A Computer Assembled by an Economist

The hard disk of my one and only desktop computer seemed to show signs of breaking down. A survey of some computer supply stores revealed that its type was already obsolete. It may no longer be available in most, if not all stores.

It was a PATA (or Parallel ATA) hard disk. The newer available type was called SATA (or Serial ATA) hard disk, but unsupported by the computer’s motherboard. If the hard disk goes all major computer parts must be replaced. A better option was to have an extra unit if possible, and soon.

An old computer case with some parts was still usable so I decided to utilize it and buy the remaining needed parts as funds become available. Only a few critical parts were needed to make it run again. Ready cash and convenience were main considerations. Our residence was far from the city and transporting a desktop computer via the available means in public transportation had certain inconveniences.

The old computer was troublesome, even after getting some improvements and upgrades. In a way maybe it was beneficial, because it gave sufficient training in basic maintenance and repair. It was finally allowed to rest when a relative gave an extra unit which had much better performance.

If the computer case was not available it would have to be bought first. A case without parts was available in one store for slightly above $21.00 or so. In another store you need to buy the case with a 500 watts power supply included for a total cost of around $52.00.

A motherboard that support dual-core processor was bought first for less than $63.00. Graphics integrated and needing no external Video Ram Card for a monitor, there was one less part that need be attached. The purchase was packaged with Norton Internet Security licensed for 90 days as well as some other good softwares.

The dual-core processor with it’s fan and other related cooling paraphernalia all costing a total of around $73.00 was bought also in the same store. All attaches to the motherboard through special fasteners by hand needing no screws. The store’s technician fastened the lot to the motherboard for free.

The whole assembly was still slim and fits the package (about 5cms thick and approximately square with sides of about 27cms) the motherboard came in.

Back home the old computer case was fitted with the new motherboard at last. Also, instructions on the Motherboard User Guide was for the motherboard to be installed on the chassis first before installing the processor and fan assembly. Luckily a technician friend was around for support.

Only two other critical parts were needed and later bought. A 1-G memory module was bought in the same store for less than $15.00. Also a SATA 80-G hard disk, bought in a different store for less than $42.00.

The case still had its original CD-RW burner drive. The RW feature can no longer be used but the drive may still function as a CD reader. Its diskette drive was not functioning but not necessary and may be deactivated at BIOS Setup. The 550 watts power supply on it was one of its later changes primarily meant for extra fans and to improve heat conditions inside.

After the processor connecting the other parts to the motherboard was a matter of plugging things in. Power supply connections were made and a new system was ready for setup.

System configuration is setup or changed through the BIOS Setup menu, entered at startup by pressing the “Delete” key (often tricky, to make sure I usually press at the same time or at once, keeping the fingers on until the menu appears). The new system’s BIOS Setup menu uses a bar menu at the top to dropdown a list of options for selection, very different in format from the BIOS Setup menu of the previous system.

The first device for system booting normally defaults to diskette drive. It may be defaulted to other drives and the priority of others set through the ‘Boot’ option list of the bar menu. To install an operating system (or OS) the first priority may be set to CD (the installation CD should be bootable), with the second priority as hard disk. After installing an OS the first priority might be set to hard disk, unless another OS is to be installed.

Changes are saved or discarded at the 'Exit' option list. This list also has option to reload all setup defaults.

Hard disks before being used are first partitioned to drive C (primary drive), with option to use all or only part of the total space in the hard disk. If space remains it may further be partitioned to drives D, E, F, G, etc. (logical drives), or to another primary drive C. Also with more than one primary drive, there is restriction on the area occupied by the primary drives.

Windows XP at installation has option to create or delete partitions. It may be installed in a primary drive or a logical drive.

PC Probe II utility panels

A useful software that came with the motherboard purchase was a utility called PC Probe II that can report CPU temperature, as well as other PC conditions like CPU fan speed and different voltages for different needs. Each condition has its own little display panel which may be moved elsewhere, locked with others vertically or horizontally, or closed.

The CPU temperature feature was particularly interesting because the writer was looking for something like it before. The previous system’s temperatures tended to go to extremes and over (based on some PC articles) if not watched. Such info about hardware were often in articles of like ‘PC World’ and ‘PC Magazine’. The magazines have the online sites ‘www.pcworld.com’ and ‘www.pcmag.com’.

Because easier method was not available before, the only way to monitor temperature then was to get random readings at the BIOS Setup menu. An ordinary room thermometer was also near the computer and its readings noted with that of the BIOS.

The room thermometer was later used to evaluate before startup if room conditions would not bring CPU temperatures over the recommendations. The readings usually indicated that it was best to restrict operations to certain times of the day, preferably in the early hours.

The cooling fins in the CPU fan assembly were eye catching and impressive, at least compared to what the writer had seen so far. To take advantage of it the system should also have effective means to route heated air to the outside.

The fan of the old 550 watts power supply probably was a big plus for air circulation. It was big, having a diameter almost occupying the width of the power supply housing, or slightly less than the width of the computer. Made of some translucent material, it lights up blue when operating, like a rotating lamp.

The power supply’s fan was just above the CPU fan assembly and sucks air from the latter’s surroundings into the power supply housing. Air inside the housing escapes through a vent at the back of the computer.

Temperature readings for the new system were very satisfactory, either outside an operating system (BIOS Setup reading), or inside (PC Probe II utility reading). In both cases high temperature readings were only between 1 and 2 degrees centigrade above room temperature, very much below the high temperature limit of 38 degrees centigrade specified in the CPU manual.

Surprisingly, after a bit the utility’s reading for CPU temperature drops below room temperature, which seems peculiar.

Or maybe it was just natural, explainable by a fact that air cools as speed increase when gong from high to low pressure, which may happen in the CPU fan cooling fins. Also, the CPU might not be working hard enough for the cooling configuration.

On the other hand the strange readings may have other causes. It was intriguing, but perhaps other utilities might later confirm or explain it.

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