Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Ballad of the New Box

So I'm sure my readers (yes, both of you) will recall me getting my new box shipped to me. Well, it's been a little adventure getting that going. Allow me to explain.

My new box was basically the September '07 Techreport "Sweet Spot" build, with only one major modification - the 8800 GTX video card. The lineup sounded great, with a motherboard that was an overclocker's dream (and even had an external "reset CMOS" switch), a quad core processor that has allegedly gone as high as 3.4ghz with the proper settings and cooling, and a case utilizing a compartmentalized scheme that keeps the power supply and processor far apart so as to aid with said cooling and even has two gigantic case fans pulling air across the CPU to help even more. Even the RAM, which came with SPD clock timings of 5-5-5-18 had reportedly been trimmed up to 4-4-4-12, so long as you boosted voltage from 1.8 to 2.1.

So it's the week before Thanksgiving week, and my box arrives Thursday morning. Woo! Plenty of time to get it built up for the weekend. As I put together part after part my anticipation builds, but so does my unease. This is going too well. The motherboard seats easily into the case, the processor effortlessly snaps into place, a little difficulty mounting the heat sink to the board (but nothing too bad)...

Finally I've got all the components mounted in the case, and I start running the power cables, all the while getting more edgy. Will a part be bad? Will I have to RMA it and wait over the weekend to play with my new toy? Will the RAM be shot? Processor? Did I ESD something and not realize it? Everything was too easy thus far...

And then I got to the 4 pin 12 volt CPU power cables. There were 2 of them, and I found two seemingly appropriately configured ports up by the CPU, banked together side by side.

They were too short.

It wasn't even close. Even taking out every single thing other than the power supply and the motherboard, it was 2 inches too short. Add in the cards (particularly the massive 8800 GTX which is so big it forced me to move a hard drive to a different bay) and it was easily 6 inches too short.

So, I thought to myself, "If this is all that goes wrong, I'll be lucky." I checked around at a half dozen local merchants and repair houses, but no luck. However, it was simple enough to go back to the website, find the extension I need, and order it (and jot a quick warning to others about the cable length on the Tech Report forums). It's a 3 dollar part, and I really want to play that weekend, so I pay 22 bucks for overnight shipping.

I go through the rest of the day unperturbed, confident that this setback will be easily rectified as soon as the part arrives the following morning.

Then it hits me as I drive home at 6 that night... that part. Part. Singular. I only ordered ONE. There are TWO cables and TWO sockets. /FACEPALM!

I get home, and I am a very grumpy, even by my own standards. I need another one. Since I put rush processing on the order, it's already out the door and I can't just have them throw another one in the box. But the idea of paying ANOTHER 25 dollars for another 3 dollar part makes my toes curl up all the way to my heel.

I manage to justify the purchase (in my head) by ordering three more. That makes me paying 30 dollars for 3 instead of 25 dollars for 1, this time. That I can stomach a little better (and I don't think about it too hard because I know it won't stand up to scrutiny). I figure I can give the other two to my friend PPMcBiggs, because I am pretty sure the new build he's working on also features the upside-down Antec case. So, I cross my fingers and hope for saturday delivery.

Doesn't happen, unfortunately. The three parts arrive monday. I missed the weekend with a 1500 dollar computer sitting on the floor in my living room, wanting only for a 3 dollar part to make it work.

So finally, that night after work I open the case back up, snap the extenders onto the 12 volt 4 pin CPU power cables, and go to plug them in. One goes in... but the other's pin configuration doesn't match the other port. I start to feel that tingle in the back of my head. Taking the computer into the "computer room" and hooking it up, I confirm that feeling's intuition (can a feeling have a hunch?)...

I didn't need two all along. It powers up just fine with only the one. It must be that the power socket is configured in such a way to accommodate some other 8-pin jobber that I don't have. I had the part I needed on friday, I could have had it going over the weekend... /FACEPALM!

So, anyway, the next couple nights are spent formatting the drive (a 500 gig drive takes a while to format, even SATA), installing the OS (XP Pro SP2 for now, Vista to come soon no doubt), and starting to install my software. Fortunately the rest goes off without a hitch.

Until I start trying to tweak my RAM timings. I know, I probably should have left well enough alone, but all those postings about people who made their Corsair 6400 RAM faster made me think, well why not me? Never mind that I had no idea what 4-4-4-12 meant or where I was supposed to set it. The last time I had overclocked anything, it was my Celeron 333a, taking it to a whopping 500mhz. Back then all you had to worry about on the RAM was CAS latency. But I was confident I could figure it out.

So I find a spot in the bios for RAM timings, but there's more than 8 or so... not just 4. I take a stab at just changing the first four and leaving the others on Auto. Then I have to boost the voltage to 2.125 volts to get the thing to boot at 4-4-4-12. But boot it does. I'm getting pretty happy with things now, so I boot up Call of Duty 4... and the thing freezes on me.

So I lower the voltage and reduce the RAM timings to 5-5-5-12, which is what Newegg said they were rated for (even though the SPD says 5-5-5-18). Long story short, Crysis still locks up after a few minutes... so it's back to 5-5-5-18.. but hey, it's still 800 mhz DDR2 ram, so it's still fast.

So, anyway, be prepared for a barrage of reviews of latest gen PC games in the coming week, because I took my new box with me when I went to visit for Thanksgiving.

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