PC projects - 2016

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After replacing the CPU in my main PC, I decided to put together a secondary PC by using the old processor + various other parts I had laying around. But in addition to this, a couple of new parts was required as well. The entire process took place in the summer of 2016, and is covered on this page. At the bottom, I also cover the upgrade of my old HTPC, which in some ways are related to the first PC. Unlike with the How I built my new PC article, there's not as much text this time around.

Building a secondary PC

Let's start off with the cabinet: Some years ago a person came up to me with his non-working HP Pavilion PC, and asked if I could somehow manage to fix it. But after testing it both with the original and several other power supplies, my conclusion was a totally dead computer, where it most likely was the motherboards fault. After reporting back to him about this, I was told that a lightning had struck down beside his house, which had fried most of his electronics - including this PC. Then I told him that I could probably fix the computer by replacing various components, but his reply was that I could just take whatever I could salvage from it, and then get rid of the rest. So I stripped the PC for various parts, and put it aside to be thrown away at a later date. Out of the parts I grabbed, only the harddisk and graphics card was tested, and both were found to be in working condition.

But as time went by, I kind of started to like this tower since it was rather nice looking, wasn't too big, and didn't have the front audio & usb connectors at the bottom like with many other cabinets from the same era. So in the end, I decided to keep this tower for a future project, and this brings us up to the summer of 2016 when I made this very PC build. Before removing the old motherboard, I took the below pictures in order of making it easier to connect all tower cables to the new motherboard later on.

This turned out to be a really good idea indeed, because none of the cables coming from the front had any text on their plugs. Especially the cable with a yellow plug that goes to the upper right of the motherboard was confusing (more on this later). Then I removed the old motherboard and PSU, and gave the inside of the case a good cleaning.  I didn't remove the optical drive, since I wanted to check if it still was working.

To go with my old AMD A6 6400K Dual-Core processor, I had earlier bought an ASUS A58M-A motherboard. Now it was time to insert the CPU into the socket, which really is an easy task. First I pulled back the lever on the side of the socket, and after making sure that the arrow on the processor matched the arrow on the socket (for correct orientation), I put the CPU in place.

Then it was just a matter of pushing the lever back to it's original position in order of locking the processor. Next up was mounting a CPU cooler. Since I really hated the stock cooler that was included with the AMD A6 6400K (due to the loud wheeee sound it made), I had purchased an ARCTIC Alpine 64 GT Rev.2 to be used instead.

With the cooler in place, I proceeded by mounting the 8GB CORSAIR Vengeance Dual C Kit memory modules.  I was contemplating adding only 4GB RAM, but decided to go for a 2 x 4GB set instead. This was because the motherboard only has two memory slots, which makes any further RAM upgrades a bit harder.

Then it was time for a quick test to see if everything worked like it should. So I hooked up a power supply, monitor, mouse and keyboard to the motherboard, and fired it up by shorting the two pins of the power switch header with a screwdriver. Fortunately, things seemed to work fine, but just to be sure, I also booted Lubuntu from a usb stick.

Since everything seemed to be OK, I started mounting all components into the tower. But here I got really confused by the cables coming from the front of the case, because as previously mentioned, none of the cable plugs had any text on them. In addition there was a yellow plug and a yellow header on the motherboard, so I naturally assumed that these were connected somehow, but the problem was that the pin layout didn't match. After taking my time, and by studying the pictures taken earlier + looking at the old motherboard, I finally figured out where everything should go. As for the yellow plug, it turned out that it belongs to the front audio connectors.

Although the original PSU might still have been working, I didn't trust it due to the lightning it had been exposed to. Instead I went for the cheap Advance PSU that was earlier used for testing. Regarding the harddisk, I belive it's the original one that came with this PC. There's also a Pocket Media Drive bay present, which I decided to just leave inside the case (it will never be used though). With everything in place, I hooked up the PC again and booted Lubuntu from my usb stick. Then I started testing the front connectors and optical drive to see if they worked, and after this was done, I installed Windows 7, followed by Windows 10 (both for free).

There was still one problem left though: The case fan had a very short cable which couldn't reach the connector on the motherboard. Since the stock AMD A6 cooler was never to be used with a CPU again (due to the noise), I simply cut off its cable and spliced it with the case fan cable. For doing this properly, I used my soldering iron.

After a while it became quite apparent that the power supply and old case fan made way too much noise. So I decided to spend just a little more money on this PC, and ordered a new Chieftec GPA-400S8 iARENA 400W power supply and a Cooler Master case fan to be used instead. After mounting these new items, I also tried to tidy up the cables inside a little bit. Here it was most important that the area around the CPU was clear. As for the Advance PSU, I think I will continue using it for testing purposes only, and if I decide to keep the old SUNON fan, it will just be for "better than nothing" type of scenarios.

All in all, I must say that I'm pretty pleased with this PC. I really like the open nature of its inside, since this allows easy access to the various components. Currently it's only using the onboard graphics card for video output, but I don't think there should be any problems with adding a PCI Express card later (not even a large one). I'm not really sure what to do with this PC in the future, because my original plan was to have it as a backup PC in case my main one stops working, but maybe I will just give it away instead. I think one of my nieces might be interested in it.

Upgrading my old HTPC

Way back in 2009 I decided to build a small simple PC to be used with my TV. Because my funds back then was rather limited, and this PC was just meant for watching movies, I bought some of the cheapest parts I could find. This included the following: ASUS M2N68-CM motherboard, AMD Athlon64 1660 CPU, Kingston 2 x 1GB PC5300 RAM, and Arctic Cooling Alpine 64 GT CPU cooler. As for the OS, I installed Windows XP Media Center Edition. Everything was originally put in a AOPEN H340A Slim Case, but after its PSU died, I moved all components over to a MaxInPower B299CAL000 cabinet instead. Apart from watching movies, I also used this computer for transferring old VHS tapes to it by using a fake EasyCap USB capture device.

This setup served me well for some years, but when I got into Netflix, it really fell a bit short. Upgrading to the Radeon graphics card that I grabbed from the old HP PC mentioned further up did help though. Then I experienced some real hardware fail nightmares in 2014, where among other things, the power supply in this PC blew up. A possible reason for this might have been that adding the Radeon quite simply was too much for it. Anyway, I ordered a new 500W PSU from Ebay, which I'm kind of half way pleased with, because although it does the job, it quite simply is too noisy. Other than that, nothing else was done to this PC until the summer of 2016.

Since I was going to buy a new Philips 49" TV, it meant that I needed another way of connecting my HTPC to it, because this TV only has HDMI inputs. So I ordered a HIS AMD Radeon HD 4350 graphics card, which was one of the cheapest low profile cards with HDMI output I could find on Ebay ($29.95). It later turned out that this might not have been necessary, since the TV includes an audio line-in jack that can be used with one of the HDMI ports (for a DVI-HDMI adapter). But by then, the HIS card was already on its way, so I thought I might as well use it anyway. Another upgrade I wanted to do was the RAM, and fortunately I already had a couple of extra 1GB modules that could be used. Then I began thinking about the motherboard I just had removed from the old HP computer, maybe the Athlon 64 X2 CPU present on it could be used in my HTPC?

Testing the other CPU meant I had to take the motherboard out of the MaxInPower case, since I found it to be quite impossible to remove the CPU cooler otherwise. Before doing this however, I took the pictures below in order of making it easier to put everything back together again later.

With the motherboard out of the case, I began removing the CPU cooler, which turned out to be a bit more hassle than I had expected. The Alpine 64 GT cooler has a very simple design, where two plastic latches is used for keeping it in place. Removing the Alpine involves pressing it down hard on one side so that the latch can be unhooked from the cooler mount, and then doing the same with the other side. With both latches unhooked, I still had a problem since the cooler was completely stuck to the processor, and here I did the mistake of using brute force to get it off, instead of just wiggling it a little. The result was that the CPU got ripped straight out of the socket! Now I was a bit worried, since there was a chance that I had completely ruined things. But I thought that what's done is done, and there's nothing I can do about it now, so I just decided to continue on.

After cleaning the old thermal paste from the cooler, I inserted the Athlon 64 X2 4400+ processor in the socket, and added some new paste on top. Then I mounted the Alpine on top of the CPU.  Now it was time for adding the extra RAM. But first I googled the parts numbers of both module sets, where it turned out that all four were 1GB Kingston PC5300 DDR2 RAM sticks. And even though the two extra modules are physically larger than the already present ones, they are all compatible with each other. With the memory in place, I attached the HIS graphics card, and connected a monitor + PSU for a quick test, which you can see in the pics below.

Everything worked fine, and I even ran Memtest86 a couple of times in order of testing the RAM. So now it was just a matter of reassembling the computer again. When this was done, I decided to do a fresh install of Windows 7, since I had experienced certain issues and limitations with the old Windows XP MCE installation, and besides, I never really used the Media Center stuff of it anyway. There is still some tweaking left to be done with this Win7 install though. Other than that, there's also some work to be done with getting my fake EasyCap device working again (I'm currently having some driver issues). But if this fails, I will try to get hold of a new fake one instead. A genuine EasyCap is out of the question, since they don't ship to my country (I pay for what I can get). As for the future of this PC, I have plans of replacing the 500W power supply since its fan makes way too much noise. Here I think a 300W PSU should be enough.

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