Saturday, February 12, 2011

The nuances of PC building

It's been about six months since I built this computer and ever since that day, things have gone surprisingly well considering I'd never done anything as complicated as building a PC from scratch.

But still, problems existed.

First, no matter what I did, I could not get Windows to utilize both of the sticks of RAM I installed. I had two 2 GB sticks which should have given me a total of 4 GB to work with, but no dice. It's a problem I wanted to solve day one but a combination of being busy, frustrated, and confused contributed to me not fixing it - until yesterday.

If you don't know what more RAM does for your PC, well it basically makes it perform better. I don't want to say it will make it faster because it can, but it may not. If you are someone who opens a lot of tabs in Firefox/Chrome/IE, does video/photo editing, or simply run a lot of programs at once (I fall under the "all of the above" category), then you will benefit from having more RAM. The more RAM you have the better, but you don't need anything crazy like 20 GB of RAM. For most people, 4 GB will be more than enough. You can read more about the advantages of having more RAM here.

However, for me, I doubled that with a recent order from Newegg using the two 4 GB (each) RAM sticks shown below.

I really love the Corsair brand and buy their products whenever possible.

I added those two RAM sticks to the other 2 RAM sticks I already had installed on my motherboard but Windows 7 still refused to utilize them. At that point I had enough. I knew I was tired of my new PC being sluggish (since only 2 GB of the RAM was being recognized) so I opened my case again and troubleshooted the problem.

Having done prior research, I found out that one of the most common causes of a motherboard not recognizing RAM is due to bent pins on the CPU socket of the motherboard. That's a major problem because the pins are so tiny that even a magnifying glass (at least in my case) barely helped with seeing the individual pins.

Here is what my CPU socket looked like.

The CPU socket is the square thing in the middle of the screen. As you can see, there are hundreds of tiny pins that can be bent. Closer inspection revealed

Tthat around four of them are bent. Great.

If you are having a hard time seeing the pins, click on the picture to see it full size. The bent pins are in the bottom right section: the 3rd and 4th from the right on the top row and the first pin on the far right on the 6th row.

Just seeing the bent pins was difficult so I knew actually fixing them would be a tall order.

But I knew fixing them was the difference between spending $120+ for a new motherboard (plus having to literally take my whole PC apart to install the new board). It took me a lot of patience (a couple of hours), a steady hand (I had to use two hands because my dominant hand isn't steady on its own), and some of my dad's tiny screwdrivers, but I did it.

Here is the aftermath (once again, click to see the full size picture).

The pins aren't 100% back in their original position, but now Win7 and the motherboard are recognizing all 8 GB of RAM and I don't have to spend $120 for a new board so I am satisfied.

Now that's out of the way, I added even more things to this PC. You see, I didn't have the money to buy everything that I wanted when I first built it. I had to cut corners (using some parts from my old HP PC), which had its advantages and disadvantages. The main bottleneck was my hard drives. I jacked two internal 500GB HDs from my old PC but they are slow and old. To remedy that issue I took the leap and bought a SSD.

SSD stands for Solid State Drive and SSDs are just extremely high tech/fancy hard drives. What makes them superior to normal HDs are their speed. SSDs can read and write files much, much faster than normal HDs. What this basically means is that moving files, opening programs, and even starting up/restarting your PC takes a lot less time.

For example, before I installed my new SSD, it took about 2 minutes for my PC to start up. Now it takes about 35-45 seconds. Shutting down is even faster. It took about 1 minute to shutdown before and now it takes about 15 seconds.

The main reason why I wanted an SSD was to help my frequently used programs open faster. Those that watched my iTunes half-star tutorial video knows that it took forever for iTunes to open (about 25 seconds). Now it takes about 4 seconds to open. Other slow opening programs like Firefox and Gimp open in half the time and "normal" programs (MSN, Microsoft Word, Notepad, etc) open almost instantly.

Here is a video of me showing how quickly programs open now.

However there are drawbacks to SSDs. The only real barrier stopping most people from buying an SSD is the price. This is the one that I bought, which set me back about $115. Now, $100 isn't that much to spend for a hard drive considering what you get for the money. You can easily buy an external 1.5 TB or even a 2 TB HD for that price. The reason why SSDs are considered expensive is that the amount of space you get (mine is 60 GB) is not much considering the price you must pay to own one.

The way most get around small SSD sizes is to install only Windows as well as your programs onto the SSD and then keep your media files like your music and videos on a separate HD. Your music and video files shouldn't take long to open anyway, so it would be a waste of space to put them on an SSD.

So now that I have my SSD installed and all 8 GB of RAM is working, I re-ran WEI. WEI stands for Windows Experience Index, which is a test of  how good (or bad) your PC's components are. It is only available on Windows Vista and 7 and can be accessed by clicking on Start, right clicking Computer, and selecting Properties. You will see your WEI score on the screen that appears and you can click on it for more info. For example, here is mine before the RAM was installed.

And after my RAM was (properly) installed.

As you can see, it goes on a scale from 1.0 to 7.9.

My processor gets 7.6 out of 7.9, meaning it's near perfect. Same for my RAM and SSD. Now the weaklink in my system is my graphics card, but I don't do any heavy PC gaming so I'm perfectly fine with it.

I'm still in the process of finding a stable overclock for my CPU (right now it's at a modest 3.3 GHz). I want to ultimately get to 3.7 GHz, but I may have to settle for 3.6 or so, due to my room/house/location being hot all of the time.

tl;dr: PC wouldn't accept new RAM sticks due to bent CPU pins on my motherboard, i spent hours yesterday fixing it, was successful, added a SSD, and now my PC is truly a beast of a machine

oh and btw my pc looks pretty cool at night


  1. You know that I hate you right?

    *jealousy exploding*

  2. i will be happy to build you a pc as soon as you buy me a plane ticket

    and make me a pbj sandwich

  3. Well my PC is a dinosaur 2.8 Single core, 4gb MB memory, GeForce 6800GT 256mb, On board sound with a 30gb harddrive. Almost as old as I am HaHa! Can still run any video game . . . 2007 or earlier lol. But yes I too went from 2 - 4gb & I agree with you. Its load times especialy, loading games, increased x3-4 easily.

  4. that actually isn't that bad! of course, the single core is the bottleneck and 30 GB is insanely small, but the RAM is fine and the graphics card is decent.

  5. WAO!! XD yhis could be a "stupid" comment but... I use "GIMP" too!! there is where I edit my pictures!! :D ^^