Sunday evening, my motherboard died. I didn’t mind quite so much, the mobo/ram/cpu combo had been a thorn in my side since I built this system. So if I was going to buy parts, I was going to buy matching parts this time. But just in the process of checking out my existing parts, I scraped knuckles, tore the skin over finger joints and gouged a deep hole into my index finger, causing blood to spurt out all over the components inside the case. Ugh.
Building a box… I just don’t want to do it anymore. Sure it’s cheaper, if you count out the cost of neosporin and bandaids and carpet cleaner.
I sized up an Alienware system, but Gophur talked me out of “wasting” my money (ok, the fact that they wouldn’t even ship it for another 8 days kinda helped). While I was matching parts, based on the AW spec, I decided on-spec replacement was out of the question. Intel i7 2.66Ghz, EVGA x58 SLI x3, EVGA GeForce 285 1Gb DDR3 SC and 6GB of DDR3 1600. A few scratches and scrapes gotta be worth that. Oh and hell, I’ll fork out the $70 for overnight.
So, the frustration started with the Fedex guy arriving a couple of minutes too early for the front door, and the guy at Fedex on the phone telling me that they’d try to redeliver sometime the next day. Fortunately, the Fedex guy dropped by around 4pm. Yay! Parts!
Problem 1. My Coolermaster case has lots of cable guides in it. Which presented issues getting the motherboard even into the case. Four cuts, countless scratches, some horrible snapping and banging sounds, and the motherboard was seated. Only, now it was impossible to seat the CPU (a few more scratches to discover that) and the CPU fan. Remove motherboard.
Place CPU. It doesn’t seem to fit *into* the socket, just sort of sits on top of it. Ok – the way the socket works, that makes sense – after some inspection. But hold on, the cover that locks it into place has tiny little flanges that seem to get in the way. To close the little lever, it requires near breaking-force pressure. The motherboard makes an unpleasant “p’ting” during this process. But the CPU is seated. It takes me a minute or two of fiddling with the fan to realize there’s a knack to locking the wings into place and its made the more difficult – and more nerve wracking – by not being able to do this with it mounted nicely in the case. Ugh.
I connect up the board’s power and give it a quick test. It shuts itself down instantly. Uh oh. I didn’t put any paste on the cpu or fan. I check to see if I was misremembering that there was some there from Intel. Nope – but it hasn’t distributed evenly and half the CPU is pasteless. Remove motherboard.
After pasting and reassembling, another power check shows things have progressed. Ok. Insert stick of RAM. A little fiddly, with the location and the heat sinks and such. But done. Lets try the graphics card. It’s huge. Hmm. It barely clears some of the cooling surfaces on the motherboard, and I have to snap out some of the cable guides to get it to fit, which involves… Removing motherboard.
Memory seated, graphics card in and power to motherboard and video connected. Power on. F3. F6 (reports the little on-board LED display indicating what the board is doing). POP. F3. F6. POP. F3. F6. Pop. Powerdown.
Erh. Not good. After a half hour of experimentation, I call their help line.
Firstly, the motherboard had had a sticker over the RAM sockets depicting which slots to use for single sticks of RAM. Noddy here had followed the sticker. Of course, the sticker on my case was upside down.
But still with the F3. F6. POP. Ugh. “It’s your power supply”. I call it a night – I need to reapply bandages and neosporin.
Thursday morning. On a whim, I try powering up. Same deal, but I don’t reach for the power when it appears to power down. A quick reseat of everything and one more try. F3. F6. POP. F3. F6. F3. F6. <Nothing>. I move my legs and knock the video cable out. Reconnecting it, I decide to try the *other* port of the two on the card. My monitor clicks. WE HAVE SIGNAL.
In bliss, I reconnect everything, earning more cuts, stabs, pokes and scrapes. But this has to be it.
I power up… The F3 F6 sequence repeats but it seems to be normal. It posts… It detects drives… It checks the RAID configuration and … Doesn’t see it.
On my old, nForce based board, I had made the decision to go with an nVRaid striped configuration for performance. This is an Intel board that doesn’t understand nVRaid. Sure, I could install drivers for it… If it could boot from the raid configuration.
Trying to move the SATA connectors around proves problematic because my case has a bottom-mounted power supply which means all the cables get in the way of all the connectors down there. Ugh. 2 more motherboard remounts and lots more bleeding and I realize it’s way past time to be in work. I call in, Killer is rebooting some beta boxes and I get him to pick me and my box up. I have one of my own machines in the office which I know has an nForce board.
So while I’m busy working on code to translate strat names on the host for the Chinese project, I slowly try out a long painful sequence of reboots to try and recognize the drives or install an operating system. Windows 7 RC1 that Gophur gave me wants a DVD driver (bad DVD burn, apparently); Windows Vista blue screens during install (I think that’s because I had the BIOS set to AHCI at that point); Windows XP doesn’t like the disks (it shows me two disks, one of 1Tb and one of 500Mb and it won’t touch either).
Finally, I plug the array into my older-old box (the one at the office), find a 160Gb SATA 2 drive of mine lying around and back up my “shared” partition (with all my code, data, games, etc). But I still can’t get anything to touch the 500gb drives on the new box. I use the nVRaid BIOS features to delete the raid configuration and that seems to help, but still no dice. Time to go home.
I try Vista 32, Vista 64, Windows 7 RC1 32, Windows 7 RC1 64 and still no dice. I watch Smallville and a plan hatches.
I scuttle back to the machine and insert a Fedora Core 9 live CD. It can see two drives, but it notices they don’t look right. That’s fine. I wipe them using fdisk. Then I dig up an ancient and dusty Windows 95 CD. I boot it, it struggles along, but it’s enough to get to a dos prompt where I can fdisk /mbr the two disks. I reboot and install Windows XP. It won’t actually run, won’t see the DVD and has other issues, but it’s enough to let me partition the drive. Reboot into Windows 7 Beta 1 64 installer. It sees disks! I tell it to just go ahead and use the whole of Disk 1. It proceeds. It installs. It boots! I go into disk manager and shrink the disk 1 partition, I delete the partitions from Disk 2 and create a 500Gb single “data” partition. Yay! I reboot, I install drivers…
Now I can download Windows 7 RC1 64 and burn it slowly… So hopefully tomorrow night a) I’ll get to go see Star Trek, b) I’ll be able to install Windows 7 RC1.
Then I just have to spend the weekend reinstalling all my software… Ventrilla, Camtasia, Battleground Europe and the open beta, Visual Studio, Intel’s C/C++ compiler, putty, Chrome, … Well, I’m nearly there.
I couldn’t get our game running tonight but I tried World of Warcraft and it performed like a dream in “Ultra” giving me 60fps and not even kicking the graphics’ cards fan into high mode.
But my hands ache. They look like I’ve been fighting on gravel or something.
NEXT TIME… I buy the damn machine.