Rebuilding the Studio PC (Implementation)
Building PCs can be fun and rewarding, if done with care and common sense. It is not that hard to do.
But if you don’t take care, at best you will finish up with a pile of expensive components that don’t
work the way you want them to or don’t work at all. If you are thinking of using these notes to build
a similar machine, I make no representation or warranty about the information contained here whatsoever.
And always remember that treating electricity without respect can kill.
IMPORTANT NOTES (yes, I know this is obvious, but always worth repeating):
NEVER put your hands inside a PC that is connected to a live power supply. When working on your PC,
disconnect it from the mains supply.
Why not just switch it off at the mains? If I have a switch-able mains socket, I should be able to
connect the PSU to the mains, but leave the switch on the mains supply in the off position. In the UK, at least,
these switches are supposed to be dual-pole, i.e. switching the mains off disconnects both the live and the
neutral connections, but the earth is constantly connected irrespective of the position of the switch. By
connecting the system to the power supply that is switched off, I can ensure that the PSU and other components
such as the motherboard are earthed through the mains throughout most of the assembly. Isn’t that better?
Maybe, but in some countries, single pole switches are employed which means the supply is live even when switched
off. In others, there is no earth connection at all and so there is no benefit to this approach anyway. Now consider:
how much do you trust the manufacturer of the mains socket in your house to stick to the standards? Maybe. Would
you bet your life on it? Never.
NEVER take apart a PSU unless you really know what you are doing. PSUs have large capacitors that can carry
a charge well beyond the time at which you switch them off.
ALWAYSwork in a clean, well-lit, dry space, preferably at a comfortable working height, e.g. kitchen top or
work surface. Being relaxed avoids making silly mistakes.
If possible, AVOID carpeted areas. Carpets, especially with man-made fibres, can induce large static charges
that can damage computer components. Use a wrist-strap to ensure that you are properly earthed. This will avoid damage
caused by static electricity. Besides, it is so much easier finding a screw on a work surface than it is on or in a
NEVER try to force a component into a socket or a plug into a socket. If it does not seem to fit, there is,
probably, a very good reason. Many PC sockets are designed to only accept a connector in one orientation. Are you
inserting the plug the right way round? Have you selected the wrong socket? Is there a bent pin?
NEVER over tighten screws. The screws in a PC are made from steel, but many of the components are made of
softer alloys. If you over tighten a screw, it will strip the threads in the alloy. If the screw does not fit easily,
check you have the right one. Tighten until the screw is firm.
ALWAYS connect all available screws using the appropriate washers where necessary. There are moving parts in
a PC that cause small vibrations. This vibration can be greatly amplified by the case, especially where you have loose
fitting parts. There is nothing quite as irritating as the sound of a rattling screw or loose fitting PC component.
If you drop a screw into the case, make sure you find and remove it. The last thing you need is pieces metal moving
around in the case.
NEVER pull out a plug by the cable, always use the plug, it’s what it’s there for.
If something goes wrong or is unexpected, DON’T PANIC. Stand back, take a deep breath and think about what
might be wrong. If you remain relaxed, it will become obvious in the end. Relax and be patient, there’s no rush.
Generally, the build process is to put together the minimum number of components you need to be able to do an initial
test to confirm those parts are working. Then you add parts one by one testing each one as you go. If you do it this way,
when something goes wrong, the cause will be much more obvious.
A Few Notes for Beginners
Before you begin the installation, check that all the parts are present and correct, but leave the parts in their
anti-static envelopes until you need them. Treat the time between opening the anti-static envelope and attaching the part
as a critical time to be kept as short as possible. Leave the part in the anti-static bag until you have prepared the
system to install it. This is also true of screws, connectors, and fixings. If you leave them in the bags they are supplied
with, they will be a lot easier to find.
While you are checking the parts look for manuals. If any manuals are supplied, take the time to read them. Someone has
spent time and effort writing them for a reason. If you know all the “gotchas” before you start, the whole process will
take less time and significantly the chance of damaging something. Now, take all those shiny new boxes and put them to one
side, so they do not get in the way during the install.
This is also a good time to find the tools you will need. This is, typically, just a medium size, cross-drive screwdriver.
However, this installation also needs a flat blade for the CPU screw. There is nothing more irritating than having to stop
and find a tool in the middle of doing something critical. Also, find a small open top container to hold any screws and
fastenings. Otherwise you will be hunting around for a screw at exactly the wrong time. It also acts as a proof that you have
put back all the screws you have removed. Some people suggest many containers for the different sets of screws removed. I
find that you can easily remember which is which and that multiple containers just get in the way.
Finally, occasionally, it is helpful to label cables if you have a lot of them, but I usually leave this to the end if
I do it at all. With experience, you get to the point where you can quickly recognise cables just from colour and size.
If you need to label them, then a pen, large sticky address label and scissors is all you need. Write the name at the top
right of the label, cut the label into a thin strip and wrap the strip around the cable somewhere convenient.
I began the installation by making the following notes as a checklist. This was to avoid missing out some crucial step
in the middle and then having to track backwards and forwards to find out what I had forgotten to do.
Preparing the case
- Unpack the Aria case. Check it for any damage in transit. Open the case and put the side and top panels to one side.
Inside the case, you will find some loose parts. Check against the manifest that all the parts are present. Put the loose
parts to one side.
- Check the fuse in the plug provided with the case. Manufacturers frequently supply over-rated fuses. You should only
need a 3-amp fuse in the plug. Antec supplied a 3-amp fuse.
- Remove the flip-up the drive cage. Put it to one side, you will not need it for a while.
- Remove the PSU to give better access to the base of the case. You can completely disconnect it as it is attached to the
incoming power with spade connectors, but make a note of which wire connected to which connector.
Installing the Motherboard
- Open the motherboard box. Again, there are some separately bagged parts in the box. One part is the IO shield (a thin
piece of metal matching the back panel of the motherboard). Careful of the edges, sometimes they are sharp. The IO shield
should be placed in the back of the case. You may have to remove the one supplied by Antec.
- Check the location of the motherboard fixing posts in the base of the case. You can either fix the motherboard using
clips or using screws to standard posts. I used the standard combination. You should connect as many posts as there are
holes available in the motherboard that match the base of the case. You should be able to see the holes in the motherboard
without removing its packaging. If there is a post where there is no hole in the motherboard, you should remove the post
unless you are sure that the post will only come into contact with parts of the motherboard that can be safely connected
to earth. The more posts installed, the less distortion you will get when inserting PCI cards and other components. You
particularly want to fix the corners and the middle. The microATX specification suggests that there should be 9 holes,
but the AOpen motherboard only seems to have 8 (Hole S is missing). The Antec had 6 posts pre-installed so I added two
extra clips from the set of parts supplied.
- Using the wrist-strap, unpack the motherboard from its protective packaging. Make sure that you only hold the board
by its edges and do not touch the onboard components. Visually check that the board is not damaged.
- Gently introduce the motherboard to the case, carefully lining up the screw holes with the fixing posts and insert the
retaining screws. Generally, work diagonally to get an even pressure across the whole surface. Tighten the screws. The
tricky bit here is that the IO shield has flexible tabs that are supposed to fit round the connectors at the back of the
motherboard, so you feel like you need an extra set of hands to get the flexible parts to go the right side of the
- Reattach the PSU to the case. Connect the 4-pin (2x2) connector to the motherboard. The motherboard is now earthed to
the PSU. Connect the 20-pin connector to the motherboard. This can only be connected one way round.
- Route the power cables to the right of the motherboard and fix them down. In the Antec design, the power cables are
short and so they have to be laid across the motherboard, which wont help cooling. So, I got a pair of power extension
cables and doubled the length so I could fix them to the right hand side of the motherboard.
Installing the CPU
- Locate the CPU socket on the motherboard and unscrew the screw on the socket by turning it 180 degrees anticlockwise.
- Unpack the CPU from its protective packaging, again holding it by the edges and without touching the pins or other components.
Visually check that the CPU is not damaged. Particularly, check the pins.
- Verify its orientation by lining up the missing pins on the chip with the blank pins on the socket and insert the CPU into
the socket. This simply drops down with no effort. Once inserted, the CPU will be flush with the top of the socket.
- Turn the CPU screw back to the closed position. If you forget to do this, the machine will not boot.
- Apply a thin layer thermal paste to the bottom of the supplied CPU cooler supplied by AOpen (a combined heat sink and fan) and
gently place it on the CPU.
- Attach the fixing brackets to the CPU retention module and fix the heat sink down. The cooler should now be firmly attached
to the motherboard.
- Connect the CPU fan connector to the motherboard.
- Unpack a memory module from its protective packaging being careful not to touch the components or the connector. Visually
check that the module is not damaged.
- Starting with the lower SO-DIMM slot, check the orientation of the memory module is correct. SO-DIMM modules can only be
installed one way round.
- Holding the module at 30%, push the module connector into the socket until you meet resistance.
- Gently push the memory down so it is flat. You will hear a small click as the fixing tabs engage. Check the fixing tabs are
correctly seated. You should not need to apply a lot of pressure. If you do, then recheck the orientation of the memory.
- Repeat steps for the other (upper) SODIMM module.
Front Panel, USB and Audio Connectors
- Attach the front panel connectors, carefully routing and fixing cables to the left of the motherboard. This is, usually,
a bit fiddly because you have to connect the individual connectors one by one. You also need to connect them the right way
round in some cases. The Aria has three connectors, RESET, HDD LED and POWER. The HDD LED has to be the right way round, but
if you are unsure you can experiment without risking any damage. You will know it is the wrong way round because it will not
light up when the disk is in use. Of course, you may prefer it that way!
- Connect the Molex connector (4-pin plastic plug usually used to connect disk drives) on the front panel to a matching socket
on the PSU routing the cable to the right of the motherboard. This powers the front panel blue LEDs. If you don’t want the blue
LEDs then don’t connect the cable.
- Attach the front-panel USB and Firewire connectors, again checking the orientation. You will note that one of the holes in
the socket is filled and there is no equivalent pin on the motherboard. Consequently, these will only connect one way round. Don’t
connect the smart card reader yet. We will leave this until after we have installed the OS. Route and fix the cables to the left
of the motherboard.
- Attach the front-panel audio cable to the motherboard fixing the cables to the left. As always, check the orientation prior
to pushing them in. Fortunately, the plug supplied by Antec matches the pins on the Aopen motherboard. So, I cut the extra
- At this stage, I attached a monitor, keyboard and mouse and did a quick test. Unlike the rest of the install, this is the only
time I switch the PC on without closing the case first. This is because I want to visually check that the CPU fan is working. I am
very careful not to touch anything. Aaaarggghhhh. Nothing happened. I rechecked the power cable and then realised that the spade
connector on the PSU had worked loose. I unplugged and refixed it and tried again. There was an awful noise from the Antec PSU fan.
The QA person who attached their label indicating inspection had left the paper flapping in the path of the fan. I took a pair of
tweezers and fixed it down properly. I checked the CPU fan was rotating freely and switched off.
Installing the Hard Drive and CD/DVD
- Retrieve the drive cage we removed and put aside earlier.
- Unpack the hard drive from its protective packaging. Hold the drive by its sides and avoid touching any components or connectors.
- Attach the drive to the drive cage using the rubber mountings provided. This avoids noise caused by hard drive vibration
being amplified by the case.
- Slide the DVD drive into the cage and fix it in position.
- Place the cage back into the case making sure that it does not interfere with the components in the case.
- Route SATA cable through cage. You should allow enough slack to allow the flip up cage to be opened. Connect the cable
to the motherboard and the hard drive ensuring the correct orientation. SATA connectors only attach one way round. Fix the
cable to the cage. Attach a Molex connector from the PSU to the drive.
- Route the supplied round IDE cable through the cage. Again you need enough slack to open the cage. Connect the cable to the
motherboard and DVD drive ensuring the correct orientation. IDE drives again only connect one way round. Fix the cable to the cage.
Attach a Molex connector from the PSU to the drive.
- Connect the digital output of the DVD drive to the digital input on the motherboard routing the cable through the drive cage and
around the left-hand side of the motherboard.
We now have a system that is ready for an initial boot. I do a boot prior to installing the rest of the devices to ensure
that everything is working properly.
- Spend a few moments, performing a detailed visual check that all components are correctly attached and that no loose cables are touching
any components. It is best at this stage to tie any loose cables down or securely fold them away with an elastic band.
- Temporarily connect the keyboard and mouse to the front panel USB ports
- Connect the VGA and DVI cables to the monitor.
- Switch system ON at the mains or plug it in.
- Power ON the PC and check the fans are moving and there is no indication of a problem. DO NOT touch any component inside the computer.
- Check the monitor for a message stating “Dual channel mode Enabled”
- Check POST (power on self test) completes successfully. The machine will report an error as it fails to boot. This is normal.
- Switch the machine off and disconnect the mains again.
First Temperature Test
Assuming everything works OK, we are ready to do our first test of the thermal solution. This involves running the system for
a few minutes monitoring the temperature without load.
- Close the case. I don’t usually bother to screw everything up at this stage, but it is worth closing the case because the
thermal environment is designed to work with it closed.
- Power ON the PC.
- During the POST, hit the <DEL> key and enter the BIOS setup.
- Select “Load Optimised Defaults” and save.
- Briefly check under “PC Health Status” that the system and CPU temperatures are OK and that the CPU FAN is being monitored.
- Work through all the BIOS settings checking that they are correct. At this stage, the BIOS should have detected the various
devices attached to the computer (keyboard, mouse, hard drive, DVD and so on). You may need to put the SATA interface into IDE mode.
- Return to “PC Health Status” for another check.
At this stage, leave the system running for a few minutes and take a well-earned break. Patience can be a real benefit when
building PCs. This is also a good time for folding up and storing the packaging you have finished with. The system and CPU
temperatures should remain quite low. The PSU fan should be rotating quite slowly.
Installing the OS
Assuming all is well, we are ready to install the OS. We need to make sure that the SATA drive is in IDE mode and that the
BIOS is configured to boot from CDROM.
- Insert the OS disk and install the OS in my case Windows XP Pro SP2. Generally, I accept all the defaults at this stage and then
adapt them later. Most of the OS install can be done unattended.
- Using the CD provided with the motherboard, install:
a. The Intel Chipset Software.
b. The Intel Graphics Driver.
c. The Intel Network Driver.
d. The Realtek HD Audio Driver.
You will note that all four of the above (as well as the Intel Matrix Storage Driver) can be installed in one operation using the
AOpen EZ-Install. You will need to reboot though. I tried this and the system blue screened, so I chose to revert to the last known good
and installed the drivers one by one the old-fashioned way. This worked fine.
- You can now configure the machine with a more convenient display resolution (in my case 1600x1200, 32bpp). The graphics
automatically detects and drives the DVI, so I did not need to reconfigure it.
- Check the Device Manager that there are no missing drivers. If there are, you will need to find, install and configure them.
So, typically, I connect up the network at this stage to make it easier to copy them across. So connect the LAN cable from the LAN
port to the Ethernet switch and check the LAN connection is working. However, for me, there were none missing.
- Install the AOpen Utilities supplied with the motherboard. I tried these and, I have to say, they were not very useful. The
key thing I would like to see is something to monitor the temperature from within Windows. I downloaded SpeedFan (a free tool for
doing this, http://www.almico.com/speedfan.php).
Installing the Smart-Card Reader
- Shutdown the machine, switch it OFF and disconnect it from the mains.
- Open the case.
- Connect the smart-card reader to the remaining USB connector on the motherboard.
- Route and fix the cable to the left of the motherboard.
- Close the case.
- Switch the machine on, boot the machine and check the reader is recognised and working.
Installing the Emu 1212M Expansion Card
- Shutdown the machine, switch it OFF and disconnect it from the mains.
- Open the case.
- Unpack the card and insert into a free slot. This should not require undue force. If necessary, support the motherboard
if it is bending excessively.
- Close the case.
- Switch the machine on and boot the machine.
- When prompted, install the drivers supplied by Emu with the card (or better, download and install the most up to date ones
- Check that the board is working correctly.
Installing the Yamaha SW1000XG and PLG-150DX daughterboard
- Shutdown the machine, switch it OFF and disconnect it from the mains.
- Open the case.
- Unpack the cards.
- Attach the riser posts supplied with the daughter card to the SW1000XG.
- Attach the daughter card to the posts and connect the supplied connector to both cards checking the orientation.
- Insert the complete assembly into the remaining free slot. Again, this should not require undue force. If necessary, support
the motherboard if it is bending excessively.
- Close the case.
- Reconnect the mains, switch the machine on and boot the machine.
- When prompted, install the drivers supplied with the card (or better, download and install the most up to date ones from
- Check that the board is working correctly.
Installing the Desktop
- Disconnect the LAN cable and place the machine on the rack in its final position.
- Reconnect the LAN cable.
- Connect the DVI output to the monitor.
- Connect a USB cable from the back of the PC to the monitor USB hub.
- Connect the keyboard and mouse to the monitor USB ports.
- Connect to the mains and switch the machine on.
- Check the keyboard, mouse and monitor are working correctly. The OS may prompt you to reinstall some drivers at this stage
because, from its perspective, the keyboard and mouse have moved.
Installing the MIDISport 8x8
- With the PC switched on and booted run the MIDISport installer.
- Connect a USB cable from the MIDISport to the PC and switch on the MIDISport.
- The installation will automatically complete.
- Check the MIDISport is working correctly.
Connecting the Rack Audio
- Connect the coax SPDIF output of the SW100XG to the SPDIF input of the rack.
- Connect the ADAT light-pipe cable from the output of the Rack to the 1212M card
- Connect an SPDIF coax cable from the 1212M to the Extigy box.
- Connect the ADAT light pipe output from the 1212M to the input of the rack.
- Configure a 1212M session to mix the ADAT input and Wave devices and output to the SPDIF and ADAT outputs.
- Check that the rack sound system is working.
- Screw down the case.
I collect together all the unused parts (there will be a number of them) and store them somewhere safe. We may need them later.
At this stage, I checked the power consumption – 80-90W as predicted, so there is some satisfaction there. I then enabled
SpeedStep (by changing the power options to Minimal Power Management). SpeedStep is brilliant. It simply keeps adjusting the speed
and voltage of the CPU depending on the work done, but is completely unnoticeable. Neat.
Burn In the Computer (or what really happened)
Once I had all the required hardware, the next step was to do a basic burn-in test of the system. This involves making the
computer do a lot of work so that I can check that the thermal solution keeps the overall temperature within my tolerances. To
do burn in tests, I use SiSoftware’s Sandra. You need to constantly monitor the temperature at the start of this test until
you are confident that it is not increasing. As you become more confident, you can monitor at greater intervals.
I ran the CPU and memory benchmarks just once monitoring the temperature using the SpeedFan monitoring tool. NOTE: the
temperature will increase, but should not do so to critical levels. I tried keeping the test running until the temperature stops
increasing. However, what I found was that the CPU temperature kept going up, as did the system temperature. When the system
temperature reached 50C, the computer switched itself off.
I checked that I had not, inadvertently, left any cables in a position to disrupt the airflow in the case. So, I installed
the slot fan. This deferred the shutdown for a short while (i.e. it helped a little, but not a lot).
I contacted AOpen to find out of the motherboard had any other thermal trip that I was not aware of. The only trips in the
motherboard are the standard ones supplied by the Intel chipset and CPU (e.g. the PROCHOT pin of the CPU that operates when the
junction temperature reaches 100C protecting the CPU). Then I contacted Antec and after a couple of mails backward and forward
established that the cause was a trip built into the power supply. I felt the chassis fan and hardly any air was being blown out.
Now that could be a blockage where the air comes on or where it goes out or the fan is simply not powerful enough. I checked for
blockage; nothing there. So, I decided to purchase a higher power fan (Scythe) and installed it into the power supply in place of
the Antec one. Replacing the PSU fan invalidated the warranty and, worse, didn’t help.
So, I decided to remove the Antec power supply and replace with an external AC-DC PSU and a DC-DC converter. I opted for an
Ably Tech 150W PSU set supplied by LinITX. This consists of a small board, an external brick and some connector cables. I also
purchased a DIN socket to suit the PSU. I removed the Antec PSU and (drilling through the case) installed the DC converter in
front of the motherboard. I then modded the back of the case to take a small DIN socket and connected the socket to the converter.
Then, using an AVO meter I checked all the connections and solder points. I then mounted a 120mm fan where the Antec PSU used to be.
I connected the cables to the motherboard and drives. I covered the grill at the top to ensure that air pulled in by the fan
Finally, I plugged in the PSU and switched on. I resumed the burn-in test and I am now keeping the overall system temperature
to about 31C with the CPU at about 35C rising to 40C under sustained heavy load. I run the system burn-in wizard over a few hours.
Once I had done the burn-in I installed the software. Typically, I re-install software from the original distribution media and
then configure it by copying the relevant data from my old hard drive across the network. This gives me the cleanest possible install
whilst maintaining my settings.
The final test is to measure (listen to) the sound produced by the new computer. Is it quiet? No, then identify the source of the
sound. Hopefully, you should only hear the odd disk noise and a quiet background hum of the CPU fan. In my case, the external PSU is
silent – I can hear the internal fans, but they are just a background hum.
What’s the moral of the story? It doesn’t matter how much work you do beforehand, you still need to be able adapt the plans
when it goes wrong. Generally, I am very happy with the new machine, the only problem in the final analysis, being the Aria case.
If I were doing it again I would do exactly the same, but I would probably opt for a different case (without PSU) and plan from
the outset to use the DC converter and external PSU. The latter has been a really neat solution for people looking for a quiet PC.