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Thinking Outside of the PC Box

Or: A Technophobe Builds a PC

by Jim Bray

Part Three: Slot Machines and other "Mounting Concerns"

This series details my experiences at assembling a Windows-based PC tailored to what I do and what I need in a computer. I'll also include links to the various manufacturers involved, whenever possible, so you can take a closer look at the components in this system. Those links will open in a new window. You can also link to more in depth TechnoFILE reviews of each component tried.

I'm building a PC!

Little ol' me, the guy with the black technological cloud that follows him around!

As outlined in the previous columns, I've gathered together the bits for a beautiful new PC - which is a nice way to ensure you get exactly the components and performance you want.

Last time around, I mounted the CPU, motherboard, RAM, floppy drive, and all that other fun stuff, into the case. Now I have a (theoretically) functioning PC, ready for the installation of the SCSI interface, Video card, the modem, and the hard, DVD and CD-R drives.

Piece of cake!

Sliding Home...

All the expansion cards mount in the same way, whether ISA, PCI, or AGP. AGP and PCI slots look very similar - except that on my motherboard the AGP slot is brown (and mounted a bit more to the rear) and the PCI ones are "cream colored." The ISA slots are brown and much longer than the other types. Each type is clustered together, so they aren't hard to find.

The first step in installing expansion cards is to remove the little metal "tabs" that cover over the holes in the case through which the "business end" of the expansion cards stick. This is done by removing one little screw and taking out the piece. Hold onto the screw; you'll want to use it when you mount the expansion card.

And placing those expansion cards is easy - but remember to be careful, and make sure you aren't a "carrier" of static electricity (a caveat that applies throughout this entire construction process).

Grip the card firmly (not so firmly as to break it, though!) by the edges, trying to avoid all the chips and other arcane stuff, and slide it firmly yet gently - and keeping it straight - into whichever expansion slot you've chosen for it.

On my Gigabyte motherboard, the expansion slots are arranged (from top to bottom as the PC stands on my desk) as follows: 1 AGP, 4 PCI, 1 "shared" PCI/ISA (you can mount either, but not both) and 1 "standalone" ISA.

I decided, completely arbitrarily, to install the cards from what would be the top when the PC is stood up to what would be the bottom , which meant the AGP slot is first - so the video card is the first victim.

Pictures Perfect...

Mounting the ATI All-in-Wonder 128 video card, reviewed here, was a little more complex than some of the other installations, but only because there are so many nifty attachments that come with it.

After the card is in its slot, you can hook up the TV antenna/cable to it, as well as attach the other audio/video input/output cables. These are marked clearly in the product's documentation. The connectors only connect one way, so if you find you're really having to push, don't; you probably have it turned around. Once you've ensured the little pins are aligned properly they should slide easily into place.

If you're using a conventional sound card, you'll want to hook the "audio out" jack (the smallest of the three black output wires that spread out from the connection point) to the "input" jack on your sound card. In my installation, the cable needs an extension so it can plug into the subwoofer unit of the DSS 80 sound system.

The TV cable connector hooks up exactly the same way it does to your TV and/or VCR; you can't miss it.

Once you have all your connection ducks in order you're finished with this part.

Oh, don't forget to hook in your monitor! It mounts right to the video card and the connector - and method of connecting - is obvious.

Adaptec's 2940U2W SCSI interfaceGetting SCSI …

The next slot was earmarked for the SCSI interface. Why? Why not?

Going SCSI for the hard drive and other peripherals wasn't my first choice but, looking back on it now, I'm glad I went that way.

Adaptec's SCSI Card 2940U2W "ultra wide" interface (reviewed here) is very, very fast. The manufacturer says it'll let data zip across it at up to 80 MByte/sec.

Installation is very straightforward: the card slides into a PCI expansion slot the same way the other expansion cards do. The internally-mounted peripherals (CD-R, Hard Drive, etc.) will connect directly to this card via a big pink "ribbon cable."

External Ultra Wide SCSI components (of which I have none) can be connected to the Adaptec card at the back of the PC, just like the monitor, printer, etc. hook into their respective connectors.Adaptec also gives you an extra doohickey that mounts over another "hole" on the back of the case (but which doesn't take up an expansion slot). This is for narrower SCSI connectors (like my scanner).

This secondary connection point is actually attached to the main SCSI card with the same big pink cable that extends through the case to the internal SCSI devices, so make sure you attach your devices with this extra length requirement (it has to snake around to the back of the case again after you've hooked everything else in) in mind if you need to use that type of connection. I did, so I did.

Now, thanks to the circuitous route of this cable through the case, the PC's guts look as tidy as my desk - so I suppose it's appropriate.

Other than the network card that connects the PC to the server (which isn't a part of this project and so will therefore never be mentioned again - except to say that it mounts in exactly the say way as the other expansion cards), that took care of the PCI slots. The only thing left was to install the modem.

This went into the ISA slot at the other end of the line. As mentioned (it seems ad nauseam), it mounts in the same way as the other cards. Once it's placed you can hook in the phone lines.

Remember to get the "to phone" and "to wall" lines connected to the right ports on the modem. As usual, however, they should be clearly labeled - either right on the modem or in the documentation. If you get it backwards you'll find out when you try to use it - and all you have to do at that point is swap the two phone cables.

Don't forget to screw the expansion cards into place with the screws you removed earlier, from those little metal tabs covering the holes in the case. This'll hold them tightly in place. Don't screw so tightly as to cause the cards to bend or come partially out of their slots!

That's it! All the expansion cards are in place.

Now to mount the drives...

Hard Drivin' Man..

By this time I felt I could do anything (of course, the software installation would put the lie to that!), so I tackled the rest of the installation with gusto.

Quantum Hard DriveFirst was the Quantum hard drive. It's a tiny little bugger - despite having a whopping 18.2 GB capacity - so I mounted it in the case's 3.5 inch drive bays, immediately below the floppy drive.

First, you have to ensure that it's set to the correct SCSI address, which is another occasion in which you'll need to have the manual around. The address is set with those damn jumpers, so you'll want either a pair of needlenose pliers or slender fingers. This is a procedure you'll follow with each SCSI component.

The actual process is easy. If adjustment is necessary, you just pull jumpers from one set of wires and reinsert them over the correct ones.

Once you've done that, you can mount and connect the drive.It slides easily into place and has four screws with which to fasten it to the case.

Then I connected the hard drive to the SCSI card, via a vacant connector attached to that big pink ribbon cable mentioned earlier.

The other connection is to the power supply, which is also easy. Just find a "female" connector on the harness of wires you're already using to send power to the motherboard, floppy drive, etc. and hook the power cable there. Slide the other endinto the receptacle on the drive. It only goes one way, fortunately, so conscious thought is unnecessary (also, fortunately).


The Quantum drive, which really does operate at something approaching warp speed, is reviewed here.

The ACS Compro CD-R drive, reviewed here, mounts in exactly the same way, except that it goes into a 5.25 inch bay which, in my Gigastar case, means it goes higher up. Connection is also identical, using another connector on the same SCSI cable and to the power harness.

The monkeywrench...

As mentioned in Part One, Pioneer mistakenly sent the wrong DVD ROM drive from the one we'd requested. Instead of receiving the SCSI model 303, we unpacked the IDE model 103, reviewed here. This wasn't a big deal, fortunately, except that it made me string an extra IDE cable through the system's increasingly crowded innards, instead of merely hooking it in via the existing SCSI cable.

It was probably quite funny to watch me wrestle with this unintentional switcheroo. The documentation with the drive said it was the SCSI version, so I tried in vain to connect it with that big pink ribbon. When that didn't work, I tried a different SCSI cable that came with the Adaptec, thinking that perhaps it was merely the connector on the drive that was different.

But no, it was not to be. At least I learned why the different connectors have different sizes: only an IDE connector fit! Oh, well.

Other than that, the drive mounts and connects in exactly the same was as the CD-R, and into a neighboring 5.25 inch drive bay (in this case, directly above the CD-R).

The next thing to connect was Microsoft's Digital Sound System 80, which we reviewed here.

Since this is a USB component, hookup is child's play: just run the USB cable from the subwoofer unit to one of the USB ports on the PC's motherboard. Other connections for the sound system include wiring the satellite speakers into the subwoofer unit, and plugging the whole shebang into a wall receptacle.

I also had to connect the "audio out" from the ATI video card (so the TV tuner, etc. would work) to the input jack on the subwoofer, which required getting an extension cord.

Overall, it was simple, quick, and painless.

The Wombat keyboard, reviewed here, doesn't actually hook up to the motherboard. Since it's wireless, you hook the infrared receiving unit into the motherboard. The remote sensor unit has outputs for keyboard and mouse, and they hook into the keyboard and mouse ports on the motherboard. Both ports look the same, so you have to be careful here to get them straight. They're labeled with little icons, but they're hard to see if, like me, you're becoming blind as a bat to things up close.

Actually, that "blindness up close" was one of my biggest problems with this assembly process - especially when it came to little things like jumpers. I found I needed my reading glasses, a flashlight and, sometimes, my son's vision.

Don't worry if you reverse the keyboard and mouse connections; nothing will blow up. You just won't be able to use either input device until you've switched them around.

I chose not to use the Wombat's mouse, preferring my MS Intellimouse, so I only connected the keyboard output to the motherboard.

Oh! You'll also need to put the AA batteries (which are included) into the keyboard.

The end of the beginning...

That completed the hardware side of things - which was by far the most frightening part for me.

Next came the real work: installing the operating system,drivers, and software applications and seeing if my hard work would pay off.

Or if I'd flip the power switch and be greeted by a bright flash, a loud crash, and clouds of billowing black smoke.

Stay Tuned!

Next: Powerup!


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January 31, 2006