Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

Scrapbook Section

 

TEC.BEAN

7 Colors Backlit Gaming Keyboard

Instruction Book

User Manual

 

   FYI: For me

Backlit  User Settings:

 

 

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My New Build

And finally I have it – my self-build computer all in one piece. I have now built my lovely, new handmade PC from all my components and parts. My own build. My very own baby. With everything chosen by me and put together with the help of a very capably friend (one brought in who knew what they were doing).

I harvested the optical drive (CD/DVD drive) and the HDD (Hard Disk Drive) from my old computer – there’s no point getting rid of good components. The rest I saved for and bought myself, or received as a gift. After about a year of planning, it’s now finally here.

There’s just one hitch… the HDD (a normal hard drive – the ones with the spinning disc plates – that is somewhat old… OK, pretty old… and is just basic cheap and standard-stock) that I put in was harvested from a (now-broken) pre-built computer. I had many problems with booting (or not booting, as the case may be) when trying to run my old machine… and it turns out that the Windows 7 OS on it is doesn’t work.

It tries to start, gives the option for System Repair or start as Normal. The Normal option just sends you strait back to that same message. System Repair then goes through the motions, tries to repair from Restore Point, fails at that too, and the sends you back to the same old message again.

 

OEM Headaches

At first, I think it’s broken. But then I realise it’s because this was an “OEM” edition of Windows 7 – the one that came with the original computer – and they do not transfer from one machine to another.

In fact, they are locked to the motherboard upon installation, so if you want to continue to use it in a new computer from an old computer you’ve purchased pre-built (the ones you buy from a shop) – or from a new OEM DVD installation – you actually can’t. Not if you want to use it in a different machine with a different motherboard. Windows also has specific policies in regards to self-purchased OEM installation discs, as they were created for system-builders only – and the license for it does not cover people who install it inside a purpose-built machine for themselves (like this one).

These editions are actually for “commercial-use” only, and are “non-transferable”… which is why my harvested HDD won’t boot in my new machine.

The only answer is to get a new OS from Microsoft. Unfortunately.

 

The Build:

 

So… it turns out I have a perfectly good system after all. Apart from the fact that Microsoft makes the most ridiculous operating system ever, one that is locked down and unable to be used without giving them a hefty sum of money.

It’s not too hard to see why OS X and Linux systems are the go-to favourites for people who know better. Or those who don’t want to play games (although Linux systems are starting to catch on to this section of computing too).

But Windows is the king of the OS gang, and to play I’m going to have to get it working again – so I’m off to work out where to get a new “retail” edition, and for the best value. Not an easy task whatsoever, given they’re all really far too expensive.

 

My Very Own Self-Build

Putting the whole thing together was not the straightforward experience I hoped it would be – what it was, was a learning curve and one very fun experience. Some of it required quite a bit of problem-solving, and the motherboard instructions were clearly for those in the know. It took a bit of working out and guesswork, but we got there in the end.

Asus_Z97-A_MoboThe motherboard (colloquially known as a “Mobo”) is a beautiful one, but a little more complicated than I expected it to be – and it didn’t help that the instructions were not entirely clear to a building noob like me. It didn’t help that I didn’t realise at first the chassis (case) was (cleverly) built to hide wires inside it and couldn’t work out how certain things hooked up because of this… but I worked it out eventually and fixed it (the moral of our story is read the chassis instructions). The entire chassis is screw-less, except for installing the motherboard, and getting everything from opening the case’s sides to installing the HDD is all cleverly stuck together with clippy sections or thumbscrews.

i7-4790K_CPUThe processor was a much easier component to install, with the thermal paste already pre-applied (thank you, Intel!) and it was easy to place it inside the socket. The heatsink also went on nice and easy – thanks to the screw-less ideation of all hardware-makers, it had little plastic arms (thick and strong ones that are really robust) that clip firmly into place with the aid of a clever twisting mechanism thing. It was so much easier to manage – and far more effective – than the old way of fighting with screws to get it on… it was a joy and a relief to see how the new ones are made! The box was also so much smaller than I imagined it to be – it had just the processor, heatsink, and instruction booklet, and it was barely bigger than the small heatsink. It was small enough to just sit in my hand and the chip was, of course, even tinier, peeping out of a clear window in the lid of the box. The presentation was simple and beautiful, and once out the entire thing was just stupidly easy to install. Well done, Intel!

To keep up with the ease of installation, the graphics card popped into place nicely (having unclipped 2 of the slots in the back) and required no other work whatsoever. There was, however, plenty of room in there for bigger graphics cards, and plenty of extra power supply cables available for any that would require it. The motherboard also fully supports SLI/Crossfire (using more than one graphics card: SLI for NVIDIA & Crossfire for AMD), and the chassis is roomy, so you can at double-up with ease if you care to do so.

Corsair_Veneance_RAMThe RAM cards also went in without any issues. The pair of red Corsair Vengeance Pro cards looks stunning within this gorgeous motherboard and case, and required no more effort other than just popping them in… all 16GB of them. There’s also room for a further two cards for some serious power, and the mobo takes up to 32GB of it.

The PSU also went in easily (just had to press it in a little as the section given is nice and snug) and the cables were already nicely put together in bundled mesh, all sections quite easily identifiable by the codes on the ends of each segment. It’s sturdy, the cables are pretty, and 500W is plenty of juice for what I have right now. Perfect!

The first thing that was fiddly was installing the harvested hard drive… It took a while to work out the HDD needed to be installed upside down, with the pins pointing into the case, not outwards. Thanks to the (overly) effective cable-management design of the Corsair Carbide chassis, it turned out that the power cable attachment and the SATA cable slipped under the HDD section and beneath the disk drives themselves, so once plugged in the HDD would be inserted with the cables going down and inside the case when sliding it into its little pigeon-hole, all nice and tidy.

The second thing that was difficult to install was the SSD (the Samsung 850 EVO, 120 GB).

Since I had never seen this before, it was a bit of a head-scratcher and then a revelation when I realised it. It also makes life so much easier when it comes to the cable management… once you’ve worked out how it works.

 

Future Proof

I really cannot recommend these components highly enough, particularly for fellow “noobs“.

The Corsair chassis is easy to use, has loads of space in it, has a nice lot of fans, is nice and airy, and has plenty of room for installing a cooling system, and has room for 4 hard drives (HDD or SSD types) and 3 optical (DVD) drives. It’s also almost completely screw-less (and, wow, that makes a huge difference!) and has space beneath the motherboard and around the sides for cable management (slipping the cables in, so it’s all nice and tidy in there). Just read all the instructions about it first…

The Asus Z97-A motherboard has just about everything you would need: It is specifically-designed to withstand high-pressure use, such as gaming, and includes overclocking support. It has SLI & Crossfire multi-graphics card support, USB 3.0 and M.2 SATA (a new type of hard drive that looks more like a tiny card rather than a normal HDD) ports, and SATA Express (also known as SATA III/ SATA 3.2) compatible connectors.

It’s not quite the perfect build (after all, it doesn’t have an over-clocked GTX 980 Ti graphics card in it!), but it’s really pretty good and I’m happy with it. It’s future-proof (unless you count being able to upgrade to the new “next gen” Skylake system, which would require an entirely new mobo and processor… and hefty sum of money!). It has everything I require, and is compatible with upgrading to better equipment.

Ideally, I would have behemoth graphics card NVIDIA GTX 980 Ti, but the one I have is a pretty good compromise right now – but the upgrade ability is there. I would also like to install an M.2 or SSD (SATA III) hard drive for the operating system, using the current HDD that I have for storage-only (it’s what is most commonly used these days, particularly with gaming or other high-power functions like professional video editing or music production).

Future-proofing also means having Windows 10 – Microsoft will no longer offer support for any other previous system, and are going to mimic Apple and their OS X system from now on, updating their platform when required with free upgrades and versions for the Windows 10 platform alone. It’s the best model, as Apple has already proven. Is it ironic, coincidence, or deliberate that Microsoft has decided to do this with their 10 system as well..?

I don’t have a cooling system (…yet. I will see how it goes with the fans that it already has). I also do not have a monitor – but then this tiny place that I live in is rather too small for making desk-space, so the display is the TV right now… Which isn’t too bad, given it means I can play my PC games on a big screen too.

 

Reluctantly Windowed

In the end, I caved and bought a copy of Windows 8.1 to finally get it properly up and running. It’s a future-proof investment… but an investment I would not need to make if my old Windows 7 edition wasn’t locked down as an “OEM” copy, though. It would be a simple free upgrade to Windows 10.

Unfortunately, Microsoft do not offer a Windows 10 DVD or ISO (a download for installing onto a DVD or USB yourself) in exchange for the old system key for a Windows edition that came with your old computer, for a genuine OS you can’t get into because they locked it down. No… In that instance they want you to go out any buy a whole new machine, or at least a proper Windows 10 system installation DVD. Naturally.

Despite billions of dollars of profits per year, they still want your money.

Naturally.

The only way to save even a little money was to get a retail copy of Windows 8.1 (which is cheaper now) and take the free upgrade to Windows 10, instead of spending an extra £20+ to get Windows 10 retail upfront.

Thanks to my lovely new Samsung SSD, the installation went lightening-fast, and booting and rebooting are also just as snappy. It was a good investment, and having it on a separate drive also safeguards the system better: If the system becomes corrupted, you can reinstall without having to worry about your data (safely tucked away on the other HDD), and if you have any corrupted data, it won’t harm your system. It’s the most common way (and sensible) way of using system and storage data now, and I would recommend it without a doubt.

I would also highly recommend installing your system onto an SSD (small ones, like my 120GB EVO are not very expensive now), or even an M.2 (if your mobo has that option). The boot times are unimaginable if you’re used to an old HDD – they’re almost instantaneous, and it makes using a PC (or laptop) an entirely different experience.

 

Let There Be Power…

I have to admit (and have it said like a proud mother) that it looks gorgeous and I definitely made the right choices with all the components.

It took several hours and two giant pizzas, but eventually it all came to life. The motherboard fired up, all the fans started spinning, and you could hear the sweet sound of success – a fab fan-humming computer happily working away. The Z97-A even has a little button at the bottom for testing the mobo without having to turn on and boot the entire computer – and flashes little red lights against any areas with a problem, so you don’t have to randomly guess what’s wrong if it’s not working.

The BIOS (“Basic Input/Output System“) of the motherboard launched without any trouble (it’s DEL or F2 for this particular one) and it had some lovely in-built software to make specifically configuring it nice and easy (only required if you’re going to need some extra-specific settings, though).

Everything works just fine… so I can’t really complain. Well, I can. Just a little. Microsoft did make me have to buy a whole new OS for this thing, which was entirely unfair of them.

(Forcing people into getting a new one when they have a perfectly good one already, by locking them down, is a farcical way of obtaining even more money than they already have for no good reason other than corporate greed.)

 

Overview:

This was quite an illuminating journey and a lovely little tech adventure. Now that my baby is up and running, I’m really impressed with everything that I’ve chosen – the quality of the components and they way they play well together is impressive.

I’m most impressed by the difference the SSD has made to how the system runs, and I’m happy I now have my data and games saved and installed on a different drive altogether (also allowing more space to be used more effectively). I have tested it on older games and newer games (Skyrim, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Dragon Age II, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition, The Elder Scrolls Online, and a few other games). I’m slightly impeded in seeing just how good it can be, since I’m playing them on the TV, which is just a basic 1080 HD screen. With the better monitors running at 2560×1440 (just under Apple’s “Retina” standard of 2880×1800, which I am used to when playing on the MacBook), there are much better graphics and better quality of visuals to be had. That is where a lot of the power goes, and where the graphics card(s), processor, and RAM get to work hard and show off a bit.

Now I’ve done it – successfully – I hope I won’t have to do it again for sometime. Just adding or updating specific components as and when should be absolutely no trouble whatsoever, too. My year of preparation, learning, reading, and researching has paid off, and now I’m more knowledgeable and better equipped to understand how these things work.

I may have wanted to do this a long time ago, but it’s better late than never. And I’m very happy I have now done so.

 

Now peace and gaming at last!

 

Spooky Say Relax!

 

Testing Linux distros on old netbooks is a normal process, it seems. It wasn’t just me who hated the god-awful Windows Starter series a headache (you know, the one after you’ve banged your head on the wall so much the wall actually gives up first…), and people have been using Linux to actually try and make use of their pointless little purchases once and for all.

Now, I join them. Accidentally.

 

Long story…

I accidentally wiped the crappy OS from my crappy old netbook. Yes, accidentally. As much as I hated that damn thing. Although, really, I rather possibly think it may have subliminally been a Fraudian “slip” – Windows 7 Starter is an even more appalling than Windows Vista (I never before thought that possible…), and there is nothing good to say about it. At all. I even reinstalled it, in case I put something on there by accident that shouldn’t be there, or something was a little incompatible for it’s pathetic 1GHz processor and it’s hilariously inept 1GB of RAM. It did nothing to help. Sadly.

Then after reinstalling it all, the wifi card wouldn’t work anymore when it restarted afterwards (the only damn thing that was still working on it before…) and it seemed like a newer update broke the driver or something. It’s not like I cared enough to try and look too deeply into the why. I was just ready to throw it out the window. After the first set of installations, it seemed to be working. After the second set of update installations – a bunch of security things – it stopped working altogether. The wifi manager wouldn’t turn on, and when it was forced on it couldn’t find anything (and yes, the wifi was on and everything else on it were working). As far as the computer was concerned it didn’t even have a Wifi modem anywhere near it.

So I was mad at it, and tried a free DVD of Linux distros (Linux operating system distributions) on it from my latest Linux Format Magazine. Only I chose the wrong thing… Fedora (21) has an option to run it live to try it out… 4M Linux did not. I picked the second option and instead of trying the live test, the other distro wiped Windows from my hard drive and (to add insult to injury) failed its installation, so I was left with nothing Now I’m rather mad at that instead now…

And here I am, now trying to install Linux on it instead.

 

Fedora

Not the hat. Fedora 21. It’s a Linux OS based on the GNOME 3 kernel (if you know/ care what that means). It’s on the DVD that was from the latest issue of Linux Format (great magazine). I decided to try and see if it would install/run properly onto, and from, the hard drive of my little (… tiny) machine. It’s apparently the installation is quite a long slog (it took hours) on hardware that is at the absolute minimum of its recommended specs – a minimum of 1GB RAM. That’s the max my little thing has got. It also seems to be made all the more complicated because, to the new system, the hard drive is full. This is because it is formatted in NTFS – a Windows-only format. Apparently Linux is not a big fan… so it doesn’t work on it. The NTFS partitions have to be reallocated. Which takes a long time, it seems. Then it “reclaim[s] the space” and does its configuration thing. Which also takes a long time.

… Just in case it went south with the RAM restrictions (it is tempting to put a 2GB RAM card in instead, but that requires spending money on a machine I’m still not entirely sure about yet… even if it is only about £20) I had Puppy Linux on standby. If anything will work on the little tyke, it’s that.

Installation is straightforward at least (despite being time-consuming). The installation itself takes quite some time, which is normal enough, but this was taking double that. Even after the poor netbook slogged away so hard to manage to even sort out a partition for the system, it took quite some time to get the Fedora onto it. After all that time invested, I’m still not entirely pinning all my hopes on it working properly though – which is why a copy of Puppy is on a USB ready to go! It’s not that I don’t trust Fedora – it’s that I just don’t trust that netbook as far as I can throw it.

Once the system is [finally] installed, quickly setting up an admin account and Root Password is next (and easy enough), then it goes off against and sorts itself out, then eventually asks you to Quit to reboot. Rebooting doesn’t take too long (especially given how little the netbook has to boot it with), and the white-filling kernel is cute to watch anyway. After that, setting things up is easily done following the basic instructions, and then you’re in. Nice and easy.

As an operating system, Fedora so far is pretty nice on it. It’s pretty in general, and even runs much better than I expected on such a machine. It’s also customisable, easy to use, and particularly easier to get used to if you’re more familiar with OS X, I would say. Customisation is definitely a key word the Fedora guys were looking at here, as was user-friendly. The thing is just plain nice, I would say. Despite wasting the better part of a day shoe-horning it into a three-year-old netbook (give or take) with a 1GHz processor and 1GB RAM, I’m left impressed by the way it works. Other than playing with Raspbian on my Pi, I have had no dallying with any Linux-based product… but so far I’m pretty happy with the both of them, actually.

Time and use will tell… but so far so good, anyway.

Good job Fedora guys, I say.

 

HARDWARE:

  • Samsung NC110 Netbook
  • Intel Atom Inside 1GHz processor
  • 1GB RAM DDR3
  • 320GB HDD
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 3150 (GMA 3150) shared graphics card
  • Cyberlink Youcam
  • Wireless Modem (which isn’t working thanks to some inexplicable rubbish Windows/Drivers issue)
  • (shipped with Windows 7 Starter)

I’m trying to learn how you make a PC. Specifically a gaming PC. I am currently reading  about the tech and trying to learn everything I can about the basics. I pulled apart my old PC and then realised I didn’t really understand what I was looking at… nor how to put it back together again. So I decided I had better learn this properly, from the foundation upwards, and know exactly what I’m dealing with.

Very proud of being one!

I’m very proud to be one!

 

Techno-Limitations

I never did get a chance to study IT at school or college. They’re not really big on showing you anything half-decent, anyway. I never learned much about the tech side of computers, though I did learn the basics so I could know how software and games worked. I was always more interested in the software than the stuff that ran it… but then I began to realise more and more that knowing how it ran was just as important. Especially when it came to games. The more I began to appreciate the back end of gaming, the development, hardware required to run it, getting the best out of them – the best graphics, best frame-rate, best power, the best games in general. The more I loved games, the more I wanted to be able to play them on a high-end PC with the best graphics, instead of just on a console that was essentially simply plug-n-play.

I have a MacBook, but it’s a 2012 Retina edition and therefore has limitations. Not the least the fact that it’s a Mac… It also has everything soldered into it, which means I can’t upgrade it to get the newer, cooler games that are available for it, and a the end of the day games are not particularly well-ported to OS X, anyhow. I did, however, have an old and incapable PC, and thought it would be cool to research and – eventually – rebuild it. It was feasible, but I didn’t know just what state it was in, so I got it down and dug around its insides.

The old PC had potential, but it was never used. It was a bit of a weakling… To put it mildly. I realised the entire thing would really have to be ripped apart and have everything replaced… Except I didn’t know how. What I did know, however, was that it was useless in its current state and too old to have any of its parts saved.

This poor thing was put together by an idiot. Not the person who actually made it – the idiot is whoever thought these specs were a good idea. But then Jo Public doesn’t really know enough about computer specs to know they’re being duped into getting a rubbish machine with ancient tech.

Old PC Specs

Packard Bell built it, then sold it at a reduced price, hyped it up, and then dumped in a ridiculous processor (a glorified hamster wheel, if you will) and a graphics card that just about manages to show you stuff. None of it any good for doing anything other than sending emails and browsing the internet. What really shocked me was that when I looked up the processes, I realised they were practically antique, given the PC was built in September 2010…

It is (or was… before I dismantled its insides) a Packard Bell iMedia with 64-bit Windows 7 (good) and 3GB DDR3 RAM (medium… but no good anymore). Which isn’t too bad. But then they went and dumped in a Pentium E5700 (awful) and a GMA X4500 for graphics (useless). Not even an Intel Dual Core 2. Games were certainly out of the question, even for back in the day. The motherboard, an Acer N15235 with 775 socket, is also now rendered obsolete by the newer Intel processors, which right now prefer the more popular 1150 sockets for the “Haswell” Intel Core i5 and i7 processors. Even the PSU (the power unit inside) is too low to run anything useful. I know it’s been 4 years since the PC was built, but still… Even for back then, this is pretty rubbish. They say they’re “low end”  of PCs… Well, can’t get much lower than this.

So I am looking into how to fix it; essentially make a new one out of it. The only problem being I know nothing about hardware, chipboard, chipsets, and wires, and what you’re supposed to do with them. I can use a screwdriver… and that’s about as far as it goes. I pulled everything in there apart, before knowing whatever any of it really was (I worked out a couple of things, though…), and now I don’t know how to put it back together again, and nor do I know how to change it. So I’m learning. I’m going to teach myself what all this means, and then I’m going to somehow get new stuff and make a shiny cool new PC out of it.

Somehow…

 

Techno-Learning

OTech Supportnce I’ve worked out how to rebuild it, I will then have to work out if I can fit it all into the shell of the old PC tower (I think with what they call a “micro ATX” motherboard). If it doesn’t all fit into the original tower case, then I will have to end end up building one from scratch, I suppose. New tower case, HDD, disk drives, etc, included. So far, I’m learning about motherboards – it’s what I know the least about, and apparently it’s pretty complicated. It’s the heart of it all, the thing that drives it. The right motherboard with all the right cool stuff will run the PC really well, and let you have all the cool extras to play all the cool games – the right motherboard will run the best processor, graphics card, RAM, power unit (the PSU)… everything.

It also won’t fit into my tower if I get the wrong one. There’s 4 different kinds. I think know which one will fit… of course, that’s doesn’t necessarily mean it will go with the other hardware that I hope I don’t need to upgrade– the HDD, disk drives, possibly the power unit (PSU), mainly. There is probably more than those involved… but I’m still learning.

I love the intersqueb!