Sunday 3 October 2010

Rebuilding My PC [1]

Well, of course, we all know that PCs don’t last forever, and I am not interested in the extremist brigade that say you should try to get 8-10 years of life out of a PC. The way I see it is, a PC is obsolete after about five years and while it will still do some things, it is getting pretty slow and the parts are wearing out.

However, depending on how much PC standards have changed in that timeframe, it is possible to rebuild a PC into virtually as-new specification. There are some important considerations of course:

  1. Whether the PC supports standard design components. Forget this idea if your PC was made by Dell, HP or IBM, etc. These manufacturers prefer to use proprietary case and board designs that usually can’t be upgraded. No, this series of articles is strictly for those who have purchased a locally manufactured PC using generic off-the-shelf components. My host system was built by Cyclone Computers. The chassis is a Foxconn TS001, the motherboard was also made by Foxconn (Intel brand) and the power supply was made by Enermax. All of these items are ATX standard and can easily be replaced or reused.
  2. Whether the chassis and power supply in particular meet modern specs. These days the power supply requirement is ATX12V version 1.x as a minimum for the average type of board, although new PSUs are v2.x. The chassis of course should be ATX spec. Baby AT just isn’t going to cut it. If you are reusing a power supply check that the board you are planning to use matches the connectors available from the power supply. It’s also important to have SATA HDDs / DVD drives, although most new boards still have one PATA connector able to connect up to 2 drives, and even new PSUs still have Molex 4 pin power connectors.
  3. If you use Windows, MS says you need to buy a new license sticker when you change the motherboard, because effectively this is a new PC. Of course this won’t be an issue with a free operating system.

In my case, this PC is 5 years old and the power supply spec happened to be ATX12V 1.x with the right connectors available. However I chose to replace the power supply with a new Enermax Tomahawk 400W supply, a bit of an overkill but pretty good value with the deal I got.

Assuming you need to install a new motherboard, the minimum number of parts you are likely to need is the new board, new CPU and new RAM, because the two latter components are often matched tightly to the board and as specs change so often, it is unlikely you could reuse an older CPU and RAM. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 5 year old board (Intel D915GAVL) is still LGA775, the same as the new board (Intel DG41RQ) meaning the CPUs might fit each other’s board though whether they would work is another question. The new CPU is a Celeron E3300, a dual core with Intel VT hardware virtualisation and some other features supported.  I bought 2 GB of DDR2-800 memory as well.

The first job was to remove all the bits from the old chassis, after which I put in the new power supply, just a simple job of doing up the screws.


Here is the new power supply in the chassis. Well, you can see in the picture that this photo was taken on the 23rd of March, which is just over 6 months ago. That was when I first started on this project, and there have been a few glitches and holdups since then. But now as I am writing this the task is nearly finished; the new PC is sitting next to me as I type this on the old PC at home, and as soon as I have finished testing and assembling the new PC and migrating the Windows 7 installation to it then it will be ready to go and to replace the old one (which incidentally uses the same chassis type as seen above, but it is a year older with a D915GAGL board inside).