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Building the Perfect Budget PC, Part 2

by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson


In our last article, we detailed our component selections for perfect AMD and Intel budget PCs. In this article, we'll actually build the AMD system. We chose the AMD system as our example because we're more concerned about Linux compatibility on this platform than on the Intel-based system. We've built many Intel systems similar to our budget Intel configuration, and we know that Linux has excellent support for embedded Intel video, audio, and LAN. This will be the first AMD/nForce system we've built to run Linux, so we wanted to verify that Linux supports the integrated peripherals properly. The Intel and AMD configurations both support Windows, of course.

We made some minor departures from our recommended configuration of this system, but none that significantly affect using it to illustrate the build. For example, we already had an OEM Sempron 2800+ processor and a compatible CPU cooler in our stockroom, so we used those rather than order the exact components listed in Part 1 of this article. Similarly, because we plan to use this system for multimedia encoding, we installed a larger hard drive and two 256MB DIMMs rather than just one. Of course, modifying configurations to suit a particular purpose is one of the best reasons for building your own PC, so we've simply taken our own advice.

Building the System

Assembling a budget system usually doesn't take long. If this is your first project, plan to spend an afternoon assembling the system. If you've built systems before, you'll probably have this one completed in an hour. Begin by getting all your tools and components together. Open all the boxes and check their contents against the packing lists. Once you're sure you have everything you need, prepare a well-lit work area. The kitchen table is traditional. Use a blanket or old towels to protect the surface.

Preparing the case and power supply

We chose the Antec SLK2650BQE case for this system. Like its more expensive cousins, the Sonata and Overture, the SLK2650BQE is painted black. Instead of the glossy Piano Black finish used on those cases, though, the SLK2650BQE has a nice matte black finish. If anything, the matte black finish is less likely to show fingerprints and dust than the shiny black finish of the more expensive cases.

Before you do anything else, make sure the power supply is set to use the proper voltage, as shown in Figure 1. The 350W power supply bundled with the Antec SLK2650BQE can be set using a sliding switch for the 115VAC used in the United States and elsewhere or the 230VAC used in most of Europe. Although Antec and other case manufacturers are careful to set the correct voltage for the locale where each case is shipped, we have occasionally seen power supplies (on non-Antec models) set incorrectly. If your local voltage is 115VAC and the power supply is set for 230VAC, no harm is done except that the system won't boot. But if your local voltage is 230VAC and the power supply is set for 115VAC, powering up the system instantly destroys all components in a shower of sparks.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Setting the input voltage to 115VAC

After you've verified the input voltage setting, place the case on the table, remove the two thumbscrews on the rear, and slide the left-hand side panel off, as shown in Figure 1. Because the Antec SLK2650BQE is a Thermally Advantaged Chassis (TAC), the side panel incorporates an air vent and duct--visible as the black shroud on the side panel--that is positioned directly above the processor when the side panel is in place.

Figure 2
Figure 2. The Antec SLK2650BQE case

The side panel vent is designed to cool hot-running Prescott-core Pentium 4 processors, but its presence certainly does no harm with the cooler-running AMD Sempron. (Because the ATX specification defines the general motherboard layout, the TAC vent and duct are also properly positioned to cool the AMD Sempron processor.)

To provide additional cooling airflow, it's possible to remove the TAC duct and install a standard supplemental case fan between the side panel and the duct. If we were building a system with one of the hottest-running Pentium 4 processors, such as the Model 570, we'd have installed a supplemental fan. That wasn't necessary for the Sempron.

The next step is to remove the generic ATX I/O template supplied with the case and replace it with the I/O template provided with the ASUS A7N8X-VM/400 motherboard. To do that, from the exterior of the case press gently along the edges of the original template until it snaps out. Then, working from inside the case, place the I/O template supplied with the motherboard into position and press gently along the edges until it snaps into place, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Pressing the I/O template into place

With the I/O template in place, temporarily lower the motherboard into position, as shown in Figure 4, to verify which of the chassis mounting holes correspond to motherboard mounting holes. The ASUS A7N8X-VM/400 has eight mounting holes. The Antec SLK2650BQE comes with four brass standoffs installed, two of which are correctly positioned for the ASUS A7N8X-VM/400. The remaining two installed standoffs are placed for full-size ATX motherboards, and so they are well off to one side of the motherboard position. You can leave those extra two standoffs installed or remove them, at your discretion.

Figure 4
Figure 4. Verifying mounting hole positions

After you locate the six empty chassis mounting holes that correspond to the motherboard mounting holes, thread brass standoffs into each of the six, using your fingers, pliers, or a 5mm nut driver. (The standoffs and other mounting hardware are located in a plastic bag in a storage compartment in the black plastic shroud that covers the expansion slot covers on the exterior rear of the case.) Do not overtighten the standoffs.

Before you proceed, verify that each motherboard mounting hole has a corresponding standoff installed and that no extra standoffs are installed.

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