My First PC Building Experience (Part 3)

January 27, 2012 by . 8 comments

Click here to read part 2.

Well, this is the final post in this 3-parter!

In the previous picture at the end of part 2, there are a couple of clearly visible mistakes in cabling that I didn’t notice at the time. I didn’t notice them because they weren’t the type of mistakes that cause breakage, but just were unnecessary. The first was that I used both Crossfire bridges with the graphics cards. Only one gets used between two cards anyway, so I was able to remove one of them (the second one is if was going to hook up a third graphics card). The second mistake was that I ran a PCI-e power cable to the motherboard’s PCI-e power connection. This power connection is useful if the PCI-e cards don’t have external power and aren’t getting enough power from the PCI-e rails as it is. But since my graphics cards do already draw external power,

I did not need to hook up that connection. This realization allowed me to free up a PCI-e cable and repurpose it on one of the graphics cards, instead of using a Molex to PCI-e adapter.

Now at this point, I needed to find a way to reduce the fan noise. I somewhat anticipated that this would happen and so I already had started discussing this with some of my friends. While the switch that I installed for the case fans did what I intended (and in testing, didn’t cause any dangerous heat buildup, though I didn’t test it while stressing the components), I found that it didn’t significantly reduce fan noise. The case fans actually were pretty quiet, and it was the stock CPU fan that I was using that was causing the racket. What I needed was to replace it with a quieter model. As luck would have it, one of my coworkers was building a new computer for his church and had an extra CPU fan/heatsink combo that he ended up not needing. I bought it off of him for the price that he paid for it. When I got home, I set about figuring out how to swap out a heatsink and fan. By now, the heatsink that I installed had set pretty well on the CPU. The thermal paste essentially glued them together. What I needed to do was find a way to separate them without causing damage to the CPU itself.

The method I chose was to use a handheld hair dryer. I set it to high heat and blew hot air onto the heatsink for a few minutes. This softened up the thermal paste enough that it allowed me to lift the heatsink off the CPU relatively easily. I then used isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) to clean up the remaining thermal paste. This was important because you need a clean surface on the CPU so that the thermal paste and heatsink can dissipate the heat evenly and efficiently.

After all that was set, I installed the new heatsink and then the new CPU fan. After booting it up the first time, I found it worked but wasn’t cooling quite as well. After closer inspection of the instructions and watching what direction the fan spun at, I found I installed it upside down! Luckily, it was easy enough to fix this issue. I just pulled the fan off, flipped it over, and remounted it.

This new fan meant the computer ran much quieter. While before, if I played a game, the stock CPU fan would spin up and it would sound like a jet engine, the only thing I could hear with the new fan was airflow. That’s the best sound to hear when using an air-cooled system.

At this point I also wanted to move up to 1 TB of storage. My hybrid solid state drive was only 500 GB, and I already had installed Windows and set up my programs, so I needed to find a way to upgrade. Obviously I didn’t want to get rid of the hard drive I already purchased, so I opted for a RAID0 setup. I purchased a second drive of the exact same model and started talking with my coworkers and friends about my intentions. They said that when setting up RAID, it would wipe the drive. Normally I would just back up my important files to a USB drive and just reinstall, but I also discovered that a RAID0 setup also decreases the reliability of your system disk quite significantly, due to the fact that you are now using two drives as one. I didn’t want to opt for a RAID10 setup, due to equipment, space, and monetary limitations, so I instead looked into installing a real backup system.

I found a backup program, Acronis True Image Home 2011, that allowed me to image the disk and restore the images if needed. It also let me restore these disk images onto different hardware. What this program would let me do was to create a backup image of my disk while in IDE mode, and then restore it onto the my disks in RAID mode, simultaneously injecting the RAID drivers into the Windows installation, allowing me to boot it back up.

So, I purchased the program, as well as a USB3.0 external drive to store my backups. I chose USB3.0 because it is significantly faster than USB2.0 and close to on par with SATA. I was debating getting an eSATA drive, but in order to use it, I would have had to get an expansion card with eSATA ports, and I didn’t want to spend that much time installing it. It was easier and about just as good to go with USB3.0.

After the drive and the software came in the mail, I went about creating the disk image, burning the boot disc, and getting the RAID driver ready on a USB drive. After I shut the computer down, I installed the second drive, booted into the BIOS, and checked that it was properly recognized. I then set the computer into RAID mode and rebooted into the RAID setup menu. From here I created a RAID0 disk out of my two 500 GB disks and rebooted with the boot disc that I created earlier in the CD drive tray.

The boot disc’s wizard was pretty simple after I figured out what was involved in the process. Most of the default settings were fine for my purposes. All I had to do was tell it that I was installing onto different hardware than before, point it to the RAID driver, and let it recover my Windows installation. From there I rebooted. Lo and behold, Windows 7 booted up on a new 1 TB drive, with all my files and settings still intact! I made sure to set my backup software to make regular automated incremental backups, and I was good to go.

However, I still needed my multi-card reader. My case only had 5.25” expansion slots, so finding a multi-card reader that would fit it was difficult. And most of the options that I found had USB ports as well, which I didn’t want since I already had 4 on my front panel. I found one that caught my eye, though. It was a multi-card reader (listing here) but also included an eSATA connection (which I didn’t need but also didn’t have, so why not). But the coolest thing about it (in my opinion) was that it also doubled as a fan controller and temperature readout on an LCD display. I learned to love good airflow and low temperatures in my computer from dealing with my first laptop back in college, so I figured that I’d give this thing a try.

I had a problem, though. My case’s front panel had four USB 2.0 connections, driven from two USB header connections. My motherboard only had two USB headers available, so I needed something that would give me another USB header to plug the multicard reader into. You can get expansion cards with these, but I was at a space premium due to having two double-slot graphics cards installed. The solution that I found was this internal USB expansion card. It plugged into a single USB header and also plugged into the PSU, to provide 3 internal USB headers and 2 external USB connections. It was a bit odd in that it actually attached inside the case via Velcro. There are advantages and disadvantages to that method—an advantage being that if you are lacking space in PCI slots, you don’t have to cram it in one but put it somewhere else. A disadvantage though is that it makes the inside of the case a bit more messy because there aren’t many areas inside a PC case where you can find an empty, flat surface to attach something to. You could put it directly above the motherboard, but that’s not ideal because that’s usually a removable panel and I didn’t want have it tethered by (potentially) delicate wiring. I was able to find a space, though, in the drive compartment, behind my drives. I hooked it up and plugged in the multicard reader, and started thinking about what I could do with the fan controller and temperature readout.

Now, the method it uses for reading temperature isn’t the most accurate. What it uses are temperature probes which you can tape to heatsinks or other locations in your computer. The motherboard is ultimately better at getting accurate and up-to-date temperature readings, and can spin up and down fans accordingly. However, if your fans are quiet enough (which mine now were), there isn’t really any harm in keeping the fans running high 100% of the time. The fan controller on this device uses knobs on the front panel to control fan speed, and I believe also takes into account temperature readings (as it pairs each fan to a temperature probe). In the end, I hooked up only two of them, one to the CPU fan and heatsink, and the other to the rear case fan and motherboard. Getting the temperature probes to stay in place took a bit of trial-and-error, but eventually I got them secured well.

At this point, the computer was pretty much completed! This is how it looks, now (note: that is only dust over the front intake filter—I need to clean it off now and then):

Click for full resolution image

And the inside:

Click for full resolution image

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  • Shinrai says:

    What thermal paste were you using that set so firmly in such a short amount of time? o.O That’s REALLY strange, generally what you see these days is much less stiff. (I use Arctic Silver 5 and that stuff never sticks, but it is a bit more expensive than some that you’ll find.)

  • sidran32 says:

    @Shinrai Actually, the thermal paste was the kind included in the CPU/heatsink/fan package. It worked, but the stuff was very, very stiff. I didn’t purchase any thermal paste extra because I knew it came with it. It had enough for a couple uses, so I used the rest with the new heatsink.

  • journeymangeek says:

    The ‘stock’ paste isn’t – its a thermal pad if they haven’t changed what they use with systems. Even dried up thermal paste tends to come off pretty easily – i used a medical swab when i was cleaning up a video card that used the proper stuff which had dried out (granted, for curiosity, since it died) and it came clean out. Thermal pads are another story

  • sidran32 says:

    A thermal pad is different. It was thermal paste. Came in a tube and everything. 🙂

    A thermal pad is different… it’s a pad.

    Also, dried up thermal paste doesn’t always come off easily. Looking around online, I saw many references to the OEM stuff tending to be really hard. Someone even said they used a knife to scrape it off, but I wouldn’t go that far myself. o.o

  • Arnold says:

    Have you considered cable braiding to tidy those loose cables?

  • sidran32 says:

    @Arnold That’s pretty cool! Though I probably won’t do that. What I’ll probably do eventually is to take the thing apart and rebuild it, making sure to route the cables using the resources the case gives me for cable management. Regardless, the reason it’s in a mess right now is just the result of adding things to it after the fact. Especially the USB expansion card and the fan controller/temperature readout/card reader. There are a lot of cables going to and from those devices and they’re right next to the optical drives, which is why it’s somewhat of a nest right there.

  • Garfiun says:

    I have just read through the three parts and found it an interesting read. Also I love the look of the build and hope mine comes out similar to yours.

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