Spectralcat's Blog

August 9, 2009

The English Major’s Guide to Building a Quiet, and Powerful, GNU/Linux Desktop Computer: Part III

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — spectralcat @ 3:06 am

In this post, I assemble the computer parts that I purchased in the last post.

Step 1: Installing the CPU on the Motherboard:
So let’s get started. If you’ve got a spray bottle you might want to mist the room with some water to cut down on  static electricity. Don’t get the room wet, though. Then put on your anti-static wrist strap, clip it onto the computer case (or any piece of grounded metal), and set the motherboard on the anti-static wrapper it comes with. Then open the clip on the side of the CPU socket and remove the plastic processor cover.


Next, we carefully install the processor so that it lines up with the holes on the motherboard. We want to make sure the triangle in the corner of the processor lines up with the missing corner on the CPU socket.

Finally, we close the metal bracket and lock the processor in place.

Step 2: Preparing the Computer Case for the Motherboard:
Because the motherboard is going to get a lot harder to remove after we add the giant heat sink to it, now would be a good time to see how the motherboard fits into the case. We do not yet want to install the motherboard into the case (we’ll do that after we add the heatsink. We just want to adjust the case’s brass standoffs so the board can be screwed into the case later on.) Your computer case should come with a number of screws that fit into the motherboard and extra brass standoffs that screw into the case (and that the motherboard in turn screws into). Add or remove brass standoffs from your case so that your motherboard will fit properly. (To get a better sense of how the motherboard will line up in the case, you may want to remove the I/O plate from the back of the case at this point.  Just pop it out; these plates never fit the back of anyone’s motherboard so it’s really stupid that cases even ship with them.) Make sure you do not leave any unused brass standoffs touching your motherboard as they may short the board out. I had to remove one of the standoffs in the picture below (and several of the screw holes on the motherboard went unused) but my MicroATX case had no large problems fitting in my Sonata case.
When you’re done, remove the motherboard from the case and put it back on the anti-static wrapper.

Step 3: Preparing the Heat Sink for Installation:
The following steps will be quite different if you have a different type of heat sink. For the Xigmatek, I did the following: First I installed the fan onto the heat sink so that the fan will blow towards the heat sink and out the back of the case.  (The arrow on the side of the fan tells you which way that air blows.)  To do this, I first installed the rubber mounts onto the heat sink and then pulled them through the fan holes. This took some real force, but I was careful to not break the rubber mounts.

Next, I installed the Xigmatek’s extra bracket for 775 motherboards. I put the sticker on the back bracket and attached the bracket to the back of the motherboard as follows:

Then I attached the clips to the bottom of the Xigmatek heat sink

This sticker on the bottom of the Xigmatek heat sink caused me so much fucking trouble! When I removed it, it left sticker gunk all over the bottom of the heat sink.   I was able to remove the gunk with a tiny bit of vegetable oil, and then I washed off the vegetable oil with rubbing alcohol. What a ridiculous nightmare.

Step 4: Installing the Heat Sink on the Motherboard:
Normally when you fit a heat sink onto a motherboard, you first put a small drop (about the size of a pea (no bigger!)) on the center of the processor and then screw the heat sink on top of the processor. The directions for putting thermal grease on the Xigmatek are a bit different, though, because its pipes directly touch the processor. Here’s how I applied the grease to the processor:
(Thanks to this site for the instructions on how to apply the grease.) Do not install grease like this if you are using a different heat sink. Follow the directions for installing grease that come with your heatsink.

Next I gently set the heatsink on top of the processor and screwed it in place. The exact method for attaching the heatsink to your motherboard will vary according to your heat sink. This step is a little difficult to get right at first so you may want to practice it a few times. Try and put the heatsink onto the CPU in one move without wiggling the heatsink around. (You don’t want to create air bubbles in the grease.) If you are unsure if you are doing a good job spreading the grease, practice installing and removing the heat sink a few times; just be sure to  clean the grease off the processor and heat sink using rubbing alcohol between each attempt.

The heat sink after it’s been screwed onto the motherboard.

Clearing the video heat sink.

Clearing the video heat sink.

Clearing the Ram channels.  Beautiful.

Clearing the Ram channels. Beautiful.

The heat sink does not really extend over the top of the motherboard so it won't bump into my power supply either.

The heat sink does not really extend over the top of the motherboard so it won't bump into my power supply either.

Step Five: Installing the RAM:
First, open the switches on the side of the Ram channels. Next, align the ram into the channel without pushing down on the RAM. Close the switches so that they press against the sides of the ram.

Finally, push down on the RAM so that it snaps in the channel; this should cause the ram switches to automatically lock around the the ram stick as in the picture below.

Step Six: Installing the Rear Exhaust Case fan and the Power Supply:
My case came with the rear exhaust fan and power supply already installed in it. If yours didn’t you might want to install them now. (In Step 11 I do some additional modifications to my case fan that you may want to do at this point.) Fit the power supply into the top back of the case.  Screw the power supply in using the screws that came with the case. You want the intake vents on the power supply to face towards the back of the dvd drive (and maybe) towards your motherboard (as this will help draw air away from your motherboard). Move all of the power cables off to the side of the side of the case so that they don’t interfere with the next steps.

Step Seven: Installing the DVD Burner:
I would install the DVD burner before you install the motherboard as there may be more room to work in the case without the motherboard installed. This step is fairly simple. Just pop the top 5.25 cover off the front of the case, slide the DVD drive into the case from the front, and screw it into the brackets on the side making sure that the burner does not stick out past the front of the case.  (Depending on your case, you may have to remove all of the sides and the front of the case before you are able to install the burner; just make sure that you don’t break any of the plastic tabs that hold the front of the case to the body of the case.)   At this point you may want to start planning which of the cords from your power supply you would like to plug into the DVD burner.

Step Eight: Installing the Motherboard in the Case:
If you haven’t done so yet, replace the IO plate on the computer case and install the cover that came with the motherboard.

Then, align the motherboard in the case and gently screw it in place. The brass standoffs are fairly fragile so make sure you do not strip any of the screws! Just tighten the screws up to the point at which they stop moving. Make sure there are no unused standoffs touching the motherboard as they may short the board out.

Step Nine: Plugging Everything (Except the Hard Drive) into the Motherboard and the Power Supply:
See your motherboard’s instruction manual for details of how the parts plug into your motherboard. Make sure you do not forget to plug the Heat Sink fan in! Try to manage your cables as efficiently as possible so that you do not interfere with the case’s air flow. I find that by taping loose cables down against the sides of case I can drop the case temprature by a few degrees.  (Remember, the  better your air flow, the lower you can run your fans, the quieter your computer.)  At this point, you’ll need to plug the following in:

1) The power supply into the motherboard (in two separate places)
2) The CPU Heat Sink Fan into the Motherboard (or into a fan controller if you bought one)
3) The DVD Drive into both the Power Supply and into a SATA (or IDE) port on the mother board
4) The Rear Exhaust fan into either the motherboard fan slot, a fan controller, or into the Power Supply directly (this will not allow the mother board to control the speed at which the fan rotates)
5) The case’s front audio, usb, lights into the motherboard (I always avoid plugging the speaker into the motherboard because I hate the noise it makes)
6) Leave a SATA connection and extra Power cable available for the hard drive which we’ll install in the next step
7) Any optional fan controllers into the power supply.

Step Ten: Suspending the Hard Drive in the Case:
Normally a hard drive is screwed into one of the 3.5 inch internal bays in a computer case. Hard drives make a lot of noise, though, and that noise is amplified by the case. Fortunately, you can silence a hard drive by hanging it (“suspending it”) in the case with elastic string.  The string both grounds the hard drive and absorbs all of its vibrations.  There are a couple of different ways to suspend a hard drive in a Sonata case. I’m actually going to suspend it into the 3.5 inch drive bay at the bottom of the case, but it is also possible to suspend it into one of the 5.25 bays at the top of the case. (Here is a very good tutorial for suspending a hard drive in a 5.25″ bay.  There are lots of other similar tutorials in the forums at Silent PC Review.)  In the following pictures, I’m using 1.8mm Stretch Magic string.

Tieing the stretch magic string to the front bottom of the case.

Tying the stretch magic string to the front bottom of the case.

I used two pieces of Stretch magic to get four pieces of string stretching across the 3.5″ drive bay.

I’m going to flip the strings so that they form a tight X shape and slip the hard drive in between them.

Twisting the strings to form an "X".  The hard drive will be held in this X.

Twisting the strings to form an "X". The hard drive will be held in this X.

The people at silentpcreview have been doing this trick for years now. There is no reason why every computer case doesn’t come with elastic strings like this built into it. Failure of the marketplace.

The hard drive just barely squeezes into this space without touching the walls of the 3.5 cage. Unfortunately, I did have to put the drive into this space backwards so that the Sata cables and power cord wouldn’t bump up against the side door of the case. Really annoying, but it worked.

Tight fit, but it's not touching the sides.

Tight fit, but it's not touching the sides.

When you’ve got the hard drive hanging in such a way that it does not bump into the sides of the case, plug it into both the motherboard and the power supply.

Step 11: Installing the Rear Exhaust Case Fan:
Next I removed the Antec case fan and soft mounted it. Antec mounted the case fan using standard nasty case fan metal screws. To cut down on fan noise you must figure out how to put some rubber between the fan and the metal case; otherwise, the metal case will amplify all of the fan noise. Ideally, one should also use tin snips to cut out the fan grills as air makes a lot of noise when it passes through these grills. (We’ll skip on the tin snips for now, though.)

Antec did not soft mount the case fan.  Rather embarrassing for a "quiet case."

Antec did not soft mount the case fan. Rather embarrassing for a "quiet case."

I’m going to soft mount this case fan using stretch magic and four of the otherwise worthless rubber grommets that come with the Sonata’s hard drive trays. If you have a different case, you can probably think of another way to accomplish this.

Unscrew the case fan and slip some stretch magic string in between each rubber grommet and the fan corner.

Wind the string through the fan grills, through each of the four rubber grommets, and through the fan holes.

Pull the string tight and knot it to hold it in place.

Soft mounted case fan. Now it’s a good deal quieter.

And again the finished computer build. I used lots of clear packaging tape to keep the extra wires from interfering with the case’s air flow. Getting the cords to be nicely arranged is probably the most time consuming part of assembling a computer.

Step 12: Turning it On and Testing it Out:

After you’re sure you’ve got all of the parts properly connected to the motherboard, power supply, and case, you can plug the computer in and turn it on.  Don’t forget to flip the switch on the back of the power supply to turn the power supply itself on or the computer won’t start!  There are two immediate tests that you’ll want to do on your computer:

1) You’ll want to check your computer’s temperatures.  Press the appropriate button (often delete or F1) to enter your computer’s BIOS.  Navigate to the System Monitor section of the Bios and wait for your CPU and Motherboard temperatures to stablize (this may take around 15 minutes or so).  A reasonable temperatures here should be around 40 degrees Celsius.  If you’ve used a good heat sink and have nicely arranged the cables in your computer case, you can probably see temperatures here in the low 30’s.  (If you’re seeing temperatures considerably higher than 40 degrees Celsius you probably did not install the heat sink properly.  Using too much thermal grease will raise your temperatures.)

2) You’ll want to check your RAM for errors.  The Ubuntu installation disc comes with a memtest program that allows you to do this.

After you’ve checked your temperatures and your RAM, you’re ready to install your operating system. If you’re setting up a dual-boot computer, you’ll want to install the non-Linux operating system first. You can download Ubuntu either directly (or by bittorrent) from here. (If your processor can run in 64 bit mode (all the new ones can), I recommend running 64 bit Ubuntu. Installing Ubuntu is very simple (easier than installing Windows because Ubuntu’s installation program provides better driver support). You just need to use another computer to download the operating system and either create an Ubuntu boot disk or (even easier) a bootable USB stick using UNetbootin. Then set up your the boot order in your BIOS to boot first from either the USB or the DVD Burner, put the installation disc or USB stick in, and restart the computer. (You can find plenty of complete tutorials for installing Ubuntu elsewhere. See, for instance, here, here, or here.)

Finished Desktop:
This is what the end product looks like from the outside:


Here are some screen shots of my girlfriend’s Ubuntu 64 bit operating system:

Ubuntu - Jaunty - 64 bit

Ubuntu - Jaunty - 64 bit

With both Microsoft Office and Open Office

With both Microsoft Office and Open Office

Exact Audio Copy for Perfect Copies of CDs; I like Ruby Ripper better because it's open source, but EAC is the program every expects you to use.

Exact Audio Copy for making Perfect Copies of CDs and plenty of other video/audio programs

Amarok playing Billy Bragg.  A much better program than iTunes.

Amarok playing Billy Bragg. A much better program than iTunes.

File sharing between networked computers.  See my previous blog post.

File sharing between networked computers. See my previous blog post.

In a further post I’ll detail how I got Microsoft Office 2007 running under GNU/Linux.


1 Comment »

  1. Great tutorial , thanks

    Comment by Bogdan — February 20, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

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