Monday, December 13, 2004

Build Update

This weekend, I tackled my third attempt to build a computer from scratch, my first time working solo. Things did not go well. The following is from a pair of emails I sent to Jake to recap my struggles.

Here's the story:

I put the computer together without any problems hardware-wise, except for that time I had to reseat the processor. When I came to installing Win2K, it went through the setup normally until the first reboot, at which point it got to the flash screen and stopped. Suspecting a video problem, I tried it with three different video cards (a basic PCI card, a 64 MB PCI Radeon, and the AGP Jetway card I got from you), with the same results every time. I tried both of the 64 MB cards in my main system, and both worked normally (although the PCI card was predictably much slower).

Installing Windows XP (Home or Pro) also runs normally during the first stage of install, but after the first reboot, both go to a black screen and stop. The system can boot to Win98SE, but why bother? When booting from a Knoppix disc, it uncompresses the OS and prints a message that it is ttarting the kernel, at which point it stops.

Quicktech 2000 (from the SDB disc) runs on the system if it is cold (it freezes before offereing a burn-in when the system is warmed up), and it finds no errors in its automated tests. It does hit problems when checking video modes. With one video card (the AGP one), it failed to load two VGA modes, and with the PCI Radeon card, it failed to load the text-only VESA modes. This doesn't seem relevant to the issue, since different modes are available with different cards, but the behavior of the system has been independent of the card.

The power supply voltages are all close to +/- 3.3, 5, or 12 V except for one wire that has nearly 13 V, but that should still be in tolerance. I've reset the BIOS settings with no success (the BIOS is really complicated). I've used two hard drives, including a brand new 200 GB drive. The 40 GB drive has passed all of the Quicktech tests, even after several passes.

The board is a brand new Chaintech Summit board. It has all the usual stuff (IDE, 5 PCI, AGP, ect), plus onboard LAN, 8 USB, SATA, and onboard audio. I don't think the problem is hard drive related because nothing has identified a problem with a hard drive specifically, and because Knoppix won't boot (it runs from CD, independent of hard drives). I haven't had the 200 GB drive plugged in except for one time when I was checking to see if the 40 GB drive (which is older) was at fault. It didn't make any difference.

The processor is an AMD Athlon XP 2700+. The 200 GB drive is a WD, and the 40 GB drive is a Maxtor (it predates my realization that they suck, but you work with what you have). The power supply is a 450 W supply, but it's probably a really cheap brand.

It just occurred to me that if I billed my time at the same hourly rate I get at work, this project is nearing the point where the labor exceeds the parts.

I’m very frustrated at this whole thing. I got past the hardware build, which is where I am relatively inexperienced, and now I’m stuck at the OS installation, which I’ve done dozens of times.

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