Building a PC: putting it all together

It lives!

With all the pieces in place, I threw the switch on my new PC and … it fired up first time. No smoke. No explosions. Also no operating system, so all I could do was play with the BIOS. But hey, it’s an achievement of sorts.

Of course, it should be this way. What with standardisation of connectors and subsystems, ‘building’ a PC is actually less challenging than many Lego builds.

There were a couple of head-scratching moments while I was putting it all together, though.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wasn’t sure whether to mount the CPU and heatsink before mounting the motherboard in the case. In the end, I decided not to wait. It turns out my concerns about having to remove some of the mounting hardware from the motherboard (something I’d seen on YouTube videos) wasn’t necessary, so I shouldn’t have worried my pretty little head.

Having said that, I later realised that the screws I’d used to mount the motherboard were actually the ones intended for mounting drives. It pays to look at the illustrations in the manual that comes with the case very carefully. I wound up swapping all the screws after everything was in place. It really wasn’t that hard.

Not so fast

The RAM was set to run at the default of 2133MHz. Of course, I wasn’t about to accept this, having paid for fancy-schmanzy 3600MHz memory. So I dug around in the BIOS, found the relevant setting and upped it to 3600. And all hell broke loose. The PC reset three times. On the final attempt it dropped into a safe mode that allowed me to get back to the BIOS.

Clearly, although the Asus Prime X470-Pro motherboard claims to support 3600MHz memory, there’s some disagreement between the CPU, the board and the memory. I can probably fix this by messing with timings and maybe voltages, but I don’t have time to deal with this right now. I managed to get the system stable with the memory at 3200MHz and that will have to do for the time being.

I’m not attempting to overclock the CPU. It’s the ‘X’ version of the AMD Ryzen 2700, so I don’t feel any need yet to indulge in such tweaks. I might try it at some time and I might not. It’s better to wait until I’m happy everything else is stable first (see below). And I certainly don’t want to get into the position where I need to replace the Wraith cooler with something silly like water cooling.

Driven to distraction

Aside from the instability with the RAM running fast, everything seemed to be working well. Which is exactly what it wanted me to think…

I installed Steam and downloaded the two games that interest me at the moment – Kerbal Space Program and Elite: Dangerous. As I’m already playing KSP on the Mac, I fired up Elite. Crashy, crashy, crashy. I mean, to be fair, it would sometimes run for whole minutes before flickering out of existence (sometimes taking the whole PC with it), but it’s not what you’d call playable. Then I tried KSP. Same deal.

Hmmm.

After all these years of being a Mac and Linux user, what had I forgotten? That Windows is the Desolate World of Drivers. Well, okay, all operating systems use drivers, but Windows is The World Where Drivers Hate You.

I had downloaded and installed a couple of things from the Asus website. Maybe not enough.

Ah, but what’s this? There appears to be a DVD lurking in the box of motherboard stuff. Unfortunately, my build has no optical drive. Luckily, I have an external drive for my Mac, so copied everything on to a thumbdrive. And yes, there were drivers I hadn’t installed.

By this time I’d also knocked the RAM speed down a tad – to 3066MHz – because I was planning on trying that first. A few reboots later and both KSP and Elite started playing without glitches.

Back up to speed

So, I thought I’d try nudging the RAM speed up a bit once more. Instead of going back to 3200MHZ I first tried going all the way to 3600MHz. Nothing doing. Back to the same situation where the machine would reboot three times, finally dropping me into safe mode, from where I could get to the BIOS settings.

So I dialled it back to one step above 3200MHz – ie, 3266MHz. That’s where things unravelled. The PC wouldn’t POST. After rebooting, nothing … nada. No GeForce message, no American Megatrends screen, absolute zilch. So that was interesting.

Delving into the manual provided on the DVD suggested there should be a BIOS reset button. There isn’t. But, it turns out, the same effect can be achieved with the RTC reset jumper. You just need to ensure the PC is switched off and unplugged, then short the CLRTC pins for about 10 seconds (I used a flat head screwdriver).

The machine booted back into safe mode and, astonishingly, most of my BIOS settings, such as the QFan configurations, were untouched. Weirdly, the real-time clock still said the correct time. I reset the RAM to 3200MHz and rebooted.

All seemed well for a little while and then Elite kept crashing again, so I think that RAM is going to have to go back down to 3066MHz.

By the way, the PC is setting alongside my BBC Master Turbo, so I couldn’t resist a side-by-side Elite comparison.

Yes, the space station on the left is blurred. It was a 1 second exposure and the bugger wouldn’t stop spinning.

More money

Of course, now I realise all the other things I need to complete this build. I have no speakers, so maybe a sound bar would be nice. And Elite would be so much easier with a HOTAS setup. The spending never ends…

[UPDATE 1] I’ve added sound! Rooting around in the office cupboard I found the Altec Lansing speaker system I bought as part of a package with a ‘multimedia’ PC back in around 1998 or 1999. It consists of a large bass unit that goes on the floor and two desktop speakers. And although the plastic has yellowed a tiny bit over 20 years, it still works great and has deep, booming sound. So, no need to buy a sound bar.

[UPDATE 2] Resetting the RAM speed to 3166MHz solved the crashing problem, so I’ll be leaving it there for now.

[UPDATE 3] How much of that 1000W PSU am I using? I plugged the PC in via a power meter. In standby mode, where the motherboard glows its LEDs and waits for you to press the main power button, it draws 1W. Booted into Windows 10, but not doing much else, it ambles along at about 100W. While running a training mission in Elite it never topped 200W, and mostly hovered down around 130-150W. So I think I can honestly say this build leaves quite a bit of headroom.

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