Section 8.5. Final Words

8.5. Final Words

Except for the CPU cooler problem, this system assembled easily. It took us about half an hour to build, or two days, depending on how you look at it. Counting only actual construction time, it took about 30 minutes from start to finish. Counting the time to shoot images, reshoot images, re-reshoot images, tear down for reshoots and re-reshoots, rebuild and re-rebuild after the re-shoots and re-reshoots, and so on, it took two days. A first-time system builder should be able to assemble this system in an evening with luck, and certainly over a weekend.

False Starts

When you turn on the rear power switch, the system will come to life momentarily and then die. That's perfectly normal behavior. When the power supply receives power, it begins to start up. It quickly notices that the motherboard hasn't told it to start, and so it shuts down again. All you need to do is press the front-panel power switch and the system will start normally.

8.5.1. Installing Software

Microsoft declined our request for a beta copy of Windows Vistawe suspect we're on their Enemies List because we're vocal Linux advocatesso we installed Windows XP instead. We installed Windows XP uneventfully from a distribution disc that included SP2.

Hasta La Vista, Baby

We actually weren't disappointed, when Microsoft refused to send us a Vista beta, because Vista has been gutted to the point that it is little more than a Windows XP service pack anyway. After we wrote this chapter, we downloaded a copy of Windows Vista Beta 2 during the public preview. Vista Beta 2 loads and runs fine on this system. Well, as fine as it runs on anything, which isn't very fine at all.

The next step was to install and update drivers. Like most motherboard makers, ASRock includes a driver CD that automates the process. Running the Drivers CD displays the dialog shown in Figure 8-63. We installed all of the drivers in the order shown.

Figure 8-63. The ASRock Drivers CD main menu

After the Drivers CD installs the ASRock-provided drivers and utilities, install any necessary third-party drivers. For this system, no third-party drivers were needed. With all of the drivers installed, we restarted the system and installed our standard suite of applications, including Firefox and

8.5.2. Updating the BIOS

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a good rule when it comes to updating the main system BIOS. We generally don't update the main system BIOS unless the later BIOS fixes a problem that actually affects us. The most recent BIOS available for the ASRock motherboard was only one version more recent than the one supplied with the motherboard, and included only a few minor fixes, none of which pertained to us. Still, for illustrative purposes, we decided to update our main system BIOS.

Optional Drivers

Some components include what we call "optional drivers." For example, there are drivers available for the Logitech keyboard and mouse. We generally don't install these drivers, although they are required to support enhanced functions such as programming the keyboard. We seldom use those enhanced functions, so we just use the default Microsoft drivers. If you want to enable those enhanced functions on your system, install the drivers.

But, as Jim Cooley notes, "beware, they often require significant memory and CPU resources with little apparent benefit except in specialized cases. The only exception to manufacturers' utilities that is of any real benefit is the Hardware Monitoring software, which can alert you should the system overheat in the event of a fan failure."


That being said, readers of this book may, more often than not, want to tweak and update their system to include all the latest drivers and updates. I recommend updating the BIOS using the boot floppy method before installing an operating system because Windows, in particular, will force a reinstall (albeit mostly automatic) of every single device on the system when it detects a new BIOS and that introduces the chance for Murphy's Law to prove itself, often with spectacular results.

Like most motherboard makers, ASRock provides two methods to update the BIOS. The first is the traditional boot floppy method. You download the BIOS update as a binary file and copy it and the updater program to a floppy disk. Booting that floppy disk transfers the updated BIOS code to the system. The boot floppy method works on any systemat least any system that has a floppy drivewhether it runs Windows or some other operating system (or no operating system at all.) Most people use the second method, shown in Figure 8-64, which uses a Windows executable to update the BIOS. To update the BIOS using this method, you simply double-click the updater program icon and follow the prompts.

Figure 8-64. The ASRock Windows BIOS updater


Never interrupt the system while a BIOS update is in progress. If you turn off the system (or the power fails) during a BIOS update, the motherboard may be left in an unbootable state. For that reason, we recommend connecting the system to a UPS when you update the BIOS.

8.5.3. End Result

We're extremely happy with this system, particularly for the price. It sits under Robert's desk, and has the distinction of being the only computer in the house that runs Windows. (We have anything from half a dozen to a dozen other systemsthe exact number varies from day to daybut all of them run Linux.)

We built this system because Robert needed a Windows system to run some Windows-only astronomy software he was using to generate charts for an astronomy book we were writing. We didn't want to spend much money on it, because it was needed only for as long as it took to complete the book. Once we finish that book, we'll donate this system to a local nonprofit and again have our home as a Microsoft-free zone.

Still, although it cost only $350 excluding external peripherals, many people would be happy with this system as their only system. It's slower than the fastest current systems, but it's more than fast enough for casual use, including even light gaming. It's also quiet enough that we wouldn't hesitate to use it in our den, living room, or bedroom.

All in all, this is the perfect budget PC for us.

For updated component recommendations, commentary, and other new material, visit

Building the Perfect PC
Building the Perfect PC, Second Edition
ISBN: 0596526865
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 84

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