Skip to main content

Topic: Tips for computer builders (Read 958 times)

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Tips for computer builders
This is my advice to first-time computer builder: DON'T! The process is not easy. The components may be faulty. Accidents happen. And you don't have enough tools to find out where the problem is.

Tutorials on youtube by professionals don't help. Professionals don't get into trouble. Noobs do. Professionals have mostly forgotten how it was to be a noob. Instead, they give you the false impression that the process is easy and fun like a game of Lego with a screwdriver.

Many video tutorials tell you all you need is a screwdriver and the computer components. This is wrong. You will need at least

- two sizes of screwdrivers (preferably with magnetic tips), if your box is anything less than huge,
- pliers (very tiny pliers to pick fallen things up from tight places if your screwdriver doesn't have a magnetic tip),
- cutters (not scissors, but specialist cutters in order to avoid damaging the bundles of wires when you cut them open),
- alcohol for cleaning,
- clean (dustfree) wiping cloth,
- thermal paste (even if the stock CPU cooler has thermal paste preapplied, be ready to install the CPU multiple times, so you will have to clean the parts and apply your own thermal paste),
- a small flashlight to examine things in the case,
- tons of patience and time,

and it will still not be enough. Something will go wrong. They tell you it's max two hours of assembling things. No. It will be weeks of troubleshooting, months if you have nobody to help you.

More thorough video tutorials by professionals tell you to start by choosing the "right" case. This is a strong clue that we are dealing with someone who has forgotten real-life situations, who has lost the capacity to be useful to a first-timer. People in the real world actually already have a computer and are looking for a way to reuse some parts from there to spare money - at least the case should be reusable, if not anything else. Computer cases have been most resistant to change and innovation. There is no "right" case. There is the case you have wherein you want to build a new computer. If you as a PC build first-timer need to buy a new case, then you should not be doing this. You should take a very good look into your old case first and find a way to reuse it (and maybe a thing or two in it), but even so you will remain a noob. You won't become intermediate by staring into a box.

There is no gratification to be had from building a computer. It is not cheaper or better. It is not cheaper because you cannot afford to cheap out on any of the components. You may think you are putting together something precisely for your own needs, something that is best for you, but in truth you don't know your needs. You certainly don't know which parts correspond to your supposed needs, because you are noob. You think your idea has hatched long enough, for months even, but this is a process where no amount of planning will be enough. You will end up in frustration and overpaying on top of that.

Specifications and manuals don't help. They only tell you what things should fit together, but if the things don't fit together in reality, you are out of luck. And there will surely be some things that don't fit together, unbeknownst to you, because some parts require a surprising amount of force to connect, while the components mostly are very fragile and should be treated gently. As a noob, you will never know if you did it right. More precisely, you cannot be sure what exactly you did wrong. Either you didn't press strong enough where needed or you broke or bent something without noticing or, even if you apply the right force at the right times, the surface you work on isn't quite right. And you don't have enough tools to figure out later where the problem lies.

Something will definitely go wrong along the way. There's no escape from it. You will need someone to share the responsibility with. First-timers should be building under expert guidance the first twelve times or so. Otherwise you will be like me, like many other first-timers who did it wrong. They don't get likes on youtube, they usually don't share their stories, so you don't know about them.

Yesterday I tried to assemble my first PC by myself. The motherboard manual that I got doesn't contain anything about troubleshooting. They expect everything to work. A completely unjustified expectation.

I assembled enough things outside the case - CPU onto motherboard, stock cooler on top of it, RAM into its place, PSU connected at the necessary places. Then, outside the case, I attached the monitor and keyboard to the mobo and the PSU cable to the wall and switched the thing on. Fans spin, mobo lights up, cool. But the monitor has no signal. I thought it was something temporary. I disconnected the power and removed the power cable. I put everything into the case, added a DVD drive and a harddrive, reattached the power cable and switched the thing on again. The DVD drive opens and closes. There seems to be power in the harddrive too, so these parts are getting electricity. And the fans are spinning. The other side however, HDMI and USB and other holes, they don't get anything.

Googling I found out that this is actually a common noob problem. Noobs should not be building computers. I tried some advices. I tried removing and reinstalling RAM. I tried booting without RAM. This is the best troubleshooting list I came across http://www.mysuperpc.com/build/pc_first_boot_common_problems.shtml

They say the mobo should beep when you try to boot it up. No, it doesn't. I understand that this is a basic thing, to have a feedback signal whether things are right or wrong, but looks like modern motherboards, certainly the one I have, don't have this basic thing. The manual does not mention it nor indicate where such a beeper could be attached. Also, the mobo lights up in cool colours when turned on, but there's no indicator light to show whether the mobo recognises RAM or such. Pointless.

Basically, I tried everything short of removing and reinstalling the CPU. My next step will be to call someone who has actually assembled computers and who has an electrometre.

Let no one else undertake this useless and frustrating experiment.

  • Frenzie
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #1
Sounds like a bad motherboard if it doesn't come with basic troubleshooting in the form of lights, codes and/or sounds. In my current ASUS motherboard I neither like nor understand the way you're supposed to seat the RAM, but using the troubleshooting section in the manual I managed to figure out the problem fairly quickly. It has relevant status lights that, in this case, told me something was wrong with the RAM.

- two sizes of screwdrivers (preferably with magnetic tips), if your box is anything less than huge,
Hm, one has always sufficed for me. :)

More thorough video tutorials by professionals tell you to start by choosing the "right" case. This is a strong clue that we are dealing with someone who has forgotten real-life situations, who has lost the capacity to be useful to a first-timer. People in the real world actually already have a computer and are looking for a way to reuse some parts from there to spare money - at least the case should be reusable, if not anything else.
Who says the right case can't be your old case? That being said, if it's your first time building your own computer chances actually are your old case isn't reusable on purpose, at least if it originated from the likes of HP and Dell.

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #2
Sounds like a bad motherboard if it doesn't come with basic troubleshooting in the form of lights, codes and/or sounds. In my current ASUS motherboard I neither like nor understand the way you're supposed to seat the RAM, but using the troubleshooting section in the manual I managed to figure out the problem fairly quickly. It has relevant status lights that, in this case, told me something was wrong with the RAM.
Or cheap. Mine is as ASUS as yours. I just don't understand the differences. A system beep should not be some extra feature that raises price.

- two sizes of screwdrivers (preferably with magnetic tips), if your box is anything less than huge,
Hm, one has always sufficed for me. :)
I had to use three - one flat-headed to stuff cables when they became difficult. But they became so difficult I still had to take the PSU out of the case three or four times to manage cables better in the narrow space I had. This is another tip to first-time PC builders: Before action, think how you would later reverse the action. If you cannot think of a backdoor to a step, it's a step you shouldn't take.

Who says the right case can't be your old case?
In the tutorials I have seen, the right case has something called features. You are supposed to select it for some features and characteristics. Except that the only feature seems to be modularity (ability to take every corner of the case apart easily) and the only characteristic seems to be size (the more workspace the better).

That being said, if it's your first time building your own computer chances actually are your old case isn't reusable on purpose, at least if it originated from the likes of HP and Dell.
I didn't know that. I only know about boxes assembled in Estonia (computer assemblers like Microlink and Ordi). I know too little. Another reason why I should not have wasted my time.

  • Frenzie
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #3
Or cheap. Mine is as ASUS as yours. I just don't understand the differences. A system beep should not be some extra feature that raises price.
I don't think mine beeps. In fact beeping seems like the most basic (and perhaps most dependable?) form of troubleshooting available. One of my former motherboards, possibly an ASUS from the mid-'90s, practically came with a morse code guide. Does it beep slowly and continuously? Three times quickly in a row? And so forth. My current motherboard just shows a light around the relevant area that isn't working, with explanation in the manual. A previous motherboard I had showed codes like A7. Then you could look up what A7 meant. Same principle as the beeping, but definitely easier to work with.

I think I preferred the code thing over lights, which in turn I prefer over cryptic beeps.

What's your motherboard? It should be possible to check the manual online in other languages.

I didn't know that. I only know about boxes assembled in Estonia (computer assemblers like Microlink and Ordi). I know too little. Another reason why I should not have wasted my time.
Oh, you can tell in a heartbeat. Either it has normal screws or has some kind of punched together thing. You should probably still be able to reuse it, but let's just say it isn't the most user friendly.

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #4
B150M Pro Gaming

Then there's the thing called POST. From what I understand, when mobo does POST, then it can beep too. My current assembly does not even POST, I guess.

  • Frenzie
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #5
Huh, that is weird.

If you look at the manual for mine, 1.8, the "Onboard LEDs" chapter, shows you what I'm talking about. Yours, on the contrary, is talking about, and I quote: "an ultimate lighting effect."

https://www.asus.com/Motherboards/Z97AR/HelpDesk_Manual/

I guess one shouldn't buy "gaming" motherboards.  ???

Anyway, seating the RAM is really easy to mess up on these newer ASUS motherboards because they only put one of those clicky things on one side. That and forgetting to power the CPU (the 1 on your page 1-3) because they didn't used to have that in the past. Well, and depending on your GPU that might need separate power as well.

I had no idea there was such a thing as motherboards without basic troubleshooting features. I guess it only confirms I'm right in always checking the manuals before buying things.

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #6
I had no idea there was such a thing as motherboards without basic troubleshooting features. I guess it only confirms I'm right in always checking the manuals before buying things.
The manual is silent about missing features. It contains zero tips for troubleshooting. It expects everything to work. A first-timer would not even notice that he's buying as if a car without wheels.

  • Macallan
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #7
Sounds like a bad motherboard if it doesn't come with basic troubleshooting in the form of lights, codes and/or sounds.
PCs in general suck big time in this regard. Or rather, their firmware does.

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #8
In my current ASUS motherboard I neither like nor understand the way you're supposed to seat the RAM, but using the troubleshooting section in the manual I managed to figure out the problem fairly quickly.
My mobo's manual doesn't have a troubleshooting section. I took the parts back to the store (luckily I bought all the parts in one place, so I could take it all there as I had them assembled) and they diagnosed the issue as badly seated RAM. This is not funny, because I tried the RAM a hundred times, and apparently never once got it right. And of course I still won't know how to seat RAM.

(I still have to go and get the parts from the store, so we will see if this is really the only issue.)

  • Frenzie
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #9
I only meant that the relevant problem light for the RAM lit up. I don't think the manual had a troubleshooting section on RAM, besides the basic instructions for how to put it in. The problem on these ASUS motherboards is that they only have the thing that tells you whether it's seated correctly on one side, instead of on both sides like on all of my previous motherboards.[1] That way you have very little feedback as to whether you put it in correctly. Also, keep in mind that you probably have to push harder than you think. When it's really wrong you can easily see that it's misaligned. When it's a little wrong you might be able to ascertain by trying to pull it out.
This isn't because I haven't previously owned a DDR3 (or DDR4) device. My '09 Gigabyte DDR3 motherboard had 'em on both sides. So does this recent ASRock MB. And this recent Gigabyte MB. As does this recent MSI MB. In conclusion, the difficult memory seating is a distinguishing ASUS "feature" that must have been introduced sometime in the past decade, for I don't think this '04 MB of theirs had it. This is apparently the pill you have to swallow for their otherwise excellent, dependable hardware.

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #10
With the help of expert diagnositicians, the components are booting. No component was faulty. I allegedly only didn't seat RAM correctly.

Now that the hardware part has been solved, we arrive at the opsys part. Manjaro and Mageia don't boot from USB stick on that machine. Linux Mint and OpenSUSE do. 

This is the first time Manjaro and Mageia don't boot on hardware that I have. Now it seems that in addition to all other research I did before buying the components, I should have checked if Manjaro guys use the same components...

  • Frenzie
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #11
Could be that you have to change a setting in the BIOS. That being said, I'm pretty sure that mine booted old stuff right out of the box.

Anyhoo, I reckon this should be the relevant help page: https://wiki.manjaro.org/index.php?title=BIOS_and_UEFI

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #12
My old harddrive (very old with 32-bit Linux Lite on it, which my dad had been using) also booted into desktop no problem, except that it didn't detect internet and sound. And probably other things, such as 8GB RAM.

It's not a BIOS/UEFI thing. I can initiate the boot, but it gets stuck soon and never reaches the desktop. Applies to both Manjaro and Mageia. I think I will not go through the trouble of debugging that.

Edit: Actually, official Manjaro Xfce edition boots okay, but the less official Cinnamon edition doesn't. I would have preferred Cinnamon. Let's see how the faceless NET edition does.
  • Last Edit: 2016-05-28, 14:52:37 by ersi

  • Frenzie
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #13
Can't help you there. All I know is that "bleeding edge" usually equals "bleeding user" and I've heard that Manjaro is "bleeding edge".

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #14
The problem with Manjaro in this case applies only to some editions. Official Xfce edition works and so does i3 edition, while Cinnamon doesn't. It's not really an issue, because Manjaro has plenty of editions and some work. I guess given that I will be running some rather ancient monitors, I will install the more suitable i3/Openbox for desktop.

By the way, Arch is the true bleeding edge. Manjaro is considerably smoothened compared to Arch. I would not even consider trying Arch.

And it's not about bleeding edge anyway. Mageia 5 is over half a year old and doesn't boot to the end either. That's a shame. I like Mageia KDE better than OpenSUSE.

  • Frenzie
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #15
Mageia 5 is over half a year old and doesn't boot to the end either.
The bleeding edge doesn't cease to be bleeding edge by aging, but by bugs being fixed. :P

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #16
I didn't know that Mageia had the reputation of bleeding edge. Arch certainly has.

Speaking about bleeding edges, I don't remember having had an occasion of ever having a bleeding accident while handling computers and phones. At the same time, cutting oneself with A4 leaf of paper in office situation can be sometimes quite dangerous.

  • Frenzie
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #17
It doesn't afaik. I think my mind must've substituted Manjaro.  :doh:

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #18
I discovered that I cannot connect the optical drive to the motherboard. The optical drive looks like this



The big 40-pin connector has no correspondent on the motherboard for a cable like this



I had the power connected to the optical drive and I assumed it was working, but when it came to really trying, then no. Pretty silly if I have to buy a new optical drive or new anything at this point. The motherboard only has SATA data connectors like this.


  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #19
The name of the problem is IDE to SATA. And possible solutions look like this (in the order of worseness)







Completely unnecessary hoops in my opinion. I should have bought a slightly different motherboard.

  • Frenzie
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #20
I too had to retire my old, trusted IDE drive with this new motherboard. However, I already had a spare SATA drive lying around.

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #21
SATA optical drives are not too expensive, but it's a blow to the idea of my project, which was to try to re-use as many things as possible. It's utterly senseless to have to replace a perfectly functional DVD RW drive. I knew that 3.5" floppy disks had become an irreversible past, so I had to trash that old component and buy a new card reader, but DVD technology has not changed a bit and shows no signs of going out of fashion.

Then again, to review the details, the gigantic flat IDE cable from the old optical drive was ugly and unmanageable in the former assembly. The hoops in my previous post would be unmanageable in the current assembly (not enough space). I will have to buy a new optical drive and hope that if I ever build another computer, it will be viable to select a motherboard so as to make use of that old drive.

  • Frenzie
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #22
Before taking apart my computer a few months ago I hooked up a floppy disk drive to rescue some old floppies. Making images of them was quite easy, but the fun didn't stop there... I'll tell you about it when I'm not on my phone.

  • ersi
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #23
I didn't own either computers nor data storage things during the floppy era, so I had nothing to save over from floppies and the floppy device in the box was completely superfluous to me.

  • Frenzie
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Administrator
Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #24
Right, I'm not on my phone. You didn't have floppies? How did you save your documents?

Anyway, apparently back on Windows 98 I had used something called DriveSpace to greatly increase the storage capacity of floppies. It's basically like a ZIP archive, but completely transparent to the OS. I was badly surprised to find that Windows 10 does not support it anymore.

I then proceeded to acquire a technically illegal[1] already set-up VirtualBox version of Windows 98. After some automated installing of drivers, rebooting once or twice, and installing DriveSpace 3, I could finally load my floppy disk images into Windows 98 to retrieve my files. And I think I may have had to export them onto a regular floppy image since network support wasn't working. In any case, I've got my files.

Since I'm older and wiser now I already have a strong preference for uncompressed Markdown, i.e. plain-text files that will almost certainly remain legible for long after DOC(X) and ODT are lost to the sands of time.
I own legal versions of Windows 3 and the Windows 98 upgrade, but they're at my parents' place. Or technically my parents own them; same difference. You're probably only allowed to install them on one computer, but no one's using it anyway so that's not the issue either.