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In previous columns, I’ve discussed the reasons for building your own PC, the parts needed and the procedures for putting all of the components together. Today is the day we load the operating software and have a finished PC. But even if you haven’t been following along, this column should still provide some insight into the inner workings of your PC. You can also catch up on previous columns here. When we last left off, all of the PC parts had been put together, so now it is time for that magical experience — pressing the power button and booting up for the first time. So go ahead and do it! If nothing happens when you press the button on the front, that’s probably because the primary power switch is actually on the back. Look for an on/off toggle button in the back, push it to the opposite position, and try the power button again in the front. This time, you should hear the fans begin to turn and the hard drive whir, and you should see some activity on your monitor. On this first boot, you should see the PC checking its memory, hard drive, floppy and CD drives, which may take 30 to 60 seconds or longer. When it’s done, you should get the error message “System disk not found” or “Operating system not loaded” or something to that effect. That is a good thing. What you first saw as the machine was starting up is what is called BIOS, the low-level operating system that controls your computer’s hardware-related functions. For the most part, you should accept the defaults that come with the BIOS. However, should you wish to tweak the operations as the machine is starting up again, hit the DEL key. This will send you to the BIOS set-up. In here, you can tell the machine which drive to boot from first, how to manage power, add supervisor passwords and many other functions. Refer to the manual that came with your motherboard for reasons that you may want to change the settings here. If for some reason the computer did not go through the BIOS checks when you turned it on, or if you heard some beeping noises and then nothing, go back and check all of your connections again. It may be that you connected something improperly. LOADING THE SYSTEM Assuming, however, that the BIOS check worked properly, the next step is to load the operating system. In our example, we are going to use the latest version of Windows, Windows XP Professional. You could use a version of Linux as well or transfer your Windows license from your old PC to this machine, if that is allowed. To install Windows XP, simply put the Windows CD into your CD-ROM drive and restart the computer. The computer should boot from the CD-ROM drive and begin the set-up of XP. Follow the steps outlined as the software installation continues, and your Windows will load onto your computer. Accept any defaults it may have. Early on, it will ask you if you want to create partitions and whether you want to format the hard drive as NTFS. Simply say yes to all of these processes. If the computer does not boot from the CD-ROM drive and still does the same thing as when you first turned on the power, you may have to go into the BIOS and tell the machine to boot from a CD drive. To do this, hit the DEL key as the machine starts up. (Note: This procedure is different on different machines, but you should get a message telling you what to do, such as “to enter set-up, hit the ESC key.”) Once in the BIOS, you have a menu of various functions. Search for the one that says “Advanced BIOS set-up” and then look for “First Boot Device” or something to that effect. Use your keyboard (the mouse isn’t active yet) tab or cursor to get to where you can change the setting to make your CD-ROM drive the first boot option. Escape from the menu and exit, where it will ask you if you want to save your changes. Say yes and restart the machine. You have now enabled the CD drive to be the first place the computer looks to start up your computer, which should set you on the path to installing the operating system. You may want to change this later. This process also works if you are using Windows 2000. However, if you are using Windows 98, which probably means you are transferring your license from your old machine, I’ve found that the best way to load the operating system is to start the machine from a Windows 98 start-up diskette (floppy disk). If you don’t have a start-up diskette, you can go to your old machine from which you are transferring the license. Start up the computer, and go to “Start>Settings>Control Panel>Add Remove Programs.” On the right, you will see a tab that says “Start-up”; click on that and then click on “Create Disk.” Insert a floppy diskette into the machine, and it will create a start-up diskette. Take this diskette, put it in your new machine, and turn on the computer. The machine should boot from this floppy diskette and ask you if you wish to start with or without a CD-ROM drive. At first, say without a CD-ROM drive. This will ultimately end with a prompt that says “a:>.” At this point, type “fdisk,” and a utility will come up with various options. Use Option 1 to create a primary DOS partition, using the maximum size available. Once this is complete, you will need to restart. When the machine starts again, you still don’t need CD-ROM support. At the a:> prompt, type “format c:” and hit return. This process will then format the hard drive. Depending on the size, this may take 15 to 20 minutes or longer. Once complete, restart the computer again, but this time start with CD-ROM support. THE D: DRIVE It will take a few minutes longer for the machine to start this time. However, when it does, you will need to go to the D: drive, which is the CD-ROM drive. Insert your Windows 98 CD into the CD-ROM drive. To do this, type “d:” and hit return. Once at the D: drive, type set-up, and the process of loading Windows onto your machine will begin. Accept all defaults, and answer the questions as necessary. Remember, once you start using your new machine, you can’t legally run your old machine since you only have one license for Windows. If you are transferring a license, you would need to have a complete Windows 98 CD. Many machines don’t come with a Windows 98 system CD, but with a “restore” disk. This will not work when installing on another machine, and you will be better off purchasing a new XP CD. It takes 30 minutes or longer for the Windows software to be loaded on your machine. The final stages of loading Windows include driver set-up. Drivers are small programs that control the functioning of your computer’s hardware, such as the video card and sound card. It is very likely that not all of the hardware drivers will be found by Windows. However, this is where the CD that came with your motherboard comes in handy. Now that Windows is loaded, put the CD that came with the motherboard into your machine. It should start up automatically. Depending on the motherboard, there will be various installation procedures and utilities. I find that it is best to install all of these functions, as this will install the proper drivers for all of your hardware. Once this is accomplished, everything should be working properly, on both a hardware and software level. To verify this, go to the “Start>control” panel and click on “system.” Click on “hardware>Device Manager,” and you will see a list of all of the hardware installed on your new PC. Double click on each category so that it will list all items in that category. If there are any “Yellow” lines, it means that particular device is not working properly, and you will need to click on that item and follow the troubleshooting process. But if everything looks OK, congratulations, you’ve successfully built your own computer. While you may not have saved much money by building it yourself, you have learned a tremendous amount about how your computer operates. Now if you have any problems with any hardware device or wish to upgrade a particular component, you will know exactly what to do. And you’ve gained an immeasurable knowledge base on how your computer operates.

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