Well, the parts arrived for my wife's upgrade yesterday, and things ended up being a little more exciting than I usually like when it comes to building PCs.
First, the specs -
Intel Core 2 Duo E6600
Asus P5B-E motherboard (P965)
2x1GB Patriot Signature DDR2-667
XFX Geforce 8800GTS (640MB)
Western Digital 250GB 16MB cache 7200RPM SATA HDD
Lite-On DVD burner.
Carried over from her old computer -
Antec Super Lanboy (she loves this case, and wanted to keep it)
Breakout box on the front panel for audio/USB/firewire/etc
My wife took some pictures, so maybe later I'll show off what the new machine looked like going together (and coming apart...and going together...etc) *cough*.
Everything went together really easily the first time, the PC Power & Cooling 610w is really really nice. It comes in this huge plain white box and just looks industrial and mean. It's a bit longer than your typical ATX power supply...but it fits nicely in the lanboy and it really is VERY quiet. The video card, of course, was very cool to see...just two days after it arrived on the scene we had one in our house!
I did the first power on test, and all fans spun up as well as the drives, so all looked good. I connected it to her monitor to do my first run through the BIOS setup... that's when things went wrong.
The PC wouldn't POST. It just started up and sat there with all fans spinning and did nothing. No beeps, no auto-restarts, no display at all. UGH! Yes, we all run into this sort of thing from time to time...even really geeky computer geeks aren't immune to the occasional issue, especially with bleeding-edge hardware.
So now the fun begins...what part was stopping the PC from booting? Well, I disconnected everything non-essential (everything got unplugged and pulled out except the video card and the motherboard/CPU/RAM). It still wouldn't POST. So, we're down the core of the PC.
Of course, having done this a bunch of time before, I had my suspicions. I was thinking motherboard or RAM. Troubleshooting is the only way to go, though...guesses just don't cut it because no matter how many computers you fixed, they always surprise you. So, I pulled out the super new vid card and stuffed it into my PC. It booted up fine (whew!). It was really hard, but somehow I managed to pull it back out of my PC *CRIES* and put my measly 7800GTX back in.
Knowing that the video card was good made me feel a little better. I had a nagging feeling in the back of my head that buying a video card the day it releases might have been a bad idea. Sure, it's dangerous...but it turns out in this case the vid card wasn't the problem.
So that leaves only motherboard, RAM, and CPU. This turned out to be a bit of a problem, because this is honestly the first Intel build I've done in my own house in...well...basically forever. I have no spare DDR2, no spare motherboards or processors. So what's a poor computer geek to do?
Ghetto troubleshooting! Buy the parts you need locally and then return them when you're done.
I headed out to the local computer store and picked up two of the three possible culprits (don't need to buy all three, because if you eliminate two, you know it is the third one). So I got another motherboard and another couple sticks of RAM.
I get home, stick the CPU and original RAM onto the new motherboard (troubleshooting rule #1: change ONLY one thing at a time).
TAA-DAAA! It boots. So it was the motherboard. Or so I thought. I get about three quarters of the way through the windows install...and it freezes.
Oh noes! What now?! I restart, and we're right back where we started. It won't POST, just sits there with fans spinning and doesn't boogie.
So not the motherboard. Our possible suspects are down to two. But now there's a new twist...it booted and almost completely installed Windows. That means that whatever the problem is, it IS NOT a dead component. If it worked once, it is likely something intermittent, which of course is totally different in hardware terms than something being dead.
So now my brain has moved to memory timings and voltage. We've talked about it a ton on these boards every since AMD and Intel moved to DDR2 in a big way...and the problem still doesn't seem to be resolved. Motherboards and RAM just aren't working very well together. Could this be my issue?
I ripped open the RAM I had picked up at the store ealier, stuffed it in, and bingo! It booted again. Into the BIOS I went, to check what the default timings were. Everything in the BIOS was set to auto...so I changed it all to manual and set it the exact way I wanted it. 5-5-5-15 on the timings (yes I know, not very tight...but we're toubleshooting here), 1.8v (which is what the original RAM I bought called for), and DDR2-667. Once I set it all manually, I rebooted several more times with the second set of RAM in there just to make sure there was no more weirdness, then I stuck the original RAM back in.
Well now, the only thing that has changed with the original machine is that I've manually set the RAM timings, voltage, and speed. It worked. The PC boots up like a champ and completes the Windows install nice and quick. I've restarted it several times since then, played in the BIOS...and now it is running Memtest86. I'm going to let it go for an hour or two just to be sure.
I'm glad I figured that one out. So now I have a motherboard and some RAM to return to the store...and my wife has a screaming new PC.
ACK! Just as I'm writing this, I walked over to check and memtest86 was getting thousands of errors. Looks like that original RAM may actually be bad after all. It may be that one of the two sticks is bad, and when I had the good stick in the first slot the PC would boot and work for a little while before the bad part of the second stick came into play. After reinstalling, I may have put the bad stick in the first slot, which is what could have kept it from booting.
With this many errors showing up in memtest, I'm most likely just going to return both sticks as a pair and get new ones. I stuck in the RAM I bought this morning and I'm running memtest86 on that just to make sure I've nailed down the problem to bad RAM.
More fun than you should be allowed to have on a weekend. lol