mechBgon's guide to building your first PC from parts   : )
  1. Start

  2. Case prep 1

  3. Case prep 2

  4. Data and power cables

  5. Serial ATA stuff

  6. General motherboard/CPU info

  7. Testing & installing the motherboard assembly

  8. Installing the hard drive

  9. Final connections

  10. Security during Windows Setup

  11. Best practices for ongoing security

  12. Resources (drivers, diagnostics, links, online antivirus scans, antispyware resources)

  13. A brief visual glossary

Back to the general motherboard/CPU info page

You can bench-test the CPU/memory/motherboard assembly outside the case to confirm that everything's working, before you get too many complicating factors like drives and extra cards. Although I didn't actually do that myself, it's certainly a good idea, so I'm faking it for illustration purposes.  : ) Most people will be using an add-in video card, so I'm covering that too.

PCI-Express (PCIe) is the current standard for video card interfaces. Here's what the edge connector for PCIe x16 video cards look like. One row of pins, and the connector area is a bit slimmer than PCI or AGP:

If you're building with old hardware that has an AGP video card, be aware that AGP cards have two rows of gold-plated contacts on their edge, unlike a PCI card that has just one row.

Since there are two layers of contacts inside the AGP slot too, it's possible to get the AGP card into the AGP slot only halfway, instead of all the way. Here's halfway. Notice that one row of gold contacts is still visible. The computer won't run like this.

click to enlarge

Now the AGP video card is fully seated into both the first and second layer of contacts in the AGP slot. No contacts are visible where the card meets the AGP slot.

click to enlarge

Cardboard makes a good bench-test surface, so I'm going to lay the motherboard right on its cardboard box, with the video card hanging off the end. I've added a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and brought the case's ATX cable over to the motherboard. This motherboard doesn't use the ATX12V cable or other extra power cables, or I'd need them as well. Go back to the overview of cables if you need to refresh your memory.

click to enlarge

In this photo, I've got the case's power button plugged into the appropriate pins so I can send the motherboard and power supply a startup signal. The pins will vary, so consult your motherboard manual for the diagram if the markings on the motherboard aren't clear.

The system does a POST (Power-On Self-Test) and displays the processor's ID and the amount of memory.

What if my motherboard isn't correctly identifying the processor? This happens all the time, and usually occurs for one of two reasons:

  • Sometimes the motherboard needs its BIOS updated, a task that can be done by
    • making a bootable floppy diskette
    • adding an update utility and the BIOS update file to the floppy
    • booting from the floppy
    • running the update utility

    Many motherboards now allow for a BIOS update from within Windows as well, or have a command-line utility built right into the motherboard so you can simply press the Alt F2 keys (for example) and begin an update from a floppy diskette that contains the new BIOS. The motherboard's manual will give more details on the options available to you.

    For the computer in this guide, I had to update to BIOS version 1007 for the motherboard to recognize the AthlonXP 2400+ as such, because my 2400+ uses the newest Thornton core and the motherboard is an older design. Until that was done, the motherboard took its best guess and ran it at 1933MHz.

  • More commonly, you just need to enter the motherboard's BIOS menu system (by pressing the Delete key on the keyboard as it begins to display its first POST screen) and set the CPU's bus speed to its intended value using the BIOS menus.

For more information on working with the motherboard's BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) menus, there's no better resource than the owners' manual (well, or maybe the Forums... if you need help, post in the Motherboards section) : )

Since there are no bootable devices connected to the motherboard yet, I can expect this message for now. No worries.

After bench-testing the motherboard/CPU/memory/video setup outside the case on cardboard, I do a reality check to make sure the standoffs are positioned to match the holes in the motherboard. Next, I gently lay the motherboard on the standoffs and ease its jacks through the I/O shield.

The red arrow shows an EMI spring that's intended to rest on top of the jack block. These tend to dive down into the jacks instead, so keep an eye on them as you bring the motherboard in underneath them. Click the picture for a close-up view of the EMI springs I'm talking about.

As you push the motherboard against the I/O shield, the springy EMI springs will resist. Be careful not to use the CPU heatsink or the motherboard's smaller heatsink as handles as you overcome the resistance of the EMI springs; press against the opposite edge of the motherboard, or the jackblocks themselves, until you can get one or two screws in place.

Look at the I/O shield from the rear, to confirm that no EMI springs sneaked into any jacks, then put in the motherboard screws and tighten them to a gentle firmness. Don't overtighten the screws, because you don't want crush the motherboard's electrical traces.

So far, so good. Take a snack break and proceed on to the installation of the hard drive!  : )

Back to the general motherboard/CPU info page

Next: Installation of the hard drive