside the case (speakers, monitors, mouse, keyboard, etc.) to the proper ports and hit the power button! Fans whir, blue lights glimmer – and the motherboard light blinks red. My monitor remains black.
What have I done wrong?
Defeated by the Beast
Utterly flummoxed by my PC’s inability to boot up, I do the only thing I can think of – head to Google. Thank God for my laptop at this point. Booting the little darling up, I find a lovely sight with helpful threads called Tom’s Hardware. The forums there came up with answers to my building problems for every search I performed on Google. More than that, there was detailed information, including pictures and guides from very helpful folks, to answer questions I didn’t even know I had!
Particularly this thread helped me on my way to getting things on the right track. Following the steps listed, I verified my power was plugged into the motherboard right, then realized what I’d done. I hadn’t plugged in my video card. Remember above when I said I plugged in the power supply to the power supply? Well, I was supposed to connect that cord to my video card. Whoops! I fix this mistake and try to boot up again.
Glory hallelujah, the fans spin, the LEDs glow…and my monitor flickers to life! Well, one of them at any rate. The new BIOS comes up, I select the drive I want to boot from, and away we go!
At this point, I’m completely at a loss. I try everything I can think of, every search. I double-check every single step. There’s nothing I can find that I did wrong. The blue screen persists. I can’t get my PC to boot. I have failed the quest…and I don’t even know what I did wrong.