Moment of truth

This week all the parts have arrived for my new computer. I worked on various aspects of it over several nights this week and the assembly was finished last evening. Having elected to build a fresh Windows 8 install, and the Windows 7 image  of my previous computer being on the disk I was putting into the new one, I used Ghost to do a direct disk to disk copy onto another disk. I then put this disk into the new computer and started setting it up. There have been a few hiccups, the first was when Windows 8 Setup generated the infamous “Can’t create or locate a partition” error. I thought at first it was a problem with the pen drive and external HDD I used to boot and run setup, but changing to a bootable DVD did not make the error go away. Eventually I discovered that removing the RAID controller card from the computer before running setup enabled it to work. The card was put back in once Windows 8 was running and with its drivers installed it functions flawlessly as should be expected. A second hiccup has been with the onboard USB3 controller which is an Intel Extensible Host Configuration Interface. When I plugged in an ext HDD to these ports it kept disconnecting itself after a short time, so I installed the 4 port USB3 PCIe x1 card that I had in the previous computer, as its drivers gave no trouble under Windows 8 on that computer. I have decided to keep this card in the computer regardless of whether Intel fixes their drivers or not, since I can always do with extra USB ports on the back of the computer, and because I don’t have any way at present of connecting anything to the USB3 connector on the board which would enable the onboard ports 11 and 12 to be used. Once I got the system up and running I set up Hyper-V Platform and have already created a couple of VMs to play with. I also have VMware Player installed. The rest of today has been spent on reinstalling software and working with the other computers.
The entire configuration is as follows, nearly all the items were purchased from Ascent or are available from them.
  • CPU: Intel Pentium G2120 “Ivy Bridge”. This slots into the range below and at a cheaper price than the lowest spec Core i3 processor. It has 2 cores but is not hyperthreaded. It supports Intel VT-x and EPT for virtualisation, but not VT-d. I decided to save about $40 over the cheapest Core i3 processor with this but performance may be a little worse due to only 2 threads being supported instead of 4. Came in a boxed package with with a heatsink and fan. LGA1155.
  • Mainboard: Intel DB75EN – 7 Series “Ivy Bridge”. A lower end board although it still has many useful features. 2x PCI slots, 1x PCIe x1 slot, 1x PCIe x16 slot, 5x SATA ports, 12 USB ports, VGA and DVI ports, parallel port, 1x PS/2 port, 1x serial port. 4x DIMM slots. 1x CPU socket LGA1155. All SATA ports can be configured for hot plug. Parallel port is interesting, to see these appearing in boards again. Single PS/2 port for either a keyboard or a mouse, or both with a splitter (I have used USB for years so this doesn’t bother me). The CPU socket is a bit different from the LGA775 with the load plate on top being secured differently and another metal plate underneath the board, which helps to prevent the board from bowing when the heatsink is put on. One of the things I thought quite interesting when I built my LGA775 system was how much the board inevitably bowed because of the pressure on the top of the CPU from the heatsink which is attached by four posts to the board. It was quite different with Socket 7 where the heatsink was attached by metal spring clips to the socket itself. These clips were very difficult to attach and I once blew up a board by gouging a track next to the socket while trying to get the clip on or off. The attachment system with posts onto the board as used for some years now is much easier. The heatsink itself is about half the height of the one on my oldest computer’s current “Prescott” CPU, due to the great improvements in the more recent CPU generations in reducing the power usage of the CPU. Onboard Intel HD3650 graphics which is dual headed with the two connectors.
  • Memory: 2x Kingston KVR1333D3N9H/4G, 4GB, DDR3-1333, PC3-10600, CL9. I had planned to buy one 8GB DIMM but they were out of stock of these so the pair has been put in instead at slightly higher cost. Although the board will support up to 1600 MHz memory, in practice this is hard to come by. As the board supports dual memory channels having a minimum of two DIMMs installed it is possibly somewhat faster than a single device. Both CPU and board support up to 32 GB which is achievable with all four slots containing 8 GB DIMMs.
  • Chassis: Inwin C583 Mid Tower chassis. 3x 5.25” external bays, 2x 3.5” external bays, 3x 3.5” internal bays. Comes with Powerman 400W AXT12V power supply (which I exchanged with the Enermax Tomahawk supply in the previous computer). Some of the bays are toolless with pins instead of screws to hold devices in place. The front panel and sides simply clip on and off, and clips are used rather than screws on some of the card slots. It is a clean modern design but only has a pair of USB2  ports and two audio ports on the front panel. A card reader will fit into the 3.5” external bay without any adaption, whereas I had to modify the Foxconn TS001’s bays to fit the card reader in the previous computer. All the bays which use pins allow the pin spacing to be adjusted to suit different devices. The internal drive bays swing out for easy installation/removal.
  • Power supply: As mentioned the Enermax Tomahawk 405W ATX12V supply. Plenty of connectors although we could do with fewer Molex and more SATA power connectors as not one single device in this computer (so far) needs a Molex connector and I have had to use at least one Molex to SATA adapter. This supply is enclosed in a black case.
  • Card reader: Hewlett-Packard AR941AA with slots for CF, xD, microSD, SD/MMC, MS. Requires one USB2 dual header on the mainboard for the captive cable supplied. USB2 external socket on front panel. Maps to 5 drive letters by default but can be remapped to 5 folders on an existing hard drive under NTFS. Having a microSD slot means you don’t have to use a flaky adapter. It comes in a 3.5” form factor with a mounting kit for a 5.25” bay.
  • Drives: Boot drive is a Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 of 250 GB. Data is stored on a pair of WD Caviar Black 1 TB drives connected to a Promise TX2300 controller (PCI slot) in a RAID-1 array. The system will soon have a Raidon InTank ST1000 removable drive bay installed. The internal eSATA port is connected to a rear panel slot connector. The InTank will probably be connected to one of the standard SATA ports and it configured for hotplug as provided for in the Bios. ASUS lightscribe capable SATA DVD drive.
  • USB: The board provides six rear panel USB connectors (pair of USB3 and four USB2). Onboard headers provide for four more USB2 and two more USB3 ports. Due to driver problems with the USB3 ports I currently use a Megapower MC1A-00188-G00 PCIe x1 card (Dynamix AOC-PE-U34P) which has an ETron onboard controller and provides four USB3 ports on the rear panel). With one of the onboard USB headers required by the card reader, I opted to put a 2 port USB2 slot adapter on the back of the computer instead of connecting the chassis’s pair of front panel USB2 sockets, as the card reader provides a USB2 socket of its own on the front panel. It could be that in time especially if I can get those two rear USB3 ports working reliably I will connect up the two front USB2 ports or perhaps there will be a drive bay adapter for two front USB3 ports to connect to the unused board header.
The assembly was fairly straightforward. The trickiest part is always going to be installing the CPU. Because the CPU goes into a socket with over a thousand pins on it, you just have to be very careful to put the CPU in place to avoid bending any of those pins, and you don’t want to be clumsy and drop the CPU while you are at it. Then carefully close the load plate and locking lever. Phew. I elected to build the board outside the chassis to check it was going before I put the power supply and assembled board into the chassis. The Inwin C583 has nine standoffs built into it, 6 of which were needed while 2 standard brass standoffs had to be screwed in place for the remaining pair of mounting holes. At least there are not any mounting holes under a CPU socket these days, there was at least one Socket 7 board produced by Asus or someone which had this “feature”. This board at least has mounting holes in line with the main power connector, on the DG41RQ pushing in the power plug will bend the board unless you make sure to support it because the mounting holes are set back from that edge.

The assembled board before installation in the chassis.
The completed chassis. A little different now with the USB3 card installed and down to one DVD drive. Plenty of fans, the power supply and chassis both have 120 mm fans to help remove heat.