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In the last ChipShots column, we discussed the rationale for building your own Windows-based computer, the costs involved, and the parts and equipment necessary to get the job done. In this installment, we’ll go over how to put these parts together to create your new machine. A quick review before we get started: The components needed for building our PC are the computer case, a motherboard, the processor, the cooling fan, memory, hard drive, CD-ROM drive, floppy disk drive, keyboard and mouse. When put together, you will have a PC as good as, or better than, anything you’ll buy on the market. To begin assembly, we’ll start with the motherboard, the component that contains the heart of your system. The motherboard we are using for this project is the Shuttle Mainboard MK35N, which comes with very good directions. If you purchased a different motherboard, follow the directions included with your purchase. The first thing to install is the CPU — the AMD 1700+ processor chip. This is a small, square piece, and it fits easily into its compartment on the motherboard. An arm bar lifts up, you place the chip pins into their appropriate slots, and put down the bar. The chip can go in only one way, so you can’t make a mistake. Don’t force anything, however, as you could bend the pins. Next, install the fan on top of the CPU. The fan model we are using, a Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu+, can be a little difficult to mount, as you need force to get the arm bar to connect. Make sure that the geography of the fan matches with that of the chip (there is a slight elevation in one area on both). If you purchased a chip that comes with its own cooling fan, the directions with the chip will give you more information. If you bought them separately (as we did in this case), refer to your fan’s installation instructions. A power cable from the fan attaches to the motherboard, so that the fan turns on when the machine does. Check your instructions with the motherboard to find the proper slot for the fan cable. Memory should be installed next. Open the two clips on either side of the memory bank, slide in the memory, and snap the clips back in place. Don’t be afraid to use a little force to get the memory in. However, if it doesn’t seem to want to slide in to the slot, check and make sure the pins and slots are lined up properly. Memory can only go in one way, so you may need to turn it around to fit correctly. You are done, for now, with the motherboard. Storage and reading devices — the hard drive, floppy drive and CD-ROM drive — now need to be attached to the computer case. To do this, you’ll need to open the case. Cases are sometimes tricky to open, so take your time and find out which screws are necessary to remove the panels in order to open the case. Once open, it should be obvious where the floppy and CD-ROM drives go, as spaces are allocated for them that align with the front cover of the case. Line them up, and screw holes should line up with metal bars. Screws usually come with either the case or the motherboard (more than you’ll ever need), so screw in these drives tightly, but make sure they fit. Metal on the drive compartments will line up with the holes on the floppy and CD drives. Occasionally you may have to add additional bars on either side of the drives to make them fit properly. These bars are usually included with the drives. The hard drive housing is often more difficult to figure out, as it can be located anywhere. However there are usually directions with your case telling you where to put the drive or drives. After all of these items are installed, attach the ribbon cable to the back of the drives. The slots on the cable will line up with the slots on the back of the drives. They usually can only go one way. You will also need to plug in the power supplies to these drives. The power supply usually has a white plastic ending with four holes. These holes plug in to the CD and hard drives. The floppy drive power supply is smaller. You’ll also want to install the sound cable that attaches from your CD drive to your motherboard. This isn’t essential, but if you want to play CDs with sound or music, then it’s important. Look on the diagram that came with your motherboard to find the location of these pins. Now that all of the hardware is installed on the case and on the motherboard, it is time to put the two together. When putting the motherboard on the computer case, you will need to line up the screw holes on the motherboard with those on the case. Usually, more holes are available on the case than are needed, in order to accommodate various models. Also, the slots where your keyboard, mouse, and so forth are different on each motherboard. On the case I used for this project, I had to remove the covering for these, and replace it with the one that came with the motherboard. Included with your computer case are a number of posts. These posts screw in to the holes on the case, and hold the motherboard suspended slightly from touching the case. Line up the motherboard holes with the holes on the case, then screw in the posts. Then put the motherboard on top of those posts, and using the screws provided, attach the motherboard to the case. Once the motherboard is attached to the case, you will need to attach the ribbon cables from the hard drive, floppy drive, and CD-ROM drive to the motherboard. This is usually a simple job, since the ribbon cables for each of these can only go into one spot. With the motherboard, the hard drive cables and CD-ROM cables are the same. Find the slots on the motherboard into which these cables will fit, and slide them on. Generally, they only fit one way, but occasionally, you will get cables that could fit both directions. In this case, look for a notch or square that is not filled in. Match it to the pin that is missing on the slot, and you will be fine. The floppy drive ribbon is a smaller size than the hard drive and CD drive, but it goes in the same way. Next, attach the computer case fan cable to a power supply outlet. Usually extra power cables will come with the computer case for these attachments. You can also get an extra fan to keep things nice and cool inside your case. Directions with your case will show you where to install this, or you can figure it out pretty easily on your own, as there is usually an obvious place for it to go. Now connect the power supply from the computer case to the motherboard. Again, this is obvious, as the cable coming from the power supply on the computer case will only fit into one slot on the motherboard. The next part is the trickiest. A series of very small cables running from the front of the computer case need to be attached to their appropriate section on the motherboard. While the description on the motherboard directions will tell you where they are supposed to go, unfortunately they are only guessing as to what they will look like. Often the cables coming from the case will vary slightly from the description with the motherboard. Likewise, the diagram or directions with your case will often vary from what the motherboard looks like. Also, the cryptic description on the connection will not correlate exactly with the motherboard description. Nonetheless, through a process of elimination, you can pretty much figure out where each one goes. The most critical of these cables is the on/off switch from the front of the case. While this will often be a double connector, sometimes it is two single ones. Following the directions that came with the motherboard, it will point you where to plug these in. The next connection is the reset button, which is a similar configuration to the on/off switch. Next are hard drive LED lights, which, if you don’t connect properly, aren’t that important. You may also have USB port connectors, which tend to be obviously named (i.e. USB1 or USB). Directions with the motherboard will point you to the correct place. So, assuming you’ve hooked everything up, now comes the moment of truth: Powering up for the first time! Go ahead and do it if you want, but in the final installment in this series, to be published next month, we’ll discuss the final stages of preparing your computer: tinkering with the bios, loading Windows, adding hardware drivers, installing programs, and other customizations.

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