Sunday, 3 June 2007

And Finally...

...this is what it looks like now.

Cool, eh?

And it's still working!

NB: the price of the bottle of Grolsch was not included in the total cost of the project.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Monster Monitor

Yo Dudes!

It's not quite a month since bootup, I know, but today I ordered this rather sleek looking 19" widescreen TFT monitor for my monster creation.

Cor! look at the DVI inputs on that!

It was recommended at a much higher price in "Nerdy PC Builder Twat" magazine at over £220, but available at Amazon at £140, where it was also favourably mentioned in dispatches by purchasers.

This will, of course, bump the total cost of the system to a monstrous £369.

I just went on to the Dell website and attempted to specify a system with the approximate specs of my PC as far as possible, and it added up to £596 inc VAT and delivery. However this system would be under warranty, new parts, better graphics and sound and as a special offer 2GB RAM for the same price as 1GB.

I also haven't included in my cost the stuff I have recycled from previous PCs such as the sound card, graphics card, DVD writer etc which would probably add at least another £100 to the total.

So all in all probably not worth the hassle unless you are a saddo computer geek with nothing better to do with your spare time.

Which, luckily, I am!


Saturday, 5 May 2007


Purchased and installed a USB 4 port bay hub from Maplins for £19.99. It works! I had hoped to connect it to the spare USB ports on the motherboard but I have been unable to find one that connects directly to the motherboard.

Instead I bought a Dual USB 10 pin backplate which should have connected direct to the motherboard and fitted in one of the redundant PCI slots in the back of the case, for which there is no corresponding PCI slot in the motherboard. This didn’t work though. It is a 10 pin connecter to the motherboard, of which one is blanked off. But the blanked off connector on the female component, attached to the backplate, doesn’t correspond to the blanked off one on the male motherboard connector. So I may need to try and rewire the female part. If only life were like that, eh, fellow nerds?

Anyway in the meantime the USB bay is connected to one of the existing USB connectors on the motherboard which is poking through the I/O shield. Now those of you who have been paying attention (Yes I’m looking at you two at the back, Howesey and Istvanski…oh hang on…where is the rest of the class?) will remember that the I/O shield belonged to the original motherboard and I had to carve holes in it to access the connectors on the new motherboard.

Well I wish I hadn’t put the I/O shield in at all now, as I made a real botch of customizing it, and now I notice that one of the USB ports is not properly accessible at all. But I can’t remove it without disconnecting the PCI and AGP cards, so it will have to do. I now have effectively 6 USB ports and I can’t see that I will need more than that for a while. Along whith the audio options on the Creative Live Drive II bay, I’ve got more connections than South West bleedin’ Trains...
Clapham Junction

I also forgot to try messing around with the front panel connectors while the case was open. Bother. And the various leads and connecting cables insode the case are a real mess.

I fitted the USB bay into the 5.25 inch optical drive bay, although it can also be fitted into the 3.5 inch bay currently occupied by the floppy drive. I don’t know when I will need the FDD but it can go if and when I fit a second optical drive. I did need the FDD to load the SATA drivers, so might be worth holding on to it.

The LEDs are a minor annoyance, but you don’t really need them if you have ears, which thankfully I am equipped with and they seem to be still fully functional despite years of abuse. I can hear when the power is on and also when the HDDs are active.

I would like to tidy the cables up and take out the I/O shield, especially if I could source a compatible replacement, but having to disconnect everything and reinstall the motherboard might disrupt what currently seems to be a well functioning PC. So I shall probably leave it alone for the moment.

I/O shield: a bloody mess
I promised myself a flat screen monitor if it is still running a month after I first put the case back together and booted it up. That month is not up yet.

So I have to add £19.99 to the price cost of the PC: total so far £229. By the time I add £100-150 for a LCD monitor it’s not looking such a bargain, compared with an off the shelf replacement for the Compaq, especially if I factor in the hours it’s taken me so far, as m’learned friend Istvanski suggests. So I don’t know if I would do it again.

But a word for the old PC which once inhabited the case; it served the NHS well for 8 years showing and storing pictures of peoples insides. Ugh, gross! But by way of a tribute, let's go all Davina and have a look at your best bits:

and some pics of the crime scene;

the new M/B in situ;

shocking, eh?

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Gloomy Outlook

What a beautiful spring day. The sun is shining, it's a Sunday. A perfect day to take my two lovely daughters out to the country.


The New PC is Still Running Ok! Today I am going to transfer the settings for Outlook and the Documents and Downloads folder using the a CDRW rather than a DVD RW.

Only I’m not.

The files are too big for my dongle. My dongle is only 128MB and it’s just not bigh enough. As my wife frequently reminds me. And transferring the .pst files just doesn’t seem to work on CD. I manage to transfer the documents and the downloads file OK, but the Outlook files just will not go. No idea why. When I run Outlook on the Compaq it asks me to validate Office. Jesus. i did this a year ago, when I did my factory restore. And it's not online now seeing as it's being butchered for parts.

Inadequate Dongle

Further atempts to transfer the files via CDRW fail, because Import/Export is disabled in Outlook presumably because it's not validated.

Microsoft are fascist bully boys. So I set the old PC up on the floor in the computer room where the Broadband connection comes through. go online. Office revalidated. The files seem to take an eternity to write on to CD, and then I can't seem to import them on to the new PC.

In the end I run out of patience and load them on to the 120GB Seagate HD in the Compaq and then take that out of the old PC. This is tricky but I manage it. How the f*** did I ever get it in there? Just like that settee in the living room. Goes in fine when you move in, but when you move out? Who made the doors smaller? Eventually it comes out but who knows what motherboard components I have blown shorted or just plain broken in the process. Still who cares. I won't ever need to switch it on again...

And more to the point, how am I going to get it in to the Hermes? Although it’s a bigger case, the board is the same size as the Compaq. An all the leads and connectors are in the way of fitting the Seagate in above the Samsung SATA HDD, I can’t see how to do it without taking the CPU fan off and having to reseat it and put more thermal gel on again. But I don’t want to give up and put it back in the Compaq.

In a moment of inspiration I unbolt the whole 3.5” bay which contains the HDD and the FDD and thus I am able to fit the HDD.

But I have abandoned all pretence at preserving an anti static environment, and it concerns me that if the HDD fails I may have lost all the pictures form the last 6 years, all the video I have captured from the video camera, all the audio stuff I have digitized from old demo tapes etc…

Installing a hard drive without an anti-static wrist-strap

Somehow I manage to get the drive in, relocate the drive bay and get the power and ribbon connectors on to the HDD. I am now also concerned at how hot the drive is, having just removed it from the Compaq. And with the almighty tangle of leads around it I wonder if it’s going to overheat?

Also I realise that it is occupying the bay that I was going to use for a front connecting USB bay. I have 4 USBs in the back, but there are connectors on the motherboard for two or four more. I could use the second 5 ¼ inch bay, but I was going to consider fitting the Sony CD writer in there. I could instead use a USB hub which would sit on the top of the case…more decisions.

Any way I boot up the Hermes and it finds the drive and the data is there. Phew. I pillage some drive bay screw from an even older PC and secure it. I manage to load the .pst files into Outlook. Hurrah!

And I attach the LiveDrive bay to the sound card and it works, or at least the headphone socket does; sound comes through the cans and it cuts the system speakers. Rock and roll, eh dudes? Very useful for all those late night sessions on…er…preparing Powerpoint presentations and that.

So I put what remains of the Compaq back together, put the sides and the top of the Hermes case on. It is finished. Well, almost.

I still haven’t got the power and HDD LEDs on the front of the case working. And I need to sort out the front USB ports. There are a bout three PCI/ISA slots in the back that need blanking plates. I should tidy up the cables inside the case. And it would be nice to sort out the error message on startup.

But for an outlay of £209 not counting what I spent on components I have recycled from the Compaq, I have got a 2.8MHz PC with a total of 370 GB hard disc space and 1 GB RAM. At the moment it is sitting here and seems much quieter than the Compaq. Which is nice. It definitely performs better. I just hope it keeps going. At times over the last week I asked myself why I was bothering with all the hassle. But right now I feel quite pleased with myself.

I built a PC. Me! I can’t even put shelves up properly.

On the shelf...or not

I might treat myself to a flat screen monitor if it is still working in a month’s time.

But it has just occurred to me; all the assorted pics on the Compaq including those for the blog and all my MP3 files; why the f*** didn’t I transfer them on to the Seagate drive before I put in the Hermes?

Dick-head. Boot up the bloody Compaq again.


Noise Annoys

Half Life 2. That's me on the right

I stole the NEC DVD writer from the Compaq and transferred into the Hermes. Moved the PC upstairs, connected it to the broadband modem, connected to the Internet thingy and ran updates on Windows andAVG, registered Windows and Office. downloaded emails. Nothing of interest.

I tried to install the SB CT4760 again after running the XP driver update program. It froze. Rebooted and managed to distract it for a few seconds during which time I extracted the XP drivers downloaded from the Creative website. All seemed OK.

So I connected the LD bay and rebooted. It hung on the XP loading screen. Bastard. Just when I thought I was getting somewhere. Rebooted again and I got the option to boot in Safe mode, Normal mode or “last good Windows configuration”. I intended to select the latter, but on reflection I may have selected the default “normal” option.

Rebooted. This time XP hung when I tried to select something from the Sample Music folder.

Dosconnected the LD bay and rebooted. Hung on the load screen again.

Not going well, is it?

Rebooted again, this time definitely selecting the “last good configuration” option. This time seemd OK for a while and I managed to play some XP sample music.

I tried to load Half Life 2. Only because this will represent a good benchmark for the system; it’s a very resource hungry program and I know how it performed on the Compaq. Obviously I won’t actually be playing the game. For God’s sake, I’m a 48 year old father of two with a responsible job, (OK, so actually I'm a Radiographer, but you know what i mean) so why would I want to paly computer games?

HL2 and Steam, the online registration element of the game prompt me to download the latest drivers for the graphics card. I do so, after which I am prompted to restart the PC. Guess what?

It hangs again.

Reset; no hang, and run HL2 again, but it won’t run. I can hear the HDD trying to do something but there's no load and the game doesn’t run. I restart again but still nothing happens. I then notice that Steam is still downloading the online component to the game (an anti piracy measure). Maybe this is the cause of the no show?

Hangs again during the download. Reset again and Steam resumes the download; finally it is ready to play. The game does seem to load faster than before, but it freezes on the intro sequence.

I have had enough and I take the “old” soundcard from the Compaq. Looking at it I wonder, although I have had this card longer than the CT4760 with which I replaced it, could it actually be A newer model? The model number is higher at CT4830 and the connectors are colour coded. There also seems to be a port on it which looks as though it can be connected to the Live Drive bay. Hmm. Interesting (for a computer nerd, anyway). I bung it in the Hermes and reboot.

Evil sound card

All seems well…er hang on…NO FUCKING SOUND. HL2 crashes; due to the HL2 engine according to the MS error report generated by XP.

Rebooted and ran the driver program again, but the card is not detected, no plug and play, it is not listed under Device manager. I uninstall all Creative software, switch off and take the card out. Reboot with no card, switch off, reinstall card in a different PCI slot and reboot; still not detected.

Ran the live Creative Live Drive Unidrive extractor again and “set up could not detect any SB Audio card on your system” so maybe it’s ceased to function. I need to try this card again in the Compaq.

Put the CT4760 back in the PC. Sound on the XP load! Run HL2. Hangs. No idea what to do now.

Now let’s remember that this card ran fine in the Compaq until a few hours ago. And it seems to work intermittently in the Hermes until it crashes or hangs. So surely it must be an issue between it and the MB?

Hangs again on launching HL2

Look at Creative forums in the web and as a result try downloading a different driver package from a comletley different site.

I run it;

Restart the PC.

HL2 loads

And runs,

I play it

And there is sound.

Graphics are excellent and very smooth; definitely a big improvement on the Compaq, presumably due to more RAM, fsaster CPU and also a faster AGP bus (8x rather than 2x) so although it’s the same graphics card, it can now perform better. Remember that the Live Drive bay is still not connected, so I have to try that.

I load Toca Race driver. Again, I must emphasise, purely to test the system. The PC hangs again as it loads, aborting the installation. So there are still problems. Rebooted and retried Race driver; “Registry error; check installation” Maybe this is not a SC issue…please?

But it hangs again.

It is now very late and I am going on a walk tomorrow with a couple of friends. I should have been asleep a couple of hours ago. So I am giving up for tonight. Some thoughts…

Do I need a newer sound card for this system, say like a Creative Audigy; similar vintage to the MB?

Should I try reinstalling Win XP over the current setup, ie with the soundcard installed? Might this make a difference? Isn’t this what I ended up doing last time on the Compaq to get it working?

Should I reset the BIOS to the original default BIOS, maybe thaen I can set the AC97 Audio to Disabled rather than Auto in the BIOS Setup?

Or should I just take a big heavy hammer to the whole thing?


A couple of days later...

Last night and today I have made several more attempts to reinstall/uninstall drivers and soundcard. Somewhere along the line I have deleted something I shouldn’t have done, as now when I boot up I get the error message, “Error loading cmicnfg.cpl. The specified module could not be found.” I have looked this message up on the web and perceived wisdom seems to be that this is of little consequence.

Getting mightily pissed off with the whole business now. I try and put the other SC in again, the CT4830. this is the one (are you keeping up with this?) that was previously not detected by Win XP. This time however it is detected, and Win XP seems to load drivers for it (presumable XP generic drivers as I had tried to uninstall any Creative software I could find, and I am not prompted for a disc). I am prompted to reboot. I do so.

Get the cmicnfg.cpl error again but no hang. Run HL2; no hang. I play the game. So far so good.

Interesting. (no, it really is)

Bearing in mind that it seems likely that the CT4830 which now appears to be working might be a newer card than the pesky 4760, what are the relative specs? Will the 4830 work with the Live Drive bay, giving me a high quality headphone outlet and proper phono inputs? And what should I do about the cmicnfg.cpl error?

Nice sound card

Is it possible that I didn’t properly seat the card In the PCI slot when I tried to intall it before? It did seem to need a good shove to get it into place this time.

Maybe a repair install of XP would sort the cmicnfg.cpl error out?

Whatever, 45 mins later I am still on HL2 with sound and no hangs or freezes.

Now then. Next problem: the NEC DVD writer is taking a hell of a long time to read the data files I put on a DVDRW with documents and downloads on. Why is this?

However I manage to reinstall TOCA Race Driver and it seems to run very nicely thank you with no recurrence of the registry error. I reckon this was due to the previous hang while it was installing.

Several; hours later the SC is still full functional. I have installed my printer and its drivers, PC Guard from ISP Virgin, and Adobe Acrobat. Uninstalled AVG as PC Guard now offers antivirus package to 2 MB customers.

Don’t know what to do about the DVD read prob. In the meant time I can use CD or CDRW or the dongle to transfer docs etc to Hermes. Now then; let’s just test HL2 one more time…

You'll have someone's eye out with that thing...

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Building a PC the PC Way

Hello readers!

Well in the latest fatal blow to the global PC giants such as Dell, IBM etc, today I mercilessly cannibalized the old Compaq and with the skill and dexterity of a world famous brain surgeon, transplanted them into the innards of the Hermes.

And of course they don’t work.

The organs in question are a MSI FX5900 graphics card and a Creative CT4760 sound card coupled with a Live Drive front box.

All was well at first, but after a few moments the whole system froze; no error messages, just a non-functioning moue and keyboard. Couldn’t even use ALT-CTRL-DEL to reboot; had top use the reset button.

I haven’t loaded any drivers for these cards; I rather assumed that Win XP SP2 would be able to handle them without any 3rd party software.

Second time round all seemed well; running the monitor off the graphics port rather than the motherboard on, and was hearing sound through headphones connected to the Live Drive bay.

So I installed Office 2003 without incident.

Restarted; froze again. And again. Went into BIOS and loaded failsafe defaults. Froze again. Disabled on board sound in BIOS. Still failed.

Seeing as this only has happened since I bunged in the cards from the old system, it would seem elementary, would it not Watson, that it is one of these components which is the culprit? But which one?

Disconnected the sound card and rebooted. No freeze. While the going was good I used the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard and my 128 MB dongle (oo-er madam) to set up Favourites and some settings on Hermes. So the back USB slots, or at least one them, is working.

Maybe it’s the PCI slot and not the card itself which is causing the hang? Reinstalled the sound card into another PCI slot. The fault recurs.

Disconnected the Live Drive bay. Fault recurs. So it is definitely the sound card which is arguing with Windows.

In the old days of course you would give the whole thing a bloody good kicking and let it know who was the boss. And it’d thank you for it, and not give any more trouble.

Nowadays though, in this era of Political Correctness Gone Mad, the Computer Social workers would be battering down the front door before you could say Ribbon Connector, would throw you in the back of the van and take the PC into care. Bastards!

So I tenderly withdrew the soundcard and re-enabled onboard sound. I can either leave it like this or try the older CT4830 which is now in the Compaq. I don’t think that will connect with the Live Drive bay though.

Looking back at my Compaq log (yes, I really am that anal) I see I had major probs with the card when I put it in the Compaq, and eventually ended up doing a factory restore to get it working.

The Creative bulletin board is quite informative. There a few mentions about this issue from People Like Us, (I am assuming that if you have come this far with me that You, Too, are a Computer Nerd) and one in particular seems to suggest a couple of ways round the problem.

However, I think I am quite close to hooking the Hermes up to the broadband thingy at which point it will become The Computer and the Compaq will be relegated to the dining room table, where it will lie helplessly on its side while more files and components are plundered form its depths.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

The Case of the Missing Driver

Mother bored

Hello readers!

Shirley here!

You know I'm fed up with people slagging off those dedicated professional men and women manning the technical support services of the nation.

They do a grand job. For example, late last night I sent a tech query to Gigabyte:


I am attempting to build a Win XP system using my old Gigabyte MB along with a new Samsung SATA HDD. This is recognised by the BIOS but not by Win XP. I think I need the SATA driver on a floppy but no longer have the original MB installation disc from which to generate the floppy. I can't find anything on the Web which will do the job. Is it possible to download the drivers in a format which will fit on the floppy, or to get a replacement for the original installation disc? Many thanks.

And next morning: a response!


Please set the "SATA Mode" to BASE under the Integrated Peripherals BIOS Menu. You do not have to install any VIA SATA Controller drivers for non-RAID array.

This didn’t work. So:


Thanks for prompt response.I can't find the option to change to SATA Base Mode in the Integrated Peripherals BIOS menu. The only option I can find is "On Chip Serial ATA" which is set to Enabled. Onchip IDE channels 0 and 1 are also set to enabled.There is no IDE HD drive in the system although I have previously connected an old one to test the motherboard. I have since reset the CMOS and Q flashed the latest BIOS update.I haven't maybe made it clear that Win XP is not yet installed on this system. There is no OS on it yet. I am trying to install from an brand new OEM version of Win XP SP2 on to a brand new HDD, and it goes through the Windows set up until it tells me it can not detect a HDD and refuses to go further. If I press F6 at the start of the setup then it asks me for third party software on a floppy. Thanks for your help, it is much appreciated.Dave

Bloody hell. Did I write that?
Response within an hour or so:

Hi,Please download the VIA VT8237 SATA RAID from this link and extract into floppy. (Preinstall driver, press F6 during Windows setup to read from floppy) this will help.

Promsing eh? Could this be the missing driver?

Missing driver?

So I downloaded the file on to my Compaq PC: ran the .exe file and it extracted the files direct on to the desktop into two folders. Copied them on to a floppy disc and tried to run the WinXP install again. Failed. It couldn’t find a required file.

Bother. Maybe the Windows folder structure was confusing it, as at this stage it all looks like DOS on the new PC.

So I tried copying all the files on to the FD without the folders. Ran XP install again. Now on attempt 500. Failed for the 500th time, with an “unexpected error” message. Well the PC is the only one around here who isn’t expecting errors.

How do I extract the files direct on to the FD, bypassing Windows?
Then I had an idea.


Tried copying the download on to the FD and running it. Promising. It seems to be extracting the files directly on to the FD.

Tried installing Win XP again. Pressed F6 to prompt for 3rd party drivers, as before. Hang on…what’s happening? It asks for the FD. I obey. It gives me an option to select XP VIA RAID . Blimey! I select it. This time when it says it is going to install Win XP it doesn’t tell me that it can’t find a HDD but instead presents me with a license agreement.

Microsoft license agreements, eh? It goes on and on and on. I click on "agree" without reading it all. Life’s too short. For all I know I have signed my daughters over to slavery.

But then it starts formatting the HDD. Crikey! This takes ages. Over an hour. Well, I suppose it is a 250GB drive. But things look promising, thanks to the techy geek nerd types at Gigabyte.

Already though I am thinking of the next problem.

The CPU which cane with the MB via Ebay is supposed to be an AMD Athlon 2800. But the BIOS is only recognising it as a 1250. So either the BIOS is wrong or I’ve been short-changed to the tune of 1550Mhz. Or could it be inflation? Gordon brown's fiscal mismanagement? I mean back in 2006, that was when 2800 MHz was 2800 MHz, eh?

In the meantime XP seems to have loaded correctly and is running. Blimey; it’s sorted.

Now the CPU speed problem:

Another call to my chums at Gigabyte:

Thank you. this has solved the problem. I now have Win XP installed and working.I wonder if you can help with another issue. The CPU installed is supposedly an Athlon 2800 Barton, but it is listed as a 1250 MHz unit both at boot and by Windows. Is there a BIOS setting that can affect this? I have been very impresed by the speed of your service. Many thanks.

And only half an hour or so later:

Hi,Please set the System Jumper JP1 to 133/166/200 Mhz and try to set the "Load Optimised Default" in the main BIOS.

Well on my MB it’s a System switch rather than a jumper so maybe it’s a later revision. Anyway I stuck it onto position 0 instead of 1 and rebooted again, and bingo bongo…Win XP tells me I have a 2800 MHz CPU.

In the meantime I have also fitted the other 512 MB RAM from Ebay and that works too!


So far, the running total is still £209.79