The Upgrade Turns into a Brand New PC

Here’s the update on the PC upgrade: All the parts arrived on Thursday and everything arrived in great shape. The Biostar open-box was certainly just that, it didn’t come with anything other than the mobo in a static bag and the box. Which was fine, I’ve got a bunch of IDE/SATA cables and the drivers I already downloaded and burned to a CD. But I was sort of hoping that it would come with the rear I/O panel, since those are specific to the motherboard, and hard to just buy alone, but alas I didn’t get one. Maybe I can buy one direct from Biostar for a couple of bucks?

Getting computer hardware is so much fun, it’s like Christmas. Eagerly I prepared on spot on the kitchen table and began the tear-down of the original Compaq computer. Pulling out the motherboard and installing the new Biostar motherboard went without any problems. I dropped in the AMD Athlon 64 and clamped down the heatsink, piece of cake. It is me, or does AMD’s method of attaching the heatsink to the CPU much nicer, quicker, easier and more efficient than Intel’s lame push-and-turn thingies? I can never tell if the heatsink is on there good enough, or whether or not I cracked the mobo trying. That was pretty much all there was to do, besides drop in the RAM, and I was ready to power up – and that’s when the first problem arose.

In short, the Compaq PSU I had intended on using doesn’t support the standard ATX pin outs for a 24-pin PSU. Well, 20 of the pins are right, but it’s the last 4 that Compaq pretty much decided to do whatever they want with. Before even turning on the computer, the Biostar mobo began blinking letting me know there was a problem. A quick search on the net revealed that sure enough the PSU isn’t compatible, those last 4 pins are all the wrong voltages.

Comparison of a Standard 24-pin ATX PSU vs. the Compaq PSU

             ATX        COMPAQ
Pin 11     +12V    3.3V
Pin 12     +3.3V   Fspd (Fan Speed)
Pin 23     +5V     3.3RS (Remote Sense)
Pin 24     GND     FS (Fan Sink)

It looks as though no damage could be done by simply hooking up the Compaq PSU, since its voltages are lower than what the mobo wants to see, but it could damage the PSU if it’s actually turned on. I didn’t push the power button, but unplugged the PSU and dropped in a 20-pin older ATX power supply. It worked for now, leaving the 4 extra sockets open, but I plan on getting a new PSU and case really soon.

Now there’s a lot that can go wrong when an old installation of Windows suddenly gets a bunch of new hardware, mainly a new motherboard. In some cases the machine won’t even boot, as has happened to me in the past. This time however Windows loaded up fine, before it went through its routine of finding new hardware and locating drivers. Some drivers it found, others I loaded manually with the CD like the chipset drivers, the audio drivers, and the video drivers. After several reboots and at a few blue screens of death, the new PC was up and running. It wasn’t pretty though, the standard PSU didn’t fit in the spot where the old Compaq PSU was, so there was gaping hole in the back and it was only being held in by one screw, so it was leaning sideways.

The next day things got worse, the computer was constantly flashing the blue screen of death and rebooting even while performing the simplest task. The blue screen error referenced ntoskernel.exe, which basically is to say that the NT (Windows 2000) Operating System Kernel is screwed up ,maybe. I fgured the next best thing to do in this case would be to simply re-format the drive and re-install Windows, which is sort of what I did. Only I couldn’t for the life of me find my Windows 2000 installation CD. We’ve been renovating the den the last couple months so all the computer stuff ended up in the garage, I have yet to see half of it make it back into the den. Then I remembered another operating system I have lying around that I could try out on the new PC – Windows Vista RC2. Well, why not? Well it’s not exactly Vista-Ready with its 512MB ram and integrated NVidia 6100 256MB graphics card. Although the AMD Athlon 64 3200+ should be enough to run it, I’ll have to do without the cool Aero Glass interface.

So I installed Vista, long story short (as if that’s possible with me) Vista actually works quite well, and the two games I installed played just fine. It feels a lot slower than 2000 did, but looks great. I downloaded all the updates, and the latest Vista drivers from nVidia’s web site and just messed and messed around for hours with it trying to get everything up and running. Unfortunately I was still getting blue screen errors, something I seriously haven’t see so many of since Windows 98. Could it be a hardware related issue? I know RC2 isn’t the final thing, but on my own computer I never saw the blue screen of death while trying it out, and now both 2000 and Vista were doing it. I think it’s time to check the hardware. So right now I’ve got Memtest86 running and by the second pass I’ve received 172 errors on tests 4, 6 and most of them on 7. Stupid Kingston RAM, I knew I should have got Corsair. Of course it could be related to the open-box Biostar motherboard I bought too. Anyway, now I’m running around trying to figure out what to do to get the kids PC running and stable again. I ended up picking up an Antec NSK 4400 Case and 380 PSU at Best Buy the other night for $62. So we basically built a whole new computer from scratch, and kept only the HDD from the old computer. So much for the cheap upgrade, but we’re still at a total cost of about $210 for what is basically a brand new Athlon 64 3200+ machine that actually runs Vista. Let’s see a budget eMachine do that for that price, even with 15 mail-in rebates. Now Memtest is on its 3rd pass and I’m at 310 errors, this time a bunch of them are on test 8. So the memory sucks or the mobo, or both.

The next steps will be to pull out one stick at a time and see if I can narrow it down to one stick or the other. Then I can pull pull out a stick or two of the DDR400 RAM that’s in my own computer and check that in the Biostar mobo, because I’ve run Memtest on it and it passes all tests without errors. So I should be able to figure out if it’s the RAM or not. I’m hoping the mobo is good, the RAM I can easily mail back to Newegg and pick up something else. If it’s not the RAM, then I’ve only got 1 week left to determine it’s the mobo and get an RMA and get it returned (open-box return policy is 15 days, not much time to break in a new PC). Now I’m up to 2,017 errros. Holy cow, it’s a wonder Vista even installed at all, let alone ran for several hours, but man was it buggy. And now we’re up to 7,401 errors. I wonder if adjusting the voltage would help? I’ll be back to update more later. 12,042 errors and counting….

Cool, new hardware!
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Biostar mobo installed into the old case
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The stock cooler for AMD’s Athlon 64 is a breeze to install (it’s not clipped down yet)
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A day later, tossed the old case and PSU for an Antec 4400 w/380 PSU – much better!
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The finished product, simple yet sleek and runs surprisingly cool and quiet
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Installing Windows Vista RC2
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First pass Memtest86 is finding errors, not a good sign
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That’s a lot of red! Memtest86 plugging away diagnosing my hardware problems
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About Dan

For a complete biography, stop by www.danmarx.org and click around for a while.
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