MICRO CENTER: COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS
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In The Lab
Build Your Own PC Chapter 5: Case Prep
by chris & rob

The Innards
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Rob: So, Chris, we've got all the parts to put in the case. Now we'll show our loyal readers how to get everything installed.

Chris: The Scorpion case we selected ships with a couple of bags with screws, jumpers and brass spacers for mounting the motherboard to the case. While the holes in the system boards have been standardized, most cases can handle two or three different styles of boards, and the hole positions are not the same between the styles.

Rob: There are plenty of mounting holes in this case. How do we figure out which ones to use to install the spacers?

Chris: This case does not have any indication of what post positions are used for the different styles, so we will have to do so by comparing the holes in the motherboard with the ones in the bottom of the case. To help reduce static, I have the power cable attached to the chassis to ground things while we work. After putting on a static strap attached to the chassis, remove the system board from its static bag and place it in the bottom of the chassis.

Rob: The holes in the motherboard line up with some but not all of the holes in the case. Let's use a permanent marker, to make small marks next to the holes that match between the board and the chassis.

The Case Exposed
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Chris: The DFI board has three rows of mounting holes, one across the back edge, one down the middle, and one row across the front edge. By matching up the lines we made at the back and side edges, we can easily identify which chassis holes need the brass spacers. Using the alignment marks, we then circle the holes that need the spacers.

Rob: We'll start installing the spacers by screwing them into the holes just finger tight. Once all the spacers are in place, use a nut driver to gently tighten the spacers another 1/4 to 1/2 turn, enough that they will not come loose when installing or removing the screws that hold the motherboard in place. Don't over-tighten, brass is much softer than steel and will easily shear off, blocking the hole where you needed a spacer to support the board.

Chris: In most case configurations you should have spacers supporting the motherboard close to all of the expansion and memory slots. These must support the board when pressure is applied installing cards or memory. Without the spacers, the board can flex, breaking the tiny copper foil traces (wires) on the board.

Rob: Ooh, what a waste of a motherboard. What if there aren't holes in the case where you need to attach the motherboard?

Chris: If there are holes in the board, but no corresponding case holes for spacers, you may be provided with some small stick-on rubber blocks that are the same thickness as the spacers. These can be strategically located under the PCI or memory slots to provide additional support to the system board.

Rob: Those could also be used if you shear off one of those precious spacers and plug a mounting hole in the case.

Chris: Right you are, Rob. Once all of the spacers have been installed and tightened, we are ready to install the motherboard.

Rob: The rear ports don't look like they'll match the openings on the back of the case, but that's OK. The plate that is included with the case usually won't match the configuration of the rear connections of your motherboard. We will use the rear connector cover plate that was in the box with the motherboard.

Chris: DFI includes the same cover plate with many of their motherboards. It includes standard port holes as well as knockouts for any extra ports that may not be available in all of their motherboards. We'll need to knock out two of the audio and the LAN connector tabs so all of the connectors can extend through the plate.

Making Connections
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Rob: Insert the plate in the rear opening, then place the motherboard in the bottom of the chassis, lining it up over your spacers. Start installing the screws, but just like the spacers, don't tighten them down until you have all of them in place. You will probably have to shift the motherboard around slightly to get them all in, and you can't do that if you start tightening them down as you go. Once all the screws are in, go back and gently tighten them down the rest of the way.

Chris: Before connecting cables from the power supply, turn off power or disconnect the power cable. With the DFI board we have two power connections to make, the large ATX power connector at the front edge, and the smaller ATX 12v power connector between the memory and CPU sockets.

Rob: Next, we'll connect the front panel and speaker connections. These are marked on the ends and in very tiny print on the motherboard. The DFI user manuals provide details of where the various connections are and what goes where. The Scorpion case has two front USB connectors which can be attached to one of the two front USB headers, or you could use the DFI drive bay kit to run all four of the front USB, the diagnostic LEDs, and audio connections to the front of the case.

Chris: Before we can work on any setup configurations (remember, this is a flashback) such as the SATA RAID, or begin installing Windows or any other OS, we will have to have at least the basic components installed. To take advantage of the Dual Channel memory feature, matched DDR DIMMs are installed, one in each channel of the two memory slots. DFI has color coded the matching channels in each bank. If you install both DIMMs in the same channel (one in the yellow slot and one in the orange slot), memory access speed is cut in half because you are only using one of the two available channels.

Connecting Drives
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Rob: The SATA drives are installed in the lower 3.5" drive bays, and the small SATA cables run to the SATA1 and SATA2 connectors on the motherboard. The floppy drive and DVD drive are mounted in their bays and connected using the cables provided with the DFI kit. Knock out the rear plate and install the AGP video card. Last, insert the CPU into the socket, apply a small blob of thermal compound if the heat sink does not have the phase change compound on it, and lock the heat sink into place. (If the heat sink comes with conductive phase change tape, you need to be sure and remove the protective film before placing the heat sink on the CPU.)

Mounting
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Chris: The scorpion case does not use rails, just normal screw mounting for all the drives. Remove the other side panel to get to the screw holes on the other side of your drives. As we did when installing the spacers and the system board screws, insert the screws in the drives but don't tight them down until all screws are in place. Once all the basics are done, we are ready to power on the system for the first time, check and adjust our BIOS hardware configuration settings and then finally begin the OS installation.

Join us next time when we'll get to have fun installing special effects.

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