BOOT CAMP 323 (27/04/04)




We are now ready to begin assembling our home build PC; this is spread over the next two Boot Camps but we can make a start this week with some essential preparation work.


But first a few words of caution. Nowadays most electronic devices are very well protected against damage from static discharge and the chances of anything going wrong are quite small but don’t tempt fate. If you regularly receive shocks when touching metal objects you might want to re-think your wardrobe and where you’ll be building the computer – in other words avoid static-generating man-made fibres and nylon carpets.


Get into the habit of touching a radiator or pipe or any earthed metalwork before you start work on the PC and touch the metal case frequently to disperse smaller charges that may build up on your clothes and body. If you are really worried ‘earth’ the case by connecting it by wire to a radiator or water pipe for the duration of the assembly operations and wear a earthing wrist strap, obtainable from PC parts dealers. Only remove components from their anti-static packaging as and when you need them; handle them as briefly as possible and avoid touching exposed components and connectors.


If a plug or socket doesn’t fit easily don’t force it. Nothing should require more than light to firm finger-pressure and virtually all of the plugs and sockets we’ll be dealing with are different shapes and only fit one way around so it’s almost impossible to get anything mixed up.


You can save a lot of time and effort by familiarising yourself with the motherboard and everything you need to know is in the manual that comes with it. It’s full of technical jargon and charts but don’t be put off, most motherboards are factory set and self-configuring; all you need to do is fit a few bits and pieces, bolt it into place and plug in some cables. Nevertheless, you should get to know where all the sockets are so find the main layout diagram; you will be referring to this regularly so bookmark the page.


Remove the motherboard from its box and place it on top of the anti static bag so you can get a close look at it. There’s a bank of sockets at right angles to the board on one side; turn it so they are on the left and this will help you to orientate the board to the layout diagram, and its position inside the case. These are the rear panel sockets for the monitor, printer, speakers and so on that protrude though a set of holes in the back of the case.


On the body of the motherboard you will see the large square ‘Zif’ socket for the CPU chip, surrounded by mounting clips for the cooling fan; close by there’s a small three-pin socket for the cooling fan. If you look closely at the CPU socket you will see one corner is marked or indented and one of the hundreds of tiny contact holes is blanked off; this is to make sure the CPU can only fit one way around. The long slots for the memory modules are also fairly obvious. Find out which is slot 1 (or A1) and make a mental note of the position of the little lugs between the rows of contacts, which are also there to ensure correct alignment. There are two similar looking sockets for the primary hard disc and slave drives (labelled IDE1), and CD/DVD drives (IDE2); these have notches that along the sides that line up with lugs moulded on the plugs as does the smaller socket for the floppy drive, which will be nearby. There should be two sockets for the power cables from the power supply module (one square, one rectangular) and again they’re quite large and easy to find.


The only really fiddly job concerns the connections for the front panel lights, switches, USB ports and internal speaker. These are on rows of tiny pins onto which you push little black connectors; study the connections carefully, the diagrams are not always very clear. The pins and connectors are labelled but the pins are packed very close together and it can be awkward to fit the connectors in the confines of the case, so have a desk lamp handy, and a pair of large tweezers. If you get it wrong no harm will be done but it might mean the PC won’t switch on or reset, or the power and hard disc activity lights won’t work.


The last job this week is to get the case ready. Remove the lid or sides, put the bag of screws and fittings to one side and tidy the power supply and front panel cables out of the way. On most cases you need to remove metal blanking plates for the CD/DVD and floppy drives. These are behind the plastic blanking plates on the front of the case. The plastic covers are normally held in place by simple clips, prise one free with a screwdriver blade or knife then you can easily remove the others. I usually take out all of the metal blanking plates so I can easily add extra drives later on. The plates have to be prised open then bent back and forth a few times to fracture the metal connecting strips. Wear gloves and use pliers, as there can be a lot of sharp edges inside some cheaper cases. 


Finally, if you are using the suggested motherboard with an on-board video adaptor you may need to change the escutcheon plate on the back panel for the motherboard sockets. The case should come with a replacement plate; check it’s the right one by lining it up with the sockets on the motherboard. Remove the original plate, check the orientation and pop in the new one, which should press and fit into the hole from inside the case.


Next week – Build your own PC – part 4





Made from specially treated plastic, designed to disperse a static electric charge



Small loudspeaker inside a PC case, used for warning or error sounds during boot-up



Zero Insertion Force – socket for microchips, designed to prevent damage with a simple lever mechanism to securely grip the connecting pins.




To avoid any last minute hold-ups make sure that the motherboard comes with the flat ribbon cables for the hard disc and CD/DVD drives and the ‘audio’ cable for the CD-ROM drive. If you want to add a touch of individuality to your home-built PC, and make it look a lot neater you could swap the standard drive cables for a set of coloured ‘round’ cables; these are widely available from PC dealers for around £15.00.

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