Building the Beast
It was the day of building the eponymous beast, we had all the bits, the house was cleared of small urchins with their touching fingers, and we were finally ready to go. I opened the system board box and carefully removed & inspected the contents. The Intel DQ77KB board comes with a poster sized "how-to-do" instruction sheet. It has good clear instructions, colour diagrams and each stage is split into simple numbered steps. My son Saul (who was new to computer building) had no problems following them under my watchful eye and with the odd word of assurance. I was like the sensei passing on noble skills to his apprentice.
|Number one super guy!|
We had a chat about static electricity and being careful about which bits you touch, and then kicked Off with Stage 1: processor installation. The Intel 1150 socket is a marvel of engineering and easier than it looked to use. I open and closed it a few times admiring the action, (it's a sort of tilt, slide and spring-lock). The retail boxed i3 processor came with a standard (four wire) cooling fan which just pressed into the four holes in the system board around the base of the socket. The fan header was close enough by to accommodate the short cable, and under operation it turned quite slowly and was almost silent.
nb. Inside the box I found a HDMI to DVI adaptor, which I'd gone out of my way to buy separately, but hey these things happen. The one I bought is far nicer :-)
Next the laptop style memory just slotted in like normal, though Saul was a little worried about how you had to joggle them a little before they would firmly snap down. The mSATA card fixes onto the full size PCI Express mini-card slot on the system board. I'd never seen these cards before and it really was small (see picture below with it in my son's hand). Resembling memory, it slid in at an angle and then had to be pushed flat against quite a springy force. Two tiny screws held it in place and there was some potential for this "liveliness" to catapult them (never to be seen again) if you didn't have your wits about you.
|The mSATA card in Saul's hand.|
Overall I am very impressed with the Intel system board, it's clear english instructions and the nifty processor socket and fan. Next step was to mount the board in the case and fire-it-up.
A Case of Beauty
The Streacom F7C EVO came exquisitely packed in a matt black cardboard box not unlike an Apple product, (we have a few of those in the house) protected by foam packaging and a white fabric bag. The comparison didn't end there, the look and quality of the case was equally top notch.
|The Streacom F7C EVO Mini-ITX case.|
I must say, I've very impressed by the solid feel and attention to detail. It's made of sand blasted thick anodised aluminium, laser engraved with large padded plastic feet and a minimalistic look. This does mean you don't get a reset button or a hard disk light. As a side project I started to contemplate adding an LED shining through the infra-red receiver window. The case is designed for a multimedia PC so an add-on receiver board for a remote control can be fitted behind the font panel, next to the two USB sockets.
Inside is also quite minimal (and no sharp edges anywhere, leaving fingers safe from cuts), there's a painted steel rack that bridges from front to back where you can bolt your hard disks (1 x 3.5" and 1 x 2.5") and a mount for a slot-loading CD/DVD drive. Then towards the rear there's a small bracket for mounting a standard 8" case fan.
|Bagged Up Hardware.|
Mounting hardware comes in individually labelled bags, but only sizes are stated & not what they're intended for. I took them out and by process of elimination worked out which ones where intended for mounting the system board. But I think they missed a trick here because there are no instructions in the box. Just adding 3.5" HDD or Motherboard to the appropriate label would have really helped, but if you've built a few machines before you'll soon work it out.
The motherboard matched the four mounting pillars exactly, but it does sit a little low in the case making some of the rear sockets slightly hard to access. Finally the power switch and power LED connectors were attached to the colour coded headers.
|System Board Mounted Ready to Boot.|
And then the Fun Began
We both smiled as it booted first time, but then I couldn't get it into the BIOS settings. The splash-screen with instructions flicked by so quickly!! After a few restarts I figured out that F2 needs to be held down and then I was able to continue (surprising this wasn't on the quick-start sheet). I reduced the memory voltage down to 1.35 volts, and then spent a few moments looking at the various config pages. Each option has help text that displays over on the right of the screen, and it actually makes sense. This is a far cry from what I'm used to.
To take care of the disk cloning I downloaded a bootable CD image of Parted Magic. It took a while to start from a USB CD drive up on my old 1Ghz machine but once running it gives you a gnome based system to modify and manage your disks without having to get "down and dirty" with the command line. It actually does a whole lot more so I'd recommend checking it out if you run Linux.
|Parted Magic Screen.|
The plan was to clone the old IDE solid state disk onto a temporary disk, then clone that onto the mSATA drive. The first clone worked OK, taking about 10 minutes to do a 30Gb disk, but when I attempted the second stage (onto the mSATA card) it kept hanging. In one instance I left it running for over an hour, but it wasn't able to move on from 61% complete. I repeated this a few more times in vein, and then tried to manually format the mSATA from the command line. This rewarded me with a kernel panic and a "Buffer I/O error on device" message.
After a few more hours of trying different things I reverted back to my old server. I've raised an RMA with eBuyer to have it replaced, but it's left my son a little disappointed. He was really hoping to get the Minecraft server up and running. Perhaps it had been going too well, as those who have previously built computers will recognise, but as Saul's first experience at PC building it has actually been quite positive. He did tell me later that it was much easier than he'd imagined, and I think he enjoyed doing it.
So a result,.. though for the meanwhile only a minor one. (We'll try again after I've been through eBuyer's returns process)