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10. Introduction and Purpose
About this FAQ
This FAQ is the brainchild of the members of Team Discovery, and its intention is to provide some preliminary information about building your own computer to process work for Distributed Computing projects, such as those run by Team Discovery.
There is significant interest in building your own computer, especially for those who have never done so. With the current state of marketing and availability, it's relatively easy for someone with moderate knowledge to tackle this enjoyable project ... and the purpose of this FAQ is to provide some help and direction for that goal.
If you don't find your answer here, ask in the forum
. You are sure to get help and encouragement. Enjoy!
Can anyone submit a question?
Of course! This FAQ is designed for the members understanding of what it takes to build a cruncher.
To submit your entry, just go to the bottom of the FAQ page, and click on the link there, or right here
. You can submit a question and answer, or just your question, and we'll try to put an appropriate answer to the question.
Also, it's a good idea to send an IM to one of the FAQ owners in order for your entry to be seen promptly.
Submissions will need to be approved and may be edited for accuracy.
What if I'm not a TD member?
Most of the information in this FAQ is geared toward Team Discovery members and others who are involved in Distributed Computing projects, but there is also a lot of information that is generic build-it-yourself material, and it does not make a difference whether you are a team member or not.
The hardware forums
are also home to some FAQ's about similar considerations when buying computer parts.
20. The Pros and Cons
Pro: Get Exactly What You Want
If you build your own PC, you can buy the exact components and accessories to tailor the machine to exactly what you want. Actually constructing your own machine *may* save you money which you can put toward other components or keep in your pocket, or invest in your retirement. :)
With an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) PC, you do not have as many choices, although some like Dell have evolved to allow more leeway in specifying your new PC. If you really don't like the idea of plugging the components in yourself, you can come close to building your own with Dell and others who allow you to specify processor, RAM, video/sound and other ingredients.
Pro: Great Learning Experience
One can learn a lot in building a cruncher and it can be a lot of fun. You begin to understand how computers work better and what makes them tick.
Pro: More Upgradable
OEM pc's like Dells but especially HP and Compaqs are not very upgradable and often times include proprietary features. With a computer you build yourself, it is very easy to upgrade since all the parts are part of the ATX standard.
Con: No Tech Support
No ... not really. You can't just pick up the phone and call Dell Support and tell them the lights on your DVD drive don't work.
But there are two real positive aspects to this: First, you build it, and you are intimately familiar with how things work now ... and Second, you can get all the help you need right here on the site!
Many folks in the TD forum are quite knowledgeable and helpful. There are several other forums on the site that also offer help:Computer Hardware Discussion/ReviewsComputer Hardware Help
Con: You May Break Something
You may very well break a piece of hardware when building your PC, but this is fairly unusual. Most folks realize they're involved in somewhat delicate activity, and behave accordingly. Computer hardware has also become far more stable and less delicate over time. Don't get discouraged if something goes awry - it can happen to anyone, and if you're dealing with a reputable outlet, many times you will be able to replace the component.
30. The Basics
AMD or Intel?
That's the big question and one answer does not apply to everyone.
Here are some things to consider:
•Often times perform better than Intel
•Wide range of motherboard support
•Faster clock speeds (does not necessarily indicate performance)
•Better application tweaks for some multimedia software
•Wide range of motherboard support
Note: Some of the info above is outdated and no longer applicable. In many ways, the question comes down to individual preference, and both manufacturers continue to pump out new processors on a regular basis. TD members are probably equally divided, and everyone experiences success.
Can I build a laptop?
The simple answer is no. Laptops are proprietary devices for the most part and each manufacturer makes them pretty much their own way. There are few standardized features which makes it impossible to build a laptop.
You can, however, add memory (RAM) and perform a few other upgrades to your laptop.
What is the bare minimum I need in a cruncher?
To build a cruncher, you must have some bare necessities. The following is a list of items you must have in a cruncher. For a list of things you may need if you will be using your computer for other tasks besides crunching, see this faq
: In a cruncher, the processor is the most important factor in determining how much crunching is done. The faster the processor, the faster work gets done. Choice of manufacturer is an individual thing, but generally try to buy the best you can afford. Money spent here pays off!
: RAM is also a very important component and the more you have the better. Larger amounts of RAM may speed up crunching by a modest amount, but mainly serves to keep your system running smoothly. 512
MB is the minimum recommended for Windows XP machines but more will work far better. Many if not most run 1GB (one gigabyte) and more. Most current machines will accept 2GB and up. Vista works best with 2 GB or more.
: The motherboard is the guts of a computer and can influence the speed of crunching. Some motherboard chipsets are faster than others which will result in faster crunching times. Do some research here ... and make an effort to match your mobo to your new CPU.
: Every computer requires a hard drive, but it does not really affect the speed of crunching. 7200 RPM hard drives will give you faster performance in load times of applications, but should have little to no effect on crunching.
: While not an every day requirement in a pure cruncher, you will need an optical drive to initially load the operating system onto your hard drive. This may be temporary in nature, and a good external drive will work too.
: Every computer requires a video card even if there is no monitor hooked up. A faster video card will not speed up crunching but will allow your games to run faster. For pure crunching, many motherboards contain "on board" video that should be sufficient.
: Having a stable operating system is important to efficient crunching. If the OS routinely crashes, crunch time is lost. Microsoft's Windows 7 is the latest Microsoft operating system and is very stable.
: While some case manufacturers include a PSU, you would do well to invest in a quality unit, with more than ample power. When a power supply fails, it can take out other components.
Stable voltage is key here to feed your system continually.
: You must have either a Network Card or a modem in your cruncher in order to send and receive work from the servers. Once again, most motherboards now have on board NIC's.
In addition to the above, you will might need a case, proper cables, fans, and a heatsink unit.
Ceramique is a good recommended thermal paste as well.
Do I need to know a lot about computers in order to build one?
No! In fact it is extremely easy to do ... as long as you follow instructions. Many people are intimidated because they do not think they are capable when in reality it is just like putting a ten piece puzzle together. If you have any questions, we will be more than happy to help you out. There is great satisfaction in building your own ... do it!
How much $?
Probably a pretty common question. The answer of course, depends on what type of machine you want to build, but honestly, at the present time, you can put a decent computer together for around $500. If you're scrounging parts from other sources (cannibalizing), you might even do it for less. A pure "cruncher" might not need a big hard drive, or a CD-Rom, etc.
How do I know what parts to buy?
You have to do your research and get the opinions of others in order to know what the best components are to get. Since technology is always changing, it is hard to recommend specific components. For specific questions, either post in the Hardware Chat
forum or the Team Discovery
How long does it take to build a pc?
This depends greatly on your experience level. It can take some time to build a pc neatly and carefully but it also can be done rather quickly if you have experience and know what you're doing. For experienced builders, look at it taking about 1 hour to build the system; for inexperienced builders, maybe an hour and a half. Those times are to actually put the system together, one must then install an operating system and software which will add varying amounts of time depending on how much software you need to install.
OEM vs Retail
• OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts are usually the same as retail parts but their packaging and support options are different. OEM parts are usually less expensive because they do not come in any fancy packaging (just a plain box), and do not usually contain any software or cables. But the primary difference is that OEM components tend to have lesser warranties. Do your homework here. OEM Processors MAY not come with a heatsink/fan combo but many do. Retail versions always do. Buying the OEM CPU permits you to add a high-performance fan and heatsink if you prefer.
• Retail simply means that the component is in the same packaging that you would find in a retail store. It includes all the accessories to make the device work; as with a CPU, the retail version comes with heat sink, fan and WARRANTY. You will almost always pay more for retail.
In general, you can feel safe buying OEM and saving some money since they usually come with a 30 day warranty. Most failures of computer parts occur within a short period of time, but not all.
State of the art, or basic?
There are basically two ways to go when building your own machine.
If your intention is to build a state-of-the-art cruncher/gamer/MP3 extreme machine, then you will obviously be looking at a bigger budget, and searching for the best components for your new box.
But if you're just interested in building a new box to add some crunching power to your existing setup, you can put an effective machine together without spending a ton of money.
Either way, it's a fun project, and you should find some great info right here.
What about 'barebones'?
You were looking at some of the sites for build-it-yourself links, and you saw "Barebones" prices ... now what is that?
A barebones system is one that the distributor has put together to save you some of the hassle of component selection, and maybe to save you some money as well. On the other hand, it may be one that the distributor has thrown together to get rid of surplus or unpopular stock ... reputation matters here.
In general, a barebones system consists of a case, motherboard, CPU and RAM. If you want to go this route, you will simply add whatever else you need, like CD-RW, Hard Drive, Video and Audio, NIC, OS, and so on.
This is really sort of a half-way point between an OEM computer and a build-it-yourself box, OR, an easy starting point which saves some of the decision making ... the basic parts are already there.
Cases: One Example
In cases as with other components, the choices are endless. Generally for a cruncher you can select an inexpensive model; however, if you will be in and out of it often to add or change things, you will want a more substantial and accommodating case. Other considerations are cooling and layout; you want to be able to circulate air with as little obstruction as possible.
You can spend a lot of money on a case, and get all sorts of LED lights and gimmicks, but it's probably a good idea to spend that money on other components, and get an adequate case for your use. The following example is an old one, but representative of a good choice.ChiefTech
Server size tower: 21" high, 19" deep, black or white.
This case is readily available, and is a cheaper cousin to the Antec cases. It comes with or without a power supply, and is usually priced at around $54 without.
The case includes two case fans (not the best quality, but sufficient) and two drop-out 3.5 inch bays. CD-ROM and similar drives load from the front, on guides that are included.
Not a bad case, for the money.
There are many different models and are manufactured by different companies, but the case design is the same. This is a solid, well-built case, and can take a beating. Loaded with all the goodies, they can weigh up to 50 lbs.
40. Nice to have
What is nice to have in a cruncher?
In addition to the bare minimum
requirements, there are some things you may want depending if you are build a dedicated sit in the corner cruncher or a machine that you will be using for other tasks.Optional Components
: A sound card is not necessary for a sit in the corner cruncher
but you would want one if you would like to hear any sounds from the computer. Sound cards to not affect crunching times.
•Keyboard and Mouse
: If you use the pc, then you will want a keyboard and mouse, otherwise they are not necessary. The duo does not affect crunching.
: Only required if you are going to be doing any activity on the pc. If the machine sits in the corner, then you can either use Remote Desktop in XP Pro to access it or another application that allows you to remotely access a computer. This does not affect crunching.
: Floppy drives and cd-rom's aren't required to have a cruncher, but you will need at least a cd-rom to load the operating system. In general they are a good idea to have in case you have any problems. In general, they do not affect crunching times.
: Additional software is not required, but of course if you are going to be using the pc, then you will need some other software. Check out the list of helpful programs
for TSC and WCG. Additional software running in the background can and will slow down crunching. In order for optimum crunching, avoid running excessive programs in the background and you may want to tweak your services
to speed up crunching even further. Because these projects are CPU-intensive, a program to monitor your system temperatures is a nice addition. You can find some freeware software, such as Motherboard Monitor: Presently available here
. Just a heads up: Your motherboard must have the appropriate sensors. MBM can monitor fan speeds, voltages and temperatures of several components.
If you have two computers near each other, you may want to invest in a KVM switch. A KVM switch allows you to let two or more computers use one keyboard, one monitor, and one mouse (hence KVM). This will save you money and space. Most provide both keystroke and hardware (pushbutton) operation. Having four computers without a KVM results in keyboards and mice that can get quite messy.
This is an IOGear four-port KVM switch, just one example.
Since we're concerned with keeping our new cruncher as cool as we can, one of the options that helps us do that is the addition of round drive cables, rather than the flat ribbon cables we're used to. The round cables cut down on resistance to movement of air inside the case, and that's what we want.
Round cables are usually around $8.00 apiece ... you will probably need three:
- One for your hard drive(s)
- One for your CD/DVD drive9s)
- One for your floppy drive, if any
These cables are normally set up for two drives (master/slave), but buy three anyway. This allows for addition of supplemental drives later.
You can also make your own rounded cables by using a razor blade and electrical tape. You may damage your cable(s) if you're not careful, but you can also save some money if you opt to do it yourself. For instructions to make your own rounded cables, please see this site
50. Lets build it
Putting the Puzzle Together
Before you begin, you want to give yourself a nice clear workspace preferably not on a carpeted floor so that you will not risk static shock to any of the computer components since static electricity can and will damage pc components.
Everyone has their own preferences to build a PC, but the following is my method which has proven to be successful for me so far. Pre-Assembly
• Arrange all the parts you will need neatly so that you can keep track of them.
• Keep all manuals handy as you may need them.
• Have all the tools you will need ready (usually just a phillips screwdriver).Assembly
• Take out the motherboard and put it over the case so that you can get an idea of where the standoffs should go in the case. Standoffs are basically little risers which must be aligned in the holes in the case with the holes in the motherboard. The screws will bite into the standoffs to secure the motherboard. Ensure that each hole in the motherboard is aligned with a riser in the case to prevent static shock which can lead your computer to not power on.
• Place the motherboard on a flat surface and install the processor and secure it.
• Apply the thermal compound to the processor and heatsink as demonstrated in this video
• Install the RAM (Consult the manual here. Most motherboards have requirements for RAM placement.)
• Install the motherboard into the case and secure it to the standoffs with the provided screws. Be careful not to press down on the motherboard too much ... it is possible to fracture it if too much pressure is applied.
• While the case is clear of any additional cables, follow the instructions in the motherboard manual to connect the power connectors from the case to the headers on the motherboard.
• Install the devices into the case such as cd-rom, floppy, hard drive, etc...
• Install all the IDE cables neatly
. Neatness is important because it ensures proper airflow. If your PC looks like a mess inside, then airflow and cooling will suffer.Bad example:
• Install all the PCI cards.
• Make all the power connections. Again, be neat!
• Make sure all the fans are installed and are directed to blow the air the right way. In general rear fans are exhaust, front are intake, and side are intake. The CPU fan should blow air on the processor - just think, on a hot day would you rather have a fan blowing air on you or away from you?
• Connect all your other equipment - keyboard, mouse, speakers, monitor, etc...
• Connect the power cord from the socket to the power supply.
• Fire the system up while making sure that all the fans are running and blowing air in the proper directions.
• The system should POST. When you see the video come on the screen, press DEL on your keyboard (it may be another key but read the prompts on the screen) to enter the BIOS and make sure that your hardware is being recognized properly and the FSB is properly set.
If your system does not POST and you hear various beeping sounds, check your motherboard manual for what the beeping sounds mean and then proceed to correct the error from there.
•You can now begin to do a clean install of your operating system. For Windows XP, you can follow the FAQ in the XP FAQ
• After you load your OS, install all new and updated drivers required for your hardware. You can obtain the latest drivers from the manufacturers websites.
• Viola! You just built your very own PC!
Excellent Pictorial How-To
has constructed an excellent build-it-yourself tutorial with a complete set of photos as he put his own new machine together.
See it here:
»Build Your Own System
Subject to Change
Recommending parts is a hard thing to do since technology is always moving forward. This will need to be updated periodically as a result.
If you have any recommendations, feel free to submit a detailed explanation of why you recommend a product and its specifications.
Selecting a Motherboard
The motherboard is basically nervous system of your computer. It houses the processor, memory, video and audio, connects to all your peripherals and provides the BIOS (Basic Input Output System). In general, you select a motherboard to go with your processor, or sometimes vice-versa. For a pure cruncher, your choice might be much different than if you're looking for a MoBo to install in your high-end, primary machine.
Some other considerations are PCI or AGP video slots, the number of PCI slots for add-ons (like sound cards) and size. The motherboard must be designed to fit in the case, or the case large enough to accommodate the MoBo. Some boards have on-board sound, and some on-board video. Many have on-board NIC's (Network Interface Cards) as well as USB 2.0 ports, Firewire IEEE294 ports, etc.
You can always ask in the forums, see what others are using, and/or do some research on your own. Some good references are:Motherboards.OrgNewEggPC StatsMotherboardexpress.com
So many choices
There are so many different types, brands, speeds, etc... of RAM that it is hard to recommend just one. Obviously you need to buy the kind that is compatible with your motherboard and from there your choices get more limited.
In general, you do not want to skimp on buying cheap RAM since it can decrease stability.
Some recommended brands of memory are:
What video card do I need?
Older video cards or cards for older, modest systems come with an AGP which is designed solely for graphics. However most quality cards now come in PCI and PCIexpress formats.
The highest quality video cards can set you back as much as $1000+ but if you aren't a gamer or graphics guru, there is no need for it. Most motherboards come with some form of on-board video, and that may be all you need for basic functions and displays.
Choosing a video card approaches science in its complexity. See HERE
for some examples.
Do you even need it?
If you're building a machine that will just process work units, consider whether you even need a sound card in it. If not, use the money for other parts, and keep your costs low.
Here too, many motherboards come with onboard sound, so if you are not an audiophile, that may suffice. If you listen to music a lot, then you would want a dedicated sound card.
See Wikipedia Sound Card
for some expanded info.
In general, your first consideration here is whether this will be your primary machine, or just a cruncher.
If just a cruncher, you could probably install a 40 Gig 7200 RPM drive for approximately $85, and it would serve you well. You can, of course, get away with smaller, slower drives if you have them hanging around, but at the expense of some speed.
If this is to be your primary machine, then you probably want to put a large-capacity drive into it, especially if you will be downloading MP3's, etc. Look into larger capacity drives such as 130GB and larger. Also look into SATA
drive systems if your motherboard supports it, and most now do.
No Hard Drive?
How about running on a thumb drive?
The BOINC website actually had some information relative to running BOINC on a machine without a hard drive.
March 1, 2007
With BOINCpe you can run a dedicated BOINC machine using a RAM disk, starting from only 256 MB of total RAM. This lets you use machines without hard disk drives for BOINC.
Direct download: »www.schreiter.info/download/boin···.4.0.zip
More detailed discussion here: »gocoding.com/page.php?al=petousb
70. Potential Problems
CPU Clock Speed is Too Slow
The Front Side Bus (FSB) connects the CPU with the computer's memory. The faster this bus is, the faster the CPU communicates with the system. As an example, AthlonXP processors have a 133MHz FSB. AthlonXP 2700+'s and higher have a 166MHz FSB. Often the BIOS sets the FSB to 100 MHz to prevent damage to the processor. Nearly all new processors run on a 133 MHz bus (100 MHz, for some older Pentium 4's and 166 MHz for newer Athlon XP's) so you must configure your BIOS to run the processor on a 133 MHz bus (or higher).
Say you have a 2 GHz Pentium 4 that is designed to be run on a 133 MHz bus, but it is only being run at 100 MHz. The clock speed of the processor is determined by multiplying the FSB by the multiplier (each processor has a multiplier that cannot be changed and determines the speed of the chip)
Incorrect:100 MHz (FSB) x 15 (Multiplier) = 1500 MHz
Correct: 133 MHz (FSB) x 15 (Multiplier) = 2000 MHz
500 MHz is a pretty significant loss of crunching power and you do not want to make that mistake.Overclocking
Overclocking is running the FSB higher than what the processor is engineered to run at. If you have a processor that is designed to run at 133 MHz and you have the FSB set anything above that, the processor will be overclocked. Generally overclocking by modest amounts is safe provided that you have good cooling.Disclaimer: Overclocking will void your warranties and can damage your processor if the proper precautions are not taken.
More discussion on this topic here: »www.pcstats.com/articleview.cfm?···eID=1352
My PC turns on, but then shuts right off
Your motherboard may have a feature that is designed to prevent processors from frying themselves. Some computers will shut off if there is no fan connected to the CPU FAN
header on the motherboard or the fan speed (RPM) is too slow.
- Make sure the fan has a yellow wire (which indicates that it monitors RPM's).
- Make sure that the fan specs list the fan of having more than 3000 RPM's.
Plug it in, plug it in ...
One problem that has cropped up a few times is: "I plugged it in, hit the power switch, and nothing happened."
There are many potential
causes for this, but the more common are:
• All components not seated properly. Check to make sure that everything you've installed is seated completely. RAM sticks need to be firmly pressed into position, so that the plastic locks pop up to secure them. Audio/Video cards need to be securely seated in their slots. Check all cables, connectors and plugs.
• Power switch actually connected to motherboard? Don't laugh ... The buttons and LED's on the front of the case do not magically work, there are connections that must be made to the proper receptacles on the motherboard.
To determine the proper way to connect the wires, follow the instructions in the motherboard manual. Check and double-check to make sure that the connections are plugged into the proper places. Some reasons for the buttons and/or LED's not functioning properly included reversed polarity and making the connections to the wrong plugs. There have been numerous incidents where someone wasn't sure how to connect the wire leads from the case to the motherboard - or what their purpose was.
The case power leads can be seen in the graphic above.
Another, closer view
80. Miscellaneous Info
Cooling is a very important aspect of any PC.
AMD chips are notorious for running on the warm side so it is necessary to make sure they are properly cooled to avoid instability which can be the result of excessive heat. Liquid Cooling has become fairly popular in high-end machines, and is quite safe. There is a vast array of cooling components available now. See for example: »www.pcstats.com/articlesearch.cf···ort=date
The most important part of cooling is the heatsink and fan combination. The stock retail boxes of both AMD and Intel chips come with a heatsink fan (HSF) combination. The HSF units that the chips come with are not the best but are good enough to get the job done. For AMD chips buying your own HSF is recommended, but for Intel, the included fan is fine.
To obtain the best cooling results make sure that the thermal compound is properly applied to the core of the CPU and the HSF; the steps can be found here
. After you get the HSF unit installed, next come the case fans.
Any front fans on your case should be intake; rear fans exhaust. Any fans on the side (blowholes) should be intake as well. It is important to try to balance the amount of air taken into the case with the amount of air being removed. In other words, you do not want to have 4 intake fans and 1 exhaust; try to have at least one intake and one exhaust. The fan on the heatsink should be blowing air on
the processor and not away from it.
For a diagram of proper case airflow, see the following picture from AMD's guide to cooling. This also applies to Intel based systems.
Proper temperatures vary between systems but in general the case temperature (as reported by the onboard sensors) should be a few degrees celsius above room temperature. The temperature of the processor for AMD's should be in the mid-40's C ideally but can go to the mid-50's C without difficulty. Intel chips should run in the low to mid 40's C but unless you get above 50 C, do not worry. Of course, the lower the temperature is the better.
Don't throw that old one out!
Got an old computer that just isn't worth anything, and is too slow to even consider using anymore? Don't throw it away!
I was recently building another system, and I realized that the miscellaneous power leads that come with the case ... speaker, power, reset, hard drive LED, etc. were of the wrong configuration. That is, one plug had three conductors when I needed only two to hook up to the motherboard.
Luckily, I had an old computer sitting around, and I was able to scavenge the power connectors from it, and adapt them to my new machine. Other items like slot covers and even LEDs can come in handy.
How do I properly apply thermal compound to the cpu?
is the most popular thermal compound on the market since it has proven to be the most effective way to cool a processor.
If the thermal compound is not applied properly, the cooling will not be as efficient which can result in instability. There's a detailed description of how to use this product here
Thermal Grease? Arctic Silver?
Today's CPUs generate a lot of heat, especially when they're working at 100% processing work units. To help conduct this heat away from the CPU, we install a heat sink
over the CPU, in contact with it. On top of the heat sink, we install a fan to blow cool air through the heat sink, cooling it.
The purpose of thermal grease, thermal compound, or Arctic Silver is to facilitate the exchange of heat from the CPU to the heat sink. Your CPU thinks of it as that cool, wet washcloth your mother used to put on your forehead. The Intel processors do not generally require thermal compound.
Some great information on lapping a heatsink, can be found here
90. Useful Links
Users submit their links
- A site with forums and reviews dedicated to products that support AMD processors
•Building a PC Part 1
- Tom's Hardware Guide to Building a PC
•Building a PC Part 2
- Tom's Hardware Guide to Building a PC
- A great online vendor with a good reputation, good prices, and a wide selection.
- A place to research the cheapest prices of all sorts of computer components.
- Another online vendor with good prices and a wide selection.
Where can I get good reviews?
Where to buy parts online?