Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Burned (part two)

Where were we?

Oh, yeah--$#*(@(*#@.

So the motherboard is installed (I love this motherboard--seriously, I think we're dating), and putting in the Core i7 920 was simple. Then it was time to install the gigantic tower heatsink (Noctua NH-U12P SE1366). This heatsink is so big that it could be a climbing wall.

I'd already installed the backplate and assorted pieces of the heatsink onto the motherboard before I put it into the case. These huge tower heatsinks are like ice cream sandwiches, and the CPU is the ice cream in the middle.

I must be hungry.

After I assemble the tower and the mounting bracket, there are spring screws that tighten it down. That's when I see that, clearly, the heatsink isn't making good contact with the CPU, and by "isn't making good contact" I mean "not making any damn contact at all, really."

I (eventually) found out that I'd put one of the piece of the mounting bracket on backwards. Me putting on something backwards is an entirely commonplace event, although I will say in my meager defense that after a quick forum search, I found that I wasn't the only one who did this.

Plus I put the thermal grease on in an incredibly sloppy manner, like I was slathering icing on cookies.

Damn, I really am hungry.

Confidence level at this point: 0%. Still I plow on.

Memory. Easy--it's keyed so it can't be put in backwards. It's my dream component.

CPU fans. Putting these on requires an enormous amount of knuckle busting, because they're such a tight fit, and "knuckle busting" is a good description of what happens when I hook up all the various leads from the front of the case onto the motherboard. Even if the case is bigger, the motherboard isn't, and there are a ton of things that have to be hooked up in very close quarters.

I've heard that a system builder must put at least one drop of blood on the motherboard to activate its magical powers, but that's just a legend. For now.

I put the Intel X-25M SSD into the middle drive bay, and that was easy, but when I then tried to install the GTX 260 (quieter, less heat than the 280), I found out that long graphics cards don't fit well into the P182, either. In fact, it was so tight that the cabling for the hard drive had to be bent in a torturous manner to get around the graphics card, as there was almost no space between the card and the drive. I can't even pull out the drive cage because no matter where I put the drive, one of the rails can't get past the card. So I can put in the drive, then the graphics card, but if I want to try the drive in another place, I have to take out the graphics card first.

As Daffy Duck would say, shoot me now.

Still, I've reached the phase of the build that I like to call "I've got a lot of crap hooked up." I'm at the point where I can fire it up and hope that isn't literal.

Remarkably, and this must be a Christmas miracle, it doesn't melt. Jesus, the Antec fans seem loud, even on medium speed. The CPU temp seems high, although the BIOS may not be reporting it accurately. All the reported temps seem a bit high, actually, and the longer I run the system, the higher they get. In other words, I'm not reading a steady state, which is a big bucket of FAIL.

All right. Even though the temps are too high, those damn fans have to go. I had several Nexus 120mm fans (incredibly quiet) just for this reason, so I pulled out the Antec fans and put them in instead. Powered back up.

Now this is pretty quiet. Temps, of course, are worse. I start thinking about the airflow in the case. There are two exhaust fans, and the GTX260 exhausts air out of the case (an important distinction from the ATI 4870, which doesn't) [please note: I was thinking about the Radeon 4850. The Radeon 4870 is a dual slot design and does exhaust air out of the case (thanks to SB for the correction], but there aren't any intake fans, because I took the one in the bottom bay out. Some air is coming in through the grille, but clearly, it's not enough.

To fix this, I decide that I need a fan in the middle drive bay. That seems simple, right? Here's what I have to do to get that done.
1. Remove graphics card (also unplugging its power connectors)
2. Remove the hard drive
3. Remove middle chamber drive cage (can't use it if fan is installed)
4. Re-route cables to the bottom drive bay, where I'm now going to put the hard drive. It's tight.
5. Figure out how the bottom drive cage works (it looks funky compared to the other drive cage). This means staring dumbly at it for 15-30 minutes, then having an "ah, ha!" moment.
6. Re-drill the screw holes in the suspension bracket I'm using for the hard drive. They're just ever-so-slightly too small.
7. Install hard drive in bottom chamber.
8. Remove fan bracket in middle drive chamber because the fan screws aren't long enough to hold both it and the fan in place.
9. Screw the fan in place and hook it up.
10. Turn on the system.
11. Listen to a godawful sound and see that the fan blades are hitting the clips for the air filter that's flush with the grille.
12. Remove the air filter.
13. Turn on system again. Fan spins fine. Now worried about having no air filter on the intake.
14. Sit around for twenty minutes, because I know I've done it wrong.
15. Realize that the fan bracket i took out is exactly what would have kept the fan blades from hitting the mounting clips of the air filter.
16. Unscrew fan.
17. Reinstall fan bracket.
18. Reinstall fan. The screws are long enough, although just barely.
19. Put the air filter back on.
20. Power on system. Blades turn without hitting the air filter.

That should give you an idea of how labor-intensive this all is, at least for me (aka, "noob amateur"). And that was just for one fan.

However, and this is a big however, airflow is much improved. I've got the intake fan blowing air through the middle drive chamber, over the top of the graphics card, and close enough to the "pull" CPU fan that it will suck some of that air through the tower heatsink (where the "push" fan will send it directly to one of the exhaust fans, because they're directly in line with each other).

Looking at it, it seems reasonable to think it would work.

Almost. I wind up having to replace one of the Nexus exhaust fans with a Noctua (similar decibel levels, but higher airflow), but then it seems to be quite stable.

Oh, and I take off the CPU heatsink, apply the thermal paste like a grown-up, bust my knucles getting the fans back on, and it seems stable as well.

I power up and check temps in the BIOS. I've got a steady state.

Almost done, sort of. I put in the DVD-RW drive backwards (well done), put it back in the right way, and decide that it's time to try and install Vista.

Man, that DVD drive is loading files slowly. I wonder what's up with that? Ah, to hell with it.

The Windows installer loads files, then I get that green loading bar screen.


That's right. That little bar just keeps going across the screen, then starting across the screen. No error message, nothing.

Microsoft! Mix in an error message, bitches!

I powered down and tried it again. Same waystation--of despair.

Later (quite a bit later), I realize that I've connected my SATA hard drive to an e-SATA port (what the HELL is e-SATA, anyway?). The ports are identical in shape, but the e-SATA port is red, while the SATA ports are black.

My bad. The brilliant EVGA documentation said that and I just missed it.

Recable. Boot up and go into the BIOS for a pokearound, because the DVD drive seemed really slow. See 6 IDE devices listed, included my hard drive and DVD drive, even though they're both SATA.

Hmm. That seems, um, wrong.

Obscurely (and this wasn't in the manual), some sort of mode had to be enabled in the BIOS for SATA drives to be recognized as such. Or something. Otherwise, they would default to IDE emulation, which is kind of like spending your life's savings to date a fashion model and having her emulate a fat chick.

Reboot. Damn, that DVD drive is really, really fast now, and hey, I'm past the Green Bar of Despair. Damn, Vista is installing quickly.

Finish Vista install. Install chipset drivers. Install audio drivers. Install graphics card drivers. Install a temperature monitoring utility that comes with the motherboard.

Time to download 3DMark Vantage and weep about temperatures. This is how Loyd Case tests systems, and that's good enough for me.

After an hour of testing at the "extreme" settings, running continuously, the CPU core temperatures are up 5C. The temperature in the case is up 5C, and as soon as I stop testing, the temperatures fall back to idle levels in less about 5 minutes.

Win. Win. Win.

I still have lots more testing to do, but that's about as good, temperature wise, as could possibly be expected.

I've got one oddity--even when I shut down Vista successfuly, the power supply doesn't turn off. It doesn't turn off from the front panel of the case, either, although the power button does turn it on just fine (I've checked the connection on the motherboard, and it's correct). So I have to unplug from the wall. That goes on the list.

Otherwise, the system seems very stable, the airflow is good, and this thing is scary, scary fast. Fast like evil wizard fast.

So I'm pleased, really pleased, but I still know that Hercules would drop on his knees and weep like a schoolgirl if King Eurystheus told him he had to build a computer. "Please!" he'd plead. "The Augean stables! I beg of you!"

On Monday: a list of components and ratings for how well they perform (and how well they were documented).

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