Albright Builds a Computer (31)

1 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-06-25 06:19 ID:erMTJ0cy

ITT Albright talks about his experience building a computer. I'm sure some of you folks (like one of my college roommates) are already well-familiar with the process and could do it in your sleep, in which case you'll probably get no more amusement out of this thread besides whatever humor could be extracted from the accounts of my mistakes. So the purpose of this thread is to give an account of this experience for those who have not done so, but are considering doing it for the first time, as I did.

In college, I got an English degree. Just a bit of advice to anyone working or planning to work toward an English degree: Reconsider. A degree in basket weaving would be more practical, as many people are willing to pay for baskets. Not so many (in America, at least) are willing to pay for English.

While in college, I worked part-time for three years doing tech support for the school's computer labs. Since doing anything with the English degree didn't pan out, I thought going back into the tech field would be nice, but it turns out I'm unqualified (at least on paper) for any "real" tech jobs. So I decided to work toward getting a certification called A+ Core. This covers a lot of info on the workings of standard PC hardware and software; some common, some rather esoteric and/or antiquated. Anyway, many of the sources I saw about the test recommended having a computer we could take apart and examine whilst studying. That, combined with my desire to have a PVR but disgust at monthly rates TiVo and its ilk charge (I didn't need to pay a monthly rate to program my damned VCR!), led me to the decision that it was time to build my first computer.

My needs for the computer were this:

  • It needed to get a TV signal into the computer to record from it. More on this later.
  • It also needed TV-out capability to watch recorded shows.
  • It needed to have a fairly spacious hard drive for storing recorded shows.
  • It needed 802.11 wi-fi support. I'm done with wired internet.
  • l33t 3D powah is unnecessary, as I won't be doing much gaming on this thing. Thus, a cheapo video card is acceptable, so long as it was connectable to a TV as mentionend above.
  • Similarly, processor power beyond that necessary to simultaneously record one show while playing back another would be wasted, so a value-priced processor will work as well.
  • I plan on running Linux on it, so I don't need to buy a copy of Windows. On the other hand, the components should be Linux-friendnly.
  • Finally, it should be small and quiet.

2 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-06-25 06:20 ID:erMTJ0cy

After a little (too little) research, here's the hardware I settled on, and why.

  • Case: The case is simply the box that all of the guts of the computer are put into I chose an Inland MATX Micro-Tower Case. There are two main case standards nowadays: ATX, and Micro-ATX. This is a Micro-ATX case. As you may have guessed, Micro-ATX cases are smaller, but the trade-off is that they have less room for internal drives.

*Motherboard: The motherboard is the "board" which either holds or connects to all the computer's components. As with the case, when you get a motherboard, you can choose between ATX and Micro-ATX varities. The main difference is that the Micro-ATX ones will have fewer expansion slots. They will also vary on what kind of processor they will support. The motherboard is probably the most critical component of your new computer, so make sure to do your research when you go to pick one. I chose an Asus P5VDC-MX board. I recognized the Asus brand from the boards my roommate bought, so I knew it was reputable. This board supports the processor I wanted to use (more on that below). Also, this board has integrated video and sound support, so I wouldn't have to buy a separate video and sound card (although I did anyway in the case of the video card, as mentioned below).

  • Processor: Intel Pentium D Processor 805 operating at 2.66 GHz. This processor is a dual-core processor (meaning that it is essentially one processor operating as two processors), and is a decent value for the money. It's also highly overclockable. "Overclocking" is the process of tweaking a processor to run faster than it was originally designed to run, the side effect being that it can also run hotter (possibly self-destructingly so if it's overclocked too much). In actuality, I'll probably never need to overclock it, but it's nice knowing I can if I want to.
  • Video Card: EVGA e-GeForce MX 4000. I basically picked the cheapest video card I could find that had video-out capabilities (in this case, it has an S-Video port in addition to a standard VGA port). As mentioned above, the motherboard itself had video-out capabilities, but it couldn't do TV-out, thus necessitating the extra video card. The two biggest providers of video card circuitry are nVidia and ATI; this is an nVidia card. That choice was arbitrary, but it was a good choice for reasons explained later. The video card goes into a special expansion slot on the motherboard called the AGP slot; this slot is specially designed for video hardware. There's a more general-purpose slot called PCI which works with video cards as well, but since my motherboard only has two PCI slots, I didn't want to take one up with the video card; one of those PCI slots needs to be taken up by the video-in card, whilst the other one will be taken up by the...
  • Wi-fi card: Belkin Wireless G Desktop Card. I thought that this card would be well-supported by Linux, and it turns out that earlier versions of the card were, but the version I got, version 5000, isn't. More on how I recitified this situation later. (The version number can be found on a sticker with a barcode on it on the bottom of the box.)
  • Media drive: i/oMagic LightScribe Internal DVD+-RW/+-R. I chose this drive because it was fairly inexpensive, it supports pretty much any writable DVD or CD media you can throw at it, and it has this cool feature which uses lasers to etch images into the top side of the CD, making it a CD burner and labeler all in one. Cool! It turns out the "LightScribe" feature only works on special LightScribe media, and currently only on Windows (or on Mac, but with a proprietary program only available with drives purchased from one certain vendor); no Linux support as of yet. Oh well. I haven't burned anything with it yet, but as a CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drive, it seems to work well.

3 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-06-25 06:37 ID:erMTJ0cy

All right, so after a few days, my new toys arrived in the mail.

The first thing I noticed after unpacking everything was that the case I mentioned above was bigger than I expected. It turns out that Micro-ATX, while still smaller than a standard tower PC, is still a bit bulkier than something you'd expect to see sitting next to a TV, like a DVD player or game system. (EXCEPT MAYBE FOR XBOX LOL.) Oh well.

I started putting things together. This can be accomplished with a standard Phillips screwdriver. (You don't want to use a power drill; aside from tightening things too tightly and risking cracking expensive hardware, it also can throw around a lot of magnetic and statoelectric voodoo that can spell trouble for computers.) In earlier case designs, it was fairly easy to misconnect things with potentially fatal results (to your computer, anyway, not so much to you), but with modern ATX design standards, it's rather hard to do unless you're really trying; cables will either be shaped in a manner that it's impossible to connect them incorrectly, or, if it is possible, they'll be clearly labelled. The instruction manual was quite helpful with this process, though the instructions were in kind of a random order.

The processor was interesting. The actual Pentium chip is this little flat tiny box, somewhere between a saltine and a postage stamp in size. But in the box with the chip is this huge, heavy metallic thing that looks like debris from the crash at Rockwell. This is the processor's heat sink and fan, which dissipate the huge amount of heat the processor generates. It's hard to believe that such a little tiny chip can generate so much heat that it requires this thing that looks like it'd be at home in a nuclear physics lab to cool it down.

Anyway, so I put everything together in the box, closed it up, took a deep breath, and pressed the button on the front of the case. And... nothing. Hmm. I then realized there was a master switch on the back of the case that needed to be turned on first, so I flicked that on and pushed the button on the front again. Again... nothing. Hmm.

After puzzling over this for about twenty minutes, I finally started disconnecting and reconnecting cables. Apparently the cable which connected the case's power button to the motherboard was loose, because after reconnecting that cable and trying again, the fans started whirring up, the monitor flickered, and my system came to life!

4 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-06-25 06:50 ID:erMTJ0cy

...Only to suddenly die a few moments later.

Hmm. I turned the system back on. This time it died within seconds of initially powering it on.

Hmm. At this point, I was distracted by something and had to leave my new toy for a moment. When I came back, I tried powering it up again. This time it lasted almost as long as the first time, but it still died. I gave it another try, and this time again it died soon after turning it on. Can you guess what the issue is here?

I thought it might be heat, so I popped open the case and made sure that the fans were clear and able to spin. They were, so I gave it another try, but it shut itself off again. This time, I fiddled with the huge processor heat sink I mentioned above. The instructions with the processor gave instructions on how the heat sink needed to be installed, but it was quite difficult trying to get the thing to properly snap on; on my first installation, I got it partly on, figured that'd be close enough, and moved on. This time I made sure it was snapped on all the way. It really felt like I was pressing so hard that I'd break the motherboard, but eventually I managed to get all four corners of the thing snapped in as far as they'd go. I powered it on again, and... it stayed on, and stayed on, and stayed on... Eureka! The lesson learned here was to follow installation instructions to the letter, even if they seem wrong. The hardware element of my creation was complete.

(Well, sort of. For some reason, the lights on the front of my case which are supposed to indicate power and hard drive access aren't lighting up, even though (as far as I can tell) I've installed them properly according to the directions. Also, my case has a USB and headphone port on the front of the case for convenience; the USB port works fine, but for some reason, the sound from the headphone port is backwards; the left sound channel comes out of the right speaker and vice versa. As far as I can tell, I've connected that correctly too, so I'm wondering if it might be because of some discrepancy between the motherboard and the case. The headphone port on the back of the case works fine, but obviously is more inconvenient to get to.)

All right, so I have a working computer, but it doesn't have an operating system on it. That was the next step; and this part of the story has a bit of a surprising ending, so stay tuned.

(I forgot to mention it in >>2, but you may notice I didn't get a video-in card. I've decided to delay this purchase until later, but when I do get it, it'll probably be a card in the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR line, as these seem to be both widely regarded and widely supported by the relevant Linux software.)

5 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-06-25 07:27 ID:erMTJ0cy

Back on my Mac, I had downloaded the latest version of Kubuntu Linux. This is a version of Ubuntu Linux which is configured out-of-the-box to use the K Desktop Environment (KDE) -- more on that later. Ubuntu has a lot of momentum in the Linux community and is regarded as being full-featured but easy to use, so I thought it would be a good choice. The file I downloaded designed to be burned to a CD-ROM which the computer boots off of, then uses graphical software to install itself to the hard drive. So I burned it to a CD and popped it into my new machine.

(An aside: Every computer deserves a name, and I later decided to name my new machine Weird Science. My creation. Is it real? It's my creation. I do not know. From my heart and from my hand, why can't people understand, my intentions... Moving right along.)

The system was set up to look for an OS on the hard drive first, then to look in the media drive. As mentioned above, there was no OS on the hard drive, so it found the OS on the CD-ROM in the media drive and started booting up. However, there was a problem... Part-way through the boot process, at the point where the graphical installation should have started, the system would hang. I restarted and restarted and kept trying, but would get no different results. Finally, I downloaded the regular version of Ubuntu Linux and tried with that; this would hang at the same point, only it would display a cryptic error message as well; something about the X windowing system not being properly configured or something. Both of these discs worked fine when I tried them in my parents' Dell, so I knew it wasn't a problem with the CDs being bad or something. Finally, I downloaded another version of Kubuntu which used a text-based installer instead of a graphical one. That one worked just fine, and finally let me get an operating system on my computer.

I wasn't home-free yet, though. When I started up the system and booted off of the hard drive, it would hang at exactly the same spot as when I tried to boot off of the CD. Damn.

Somewhere around here, I somehow discovered PC-BSD (probably through a Wikipedia article). This is a branch of the FreeBSD strand of Unix. FreeBSD itself is usually used for web servers and other heavy-duty uses, but PC-BSD, like Ubuntu, is designed to wrangle it into a form which is easy to use and install. (Linux itself is heavily inspired by Unix, but there are fundamental differences which make the two incompatible. However, it's possible and quite common for software to be ported between the two.) On a whim, I downloaded and burned a copy of that too. It booted just fine from the CD, it installed just fine, and then it booted just fine from the hard drive. I could have probably fiddled with settings in the Kubuntu installation to get it to work, but with PC-BSD, I had a computer that was already working. Maybe I've been a Mac user for too long, but I'd much rather be using a computer than fixing it.

However, I sacrifice a few things using Unix instead of Linux. As Linux has a great deal of momentum nowadays, a lot of free software is written with Linux in mind, so it has to be ported to Unix -- if it's compatible at all. This is relevant to my plans to use Weird Science as a PVR; it turns out a lot of the relevant software is currently Linux-only. I might give Linux another try in the future, but for now, my computer is fully funcitonal using PC-BSD; in fact, that's what I'm using as I write this.

It's getting late, so that'll be all for today. Tomorrow, I'll talk about using PC-BSD and its included apps, and my experiences trying to get my wi-fi card to work, my monitor to behave, and installing new applications.

6 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-06-25 07:40 ID:erMTJ0cy

Looking back over this, there's a few things I forgot to mention...

  • In addition to being rather large for a TV component, the computer's fans are also quite loud. I'm thinking there might be a way to tweak BIOS settings to get them to run quieter, but for now, if this thing is going to be part of a home theater, it'll have to be noise shielded somehow.
  • I said I'd mention more about KDE in the above post, and I will -- tomorrow. Same with why nVidia was a good choice.
  • The device which will take up the remaining PCI slot is the video-in card.
  • Yes, I am currently living with my parents again, but it's only temporary, really… Trust me, I wanna get out of this place as soon as I can, and getting a decent-paying job with my soon-to-be-acquired certification is an integral part of that plan.

7 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-06-26 23:29 ID:Heaven

That's nice, son.

8 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-06-27 03:50 ID:IdylA6wP

What do you like to play? Pokemon! Pokemon!?

9 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-06-27 04:38 ID:erMTJ0cy

>>8: What?

Okay, to continue. Unix (and Linux) by itself is a text-only operating system. It's fully functional, but it's not a lot of fun to use. To remedy this, there have been various graphical interfaces that have developed that allow folks to control their computers and applications using a mouse-driven interface of windows, icons, buttons, and so on. The two most popular systems out there are the K Desktop Environment (KDE) and GNOME. It's easy to confuse KDE and GNOME with actual operating systems, but really they're more like "shells" for the real guts of the operating system; they make it look pretty and easier to use, but they don't actually power any of the programs. There are programs which are specifically written for KDE and those specifically written for GNOME, but as both of them can run each other's applications with few complications, choosing between KDE and GNOME can be merely a matter of personal preference. PC-BSD comes installed with KDE, along with many KDE applications, including a web browser (Konqueror, a quite competent browser which shares guts with the Mac's Safari browser), text editors (but no real word processing apps), image viewers, IRC, email and instant messaging programs, media players, and a spattering of simple games -- pretty much everything necessary to get some decent work done with the computer out of the box. PC-BSD's version of KDE is set up to look disturbingly identical to Windows XP's "Fisher-Price" look, but it's rather customizable. It even has an eqivilent of the Start menu called the K menu, which here has a stylized icon of a devil's horned head. (The mascot of FreeBSD is a devil.)

As I mentioned above, I had picked up a wi-fi card, so one of my first goals was to get that working so I didn't have to be tethered to an ethernet cable to get in the internet. There was no support for my wi-fi card out of the box; the drivers just weren't there. Information on getting it to work was scattered about in a few different places on PC-BSD's forums, FAQs, and documention programs, but I managed to piece things together. Fortunately, there's a FreeBSD project called Project Evil which is essentially a program which is capable of "porting" Windows drivers to something FreeBSD can use. However, this program requires that I first download the source code of the FreeBSD kernel (the corest of core parts of the operating system), which is not installed by PC-BSD by default. It's easy to download, however: K menu: Computer: PC-BSD Settings: System, click the Tasks tab, click Fetch System Source. Of course, it'll require an internet connection (via my computer's ethernet port in this case) to work.

Once that was done, I had to copy the Windows drivers to my hard drive, then run the ndisgen program at the command line as root. I also had to do an uncomfortable amount of config file editing in order to get the wi-fi card's settings set up. In the end, I got it to work perfectly, but it was a bit of hassle. I think it's something that could definitely see some improvement if PC-BSD is in fact going to become a user-friendly operating system.

10 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-06-27 05:04 ID:erMTJ0cy

Obstacle two was taming my monitor. Oh, it worked fine, but it was stuck on an eyesore-inducing refresh rate of 60 Hz. There are graphical settings in KDE to change the monitor's refresh rate and resolution, but it wasn't offering me any other options. Again I had to poke around various places on the web, but eventually I found that running xorgcfg -textmode in a terminal (again, as root) ran a little app that let me specify my monitor's capabilities. After doing so and restarting the machine, I was able to run at a resolution of 1024x768 with a comfortable refresh rate of 85 Hz (it's an older monitor). However, I would find that, whenever I restarted my machine, it'd switch up to a higher resolution at a lower refresh rate. Eventually, I had to edit the configuration file (/etc/X11/XF86Config/) by hand and remove the higher resolutions listed there, so it would think it didn't have the options to go any higher. Again, I eventually got it to work well enough, but it was definitely not as easy as it should be.

So let's add some new applications to our computer, shall we? PC-BSD is unique in that it makes available applications packaged in nice neat installers called PBI files (**P**C-**B**SD **I**nstaller). You double-click them, and the app starts installing graphically. To us Mac and Windows users, this doesn't sound like anything special, but usually on Unix and Linux, this is something that has to be done using text-only console commands, and it's a lot less fun. (However, if you want to install apps using those text-only methods, or even compile them yourself, you still have that option.) the site is the main repository of these PBI files; there's a decent-enough selection, but some of them (like KMyMoney) are broken. Also, before the most recent PC-BSD 1.11a update, there were some that weren't quite broken, but still didn't work without some tweaking. Also, a greater selection of these apps would be nice.

Trying to get the system to recognize the card reader for my digital camera was not fun. It turns out it's quite possible, but once more, it requires a trip to the command line. Again, this is something PC-BSD should rectify if it wants to truly be a user-friendly free operating system.

Overall, though, the system is definitely usable. Some things are more difficult to do than they should be, but thankfully that's usually things that you don't need to do very often. One lingering complaint is that KDE still feels way too Windows-y. I've installed a pointer pack that changes the white-on-black pointer to a black-on-white one, as it should be (do people really like white-on-black pointers?), and I've moved the menu bar from the top of the insides of windows to the top of the screen, where it should be (do people really like having menu bars inside windows?), and I've changed the graphical theme away from that Windows XP crap, but it's still too Windows-ish for my taste, especially with respect to text entry (see ). I haven't used GNOME in a long time, but I don't recall it being any better in this regard.

Anyway, that's my story. It wasn't easy, but it was fun, and definitely a good experience. I'd recommend that everyone give it a try at least once; just don't rush into it. I welcome any of your questions or experiences with building your own computer.

11 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-06-27 07:58 ID:Heaven

12 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-06-27 20:49 ID:KlyHn/hH

You must be looking for this thread, >>1:

13 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-06-30 20:52 ID:Heaven

nobody cares, fuck off wanker.

14 Name: Redhatter : 2006-07-01 03:02 ID:qvdtEuvk

Another option, desktop wise, might be XFCE... (see the link I've posted). I've found it a great little window manager, that's both lightweight (which KDE and Gnome aren't), and easy to use.

Interesting that Ubuntu didn't work out of the box... must be something about your setup that it didn't like. Have you tried alternate Linux distributions? i.e. Debian, Gentoo, Fedora Core? Of course this is academic now... since FreeBSD seems to be working well from your reports, and some would argue that BSD is superior to Linux. (And in some ways, they are right)

15 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-07-02 05:48 ID:erMTJ0cy

Well, I'm glad someone could take this in the spirit it was intended and make a serious reply.

Re XFCE… I'm still frustrated by the occasional common thing that KDE can't do. I don't know if I'm ready for one that does even less yet. But I'll keep it in mind… I do like speed.

Re other Linuxes… No, I haven't tried any others on this machine. But it's still an option. I suspect I'll have to when I go to do the actual PVR thing.

16 Name: dmpk2k!hinhT6kz2E : 2006-07-02 08:59 ID:Heaven

In my opinion, none of the OSS desktop environments are worth consideration. KDE has a terrible UI. Gnome has gone from stupid to catatonic. Both make XP look fast. XFCE is a little better, but makes me wonder why I even bother with a DE.

In the end, I always end up using a window manager again. Other than no icons on the desktop, the only difference I've noticed is that they start instantly. If I really wanted icons, ROX is a possibility. Not that I find ROX that useful either...

That's not to say that the Gnome and KDE projects are useless. Some useful utilities and applications are produced by both of them, even if they love reinventing the wheel.

17 Name: Redhatter : 2006-07-03 02:30 ID:Heaven

I don't mind KDE... I don't find it slow on most machines at all. My O2 is about the only machine that runs KDE too slow. On there, Fluxbox and XFCE work nicely.

I'm actually checking XFCE out again... because my one pet-hate -- the lack of a multi-level menu, seems to be gone now. And so far, I like what I see. :-)

18 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-07-03 16:53 ID:Heaven

That'll be all. You may go.

19 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-07-06 05:33 ID:erMTJ0cy

>KDE has a terrible UI.

Care to elaborate? I don't see how you could say KDE's UI is terrible without also saying that Windows' UI is terrible. Of course, it may very well be, but we're all so accustomed to it by now that it's not much of an issue. And with KDE I'm able to at least right some wrongs; having the menu bar be at the top of the screen instead of inside each window being a previously-mentioned example.

20 Name: dmpk2k!hinhT6kz2E : 2006-07-06 09:33 ID:Heaven

The last time I used it was six months ago, and it was never my desktop of choice, so I'm hard-pressed to recall the details. I'd rather keep it that way too; I feel unclean even thinking about it.

21 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-07-07 00:35 ID:yOHywSHf

I liked gnome1. Gnome2 just feels too...glossy, also it's slow like kde. Main thing annoyed me about kde is the toolbars were really loose and jumps to the next line too easily and the default skin is awwful.

22 Name: Redhatter : 2006-07-07 01:58 ID:Heaven

I can remember Gnome 1.x... it was the shiny new desktop that came with Red Hat 6.0...

Complete with the first version of Enlightenment.

I used it for a while at first, but ended up moving back to KDE (1.x IIRC)... Gnome/Enlightenment just wasn't my style in the end.

23 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-11-09 21:19 ID:zs+iN7ye

No one's taking your thread seriously because no one cares. You spent hours typing that up but we all know what a micro ATX case is.

24 Name: Redhatter : 2006-11-10 01:54 ID:Heaven

>>23... And you needlessly bumped this thread, instead of letting it naturally sink to the bottom.

Well done! claps sarcastically

25 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-11-13 04:06 ID:Heaven

     | \
     |Д`)   No one is here.
     |⊂     I can dance now !

     ♪  ☆
   ♪   / \    RANTA TAN
      ヽ(´Д`;)ノ   RANTA TAN
         (  へ)    RANTA RANTA
          く       TAN

   ♪    ☆
     ♪ / \   RANTA RANTA
      ヽ(;´Д`)ノ  RANTA TAN
         (へ  )    RANTA TANTA
             >    TAN


26 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-11-13 06:04 ID:Heaven

>>25 is encouraging someone to needlessly bump this thread, instead of letting it naturally sink to the bottom! What a troublemaker...

27 Name: Redhatter : 2006-11-14 12:56 ID:Heaven

Warning message: Your dancing/singing is worse than it may appear ;-)

28 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-11-23 19:06 ID:38u9os6+

29 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2006-11-24 23:46 ID:Heaven

Hi, everybody. I am >>28's cell phone. Nice to meet you.
I am writing this message via Imode.
My owner did a stupid thing again. He has bumped this thread.
I have to apologize to you guys for him. I really mean it.

30 Name: Andrew : 2018-09-29 15:30 ID:D4RW86aG

bump lmao

31 Name: 4n0n4ym0u5 h4xx0r : 2021-01-02 07:28 ID:leDWcAVv

shitty thread, tripfag

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