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Building a PC NLE: Assembling your NLE

Building a PC NLE: Assembling your NLE



A CreativeCOW.net 'Basics of Video' Tutorial



Building a PC NLE System

Jim Lafferty
Jim Lafferty
jim lafferty
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA



Article Focus:
Assuming you have a limited budget to work with, and are looking to jump into digital video non-linear editing, building your own PC editing platform is the surest way to save a great deal of money. It is not, despite what others may have told you, a monumentally challenging task or cause for lost sleep – provided you know what you’re doing. In this second part of the two part series, Jim Lafferty helps you assemble all the parts.



So You Want To Build a PC NLE? – Part 2


For the purpose of this tutorial, I’ve chosen to speak of building an AMD Athlon based PC. As I’ve stated earlier, the Athlon is a processor superior to the Pentium 4 in nearly every facet of computation and yet costs considerably less. This is not AMD-pro propaganda, it is a fact verified across the board by several independent, and industry trusted websites such as Anandtech, Tom’s Hardware, ARS Technica, and HardOCP. Consequently, of the four machines I’ve built, three of them have been Athlon based.

As an aside, other than requiring a different motherboard, possibly different RAM, and different CPU connections, building an AMD based PC is no different than building a Pentium 4 based NLE.


Pre-Flight Checklist

Before you throw yourself headlong into your project, be sure to check a few things and grab some tools that will possibly eliminate some later stress in the process:

  • Cables: Your motherboard should have shipped with three cables – a floppy disk cable, and two IDE cables to connect your hard drive(s) and CDROM’s. Check beforehand to see that you have all three, and that they are sufficiently long to work inside your case. The Tyan TigerMP board has its IDE channel connections placed at the extreme lower end of the ‘board, and consequently very far from the 5.25” bays, so I had to purchase an additional, extra long cable ($7.)
  • Driver CD’s: Each of your cards and sometimes your motherboard should have shipped with its own CDROM containing drivers and additional applications. Go through and make sure you have every one of them before attempting an install. It should go without saying that you should also have an OS installer (Win2K/WinXP) disc lying around somewhere.
  • Phillips Head Screwdriver(s): Mandatory for all PC building. Grab two if you can – one 6,” and a short one (3”) for those hard-to-reach spots.
  • A small flashlight/penlight
  • A Sharpie marker
  • Thermal Compound (and a credit card): This should have shipped with your heatsink/fan unit(s), and is usually in a small white tube with a break off tab at one end. If not, you can order a tube from Arctic Silver. The credit card comes into play spreading the compound evenly.



Step 1 – Mounting The Essentials to the Motherboard

When building a PC your first step is to mount the processor to the motherboard, along with the RAM and Video Card, as well as connecting the case cables to their associated pins. Once this is accomplished, you can boot the machine to see if your components are in working order.

Get acquainted with the manual that shipped with your motherboard. It will have a map of the ‘boards parts, with sections detailing each component’s function. Looking your board and the corresponding map over to familiarize yourself with the parts will make the rest of the assembly that much easier.

For AMD chips, you’ll find your motherboard has a square socket that is punched with pinholes. To the side of this socket is a recessed lever. Pull the lever out and back, until the top layer of the socket moves back completely.

Before popping the processor in place, be sure to check the orientation of the pins by holding the edges of the ceramic – do NOT touch the pins themselves. There will be two corners of the pin layout that are “missing” pins, and thus stop short of a right angle. These corners align with corresponding corners on the socket, so that there is only one way to properly install the CPU.

This might be a good time, incidentally, to stress that you should never handle the connectors of any of your internal PC components such as the gold pins that run the length of any of your PCI cards and RAM sticks.

With the lever completely extended still, and after having checked and rechecked the pin orientation, push your CPU in and make sure it sits completely flat in the socket. Push the lever back into place, where it originally resided next to the socket, making sure that it's locked down.

You may now need to attach four small, round pads – one to each corner – to your CPU. These should have shipped with your heatsink or may already be in place on the CPU, and they are there to provide enough cushion between the heatsink and the processor so as not to crack the CPU when installing the heatsink.

Next, apply the thermal compound to the CPU, using a credit card to spread the paste around evenly, covering the CPU’s entire surface. You should not apply an excessive amount of the thermal paste – there should be just enough so that the heatsink “kisses” the surface area of the paste.

In order to make sure that you have the right amount of paste applied, I usually recommend popping the heatsink on, pulling it back off, and scraping off the excessive “peaks” of compound that will likely be produced. Attaching a heatsink, in the case of the Swiftech model, is a matter of placing the two metal tabs over the plastic notches that appear at two sides of the processor socket and “unscrewing” the metal screws (screwing them counter-clockwise) so as to tighten the springs. Once the heatsink is in place, give it a little tug to make sure it feels secure. Now you may connect the fan to a power supply – either via a fan connector on the motherboard, or to one of the standard power supply cables, depending on which heatsink/fan combo you've purchased.

The video card is next, and there is only one slot on the motherboard that accepts it – the AGP slot which is located on the left, upper half of the ‘board, just above your white PCI slots (the AGP slot is usually brown). At this point, I recommend opening your case up and placing it on its side, mounting the motherboard onto the risers attached to the inside of the case with the included screws.

You'll notice that there are a series of metal tabs screwed onto the back of the case that cover your AGP/PCI slots, and sometimes the case might even require popping out metal tabs that cover other connections on the ‘board. Accordingly, each card that you will install will have a metal tab of the same dimensions, containing all of the relevant ports and connectors that slides in place of the case’s metal tabs.

Once the video card is in place, look for the RAM slots on the board, which usually run perpendicular to your PCI slots on the other side of the board. Each slot will have tabs on both sides, and these tabs need to be pushed back in order to install the RAM properly.

Find the first RAM bank – there will be something like “DIMM 1” printed on the motherboard – pull the tabs back, and look to place the RAM so as to align the indentation along the edge of the DIMM, over the corresponding, raised portion of the bank. As with every other piece on your motherboard, there is only one proper way to align the RAM. Once it’s aligned, push down with an even distribution of force at the edges of the RAM until the tabs on both sides pop into place, locking the RAM into the bank. The formerly extended tabs should now be completely inserted into the notches at both sides of the RAM DIMM. This may take more than one try and often requires a sufficient amount of force so as to need a little wiping of the brow afterwards.

Next, you will need to look for a series of pins usually located to the lower right of the ‘board, and at the same time, gather the striped wires at the front of your case usually labeled “HDD,” “SPEAKER,” “POWER LED,” “RESET,” etc. These pins and wires (usually called “standard external connectors”) connect the ‘board to a series of LED’s, the speaker, the Power/Reset switches, and without attaching them properly, your machine will not boot.

Note: This is one of the most crucial steps of PC building – be sure to look over the orientation of the wires to the pins as it is described in your manual repeatedly until you can't be any more sure that you've got it right. Don't worry if you have more wires than are displayed in your motherboard’s manual – some cases ship with one or two excessive wires. Just be sure that you have all of the wires connected as you see in the manual.

Next, connect your Floppy Drive to the motherboard. It will have its own female-to-male 4-pin power connector, and uses a special ribbon cable to connect to the motherboard’s “FDD” slot. The cable, you’ll note, has two different ends – one that displays a bit of chord punched out (and possibly twisted) from the rest. This end is to be attached to the rear of the Floppy Drive.

Note: As a general rule, Floppy and IDE ribbons have one of their edges colored red or pink – this edge always corresponds to the first pin in the appropriate slot.

Now that the essentials – CPU, RAM, Video Card, Standard Connectors and Floppy Drive – have been attached, connect the power supply’s largest cable to the corresponding power-connector on the motherboard. Go ahead and set the case upright, leaving the side off and the case open. Attach the monitor to your video card, attach the power cable to the monitor and plug it in, and likewise the power cable to the back of your case. Make sure the power supply I/O switch is set to “I” and press the Power button on the front of your case.

Of course, while the machine is powering up, don’t touch any of the machine’s internals :)

You should hear the whine of your case’s fans, followed by a telling beep, and look to the monitor to see the BIOS for your video card loading. Once this has happened, the motherboard BIOS will load, and go through a routine check of the system’s CPU and memory, followed by its search for the presence of IDE drives. Once this cycle is complete, you may power the machine down.

Congrats! The most difficult work is now behind you. Now, unplug the case’s power chord (the external one, not the one attached to the motherboard) and place it back on its side – time to move on to Step 2.


Step 2 – Connecting and Troubleshooting Drives and other Goodies

By now you know how to install any expansion card onto your motherboard and are ready to install your sound card and whatever other card you've picked out for this beast. When installing cards, be sure to power down and unplug the power chord at the back of the case.

Note: Always leave your networking card (Ethernet/Modem) for last – in fact, I’d hasten to say wait until you've installed your OS before installing any network cards, as Windows has always seemed finicky about these in the past.

Leave the PCI bank closest to your AGP slot free as it shares its resources and will thus likely cause you some OS headaches later should you choose to fill it with a card. Make sure your cards are all seated firmly and evenly in place, and you might want to hold off on screwing them in place completely for now – sometimes, system conflicts are caused by card placement, and so it’s a good idea to be able to move the cards around with relative ease.

All your cards are in place, now set your case upright and move onto the drives.

Every motherboard has a single floppy drive channel, and two IDE channels labeled Primary and Secondary, respectively. As you might imagine, the Primary channel gets accessed faster and is given higher priority than the Secondary channel – therefore, your system’s Hard Drive is to be attached to the Primary channel, with any CD/DVD drives placed on the Secondary.

Each of the Primary/Secondary channels splits into two sub-channels – Master and Slave. Again, there’s little guesswork here – these labels denote priority. On the back of any hard drive and CD/DVD drive, there will be a small jumper (and sometimes two) and a series of 3-4 pairs of pins, labeled with some abbreviation of Master, Slave and Cable Select. There should be a label on the drive that has printed on it different jumper configurations, and you may remove and replace the jumper accordingly. Hard drives are always Master on the Primary channel. CD burners should always be assigned Master on the Secondary IDE channel, with your other CD or DVD drive receiving Slave status.

Different cases mount drives in different ways, but usually you'll have to screw a pair of tabs onto the sides of your CD/DVD drive(s), and then slide these tabs into rails on the case. Hard drives usually slide into and mount to an open ended metal “box” of sorts, which in turn slides into the case. Once the drives are mounted, they need to be connected to one of the power cables streaming from your power supply (all drives use a universal power connector, with the exception of your Floppy Drive, which has a much smaller connector), and to their appropriate IDE cable. Also, be sure to connect that audio pass-through cable to the CD/DVD drive you plan on using for audio playback to the “CD-IN” connection on your soundcard.

I find it wise to keep a Sharpie felt-tipped pen around to label my IDE cables “Primary,” “Secondary” and “Floppy” (or “HD,” “CD” and “FD”) on both sides, so I can keep everything straight easily.

Once your drives and cards have all been mounted/installed, it’s time to format your Hard Drive and install your OS and software.

Plug your power chords and monitor back in, and before booting the machine up, grab your manual and look for the section on the motherboard BIOS. You’re going to look for a section on “Boot Devices,” which assigns a series of drives from which the PC will boot from. Once you’ve found out how to access your machine’s BIOS (it’s often done by pressing the “Del” or one of the “F” keys during the boot process), go ahead and boot the machine up, being sure to access the BIOS screen.

Once there you will see a series of categories to choose from, and within one of them you will find your boot device options. Set first boot device to Floppy, second to HD-0 (Hard Disk zero), and third to CDROM.

Before exiting the BIOS, open your CDROM drive and place your Windows installer CDROM in the drive. Exit and Save the BIOS, and your machine will resume the boot process. You should then be taken through the Windows installation process from the CDROM.

If this does not happen initially, shut the machine down and unplug the power cable. Slide your CDROM drive out and see what the jumper is set to. I’ve found some motherboards like Cable Select (set on both drives), while others settle for nothing other than the appropriate Master/Slave configuration. Be sure to check to make sure your IDE cables are properly plugged in, as are your power cables to the drives.

Once your CDROM drive is being recognized, the rest is a matter of choosing a drive on which to install your OS, formatting it (NTFS) and waiting for it to go through the format process…and waiting…and then filling out the appropriate registration fields.

Once Win2K/WinXP installs, you’ll be taken through a series of driver installation “wizards” for your expansion cards. Just pop the appropriate CD in your tray and let Windows do its magic. In some cases, driver CD’s run through their own driver installation process, allowing you to eschew the wizard altogether. Other times, the auto-installs for the drivers fail to do their job, and you have to install drivers manually by right clicking your system icon, going to Properties, clicking the Hardware tab, and directing the Hardware Wizard to the drivers contained on your CD.

And like that, you’re up and running!

©2002 Jim Lafferty. All rights reserved.

--Want to know more about the "Basics of Video"? Click here to find all of the tutorials in the series.




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