I have no serious reason for writing this although there's some issues down at the end that are still unsolved. Really, it's a "Zam is my blog" post.
For the last couple years, I've been holding old components back after upgrades intending to build a new computer. The computer in the family room is a Dell from 2006 with a Pentium 4 running XP and using some AGP video card I'm too lazy to look up. Recently I decided to make the final push towards gathering the missing parts and took advantage of some Memorial Day sales. My final component list:
i3-530 2.9GHz Duo Core Processor
Intel DP55SB 'Extreme' Micro-ATX Motherboard
Corsair 500W PSU
GeForce GTX 550 Ti 2GB video card
2x4GB Kingston DDR3 1600 Memory
CoolerMaster Elite 430 Case
1x140mm fan, 3x120mm fans
Stock CPU cooler (actually, I think it's the stock from my i7-860 but whatever)
HGST 500GB 7200RPM HD
Some $15 OEM optical drive I'm too lazy to look up
My goal here wasn't a gaming system or anything but rather an upgraded family use computer that could play some games as well if my son wants. I played a bit of stuff on that processor and with a lower grade card and managed to enjoy Skyrim, etc. The motherboard was bought off eBay since finding a retail 1156 board these days is near impossible. It came new though and despite the plain packaging wasn't standard OEM since it came with the backplate and cables. It wasn't necessarily the board I would have picked but I didn't want to pay $125 for a used Asus board or something.
So, the construction. First thing I noticed was how cramped the board was. I remarked to BeanX off-forum that my next build is going to have a motherboard the size of a refrigerator box. No more of this Micro-ATX crap. This is made worse by the absolute lack of cable management in my case. There is zero room behind the motherboard panel so everything sits in front and I did what I could to route cables along the sides. The case looks nice enough and was cheap but isn't especially well designed. The board could use some more fan plugs and my video card is within millimeters of a territorial dispute with the memory sticks but I finally got it all in.
Flip on the PSU power, hit the button and... nothing. Ah, crap. Green lights are on on the board though so that's promising. Hey, here's a nifty thing -- the DP55SB has a power button right on the board. It also has a nifty LED display to show POST codes. I hit the MB power button and magic happens. Ok, so at least I know the board isn't bad. It whirs into life and begins the process of installing Windows 7.
At "Starting Windows", it hangs. I try it again... same thing. At one point (unrelated) I notice the power wire on the case is blocking the front case fan. As in jamming it and keeping it from moving. I have to disassemble the case front and remove the fan to fix it which was annoying. More Windows install attempts. At one point I discover that the "Orange" power wire attaches to the "Red" board jumpers and the "Red" HD activity light goes to the "Orange" jumpers. Lesson learned: Read your MB manual to see what's actually what instead of relying on standardized color coding. Now my case power button works. But Windows still won't install. Online research suggests various BIOS options; none work.
I decide to try a Ubuntu boot disk. After all, if that loads I at least know the parts are working. Ubuntu loads momentarily, then crashes into Panic Mode with a kernel error. Yay. I decide to go to bed. In bed, I'm reading my tablet and come across a customer review for the board saying it won't work with an i3 processor without a BIOS update and since you can't get things running otherwise, you need to pull a jumper off the board to force a BIOS recovery. I hop out of bed and go try this, fueled with optimism. I was previously trying to update the BIOS but it wasn't cooperating but this jumper business was new to me. It works! New updated BIOS that, in theory, plays nice with my processor. Let's try Windows!
Nope. But the problem is different. Now, instead of hanging at "Starting Windows", it installs the files, goes to "Starting Windows" and reboots. A soft reboot, the whole system doesn't go down, it just goes back to the Intel splash screen and starts over. Try Ubuntu again and it still crashes.
So, we know the board is good, the PSU is good, the HD isn't the issue since Ubuntu is running off a DVD... signs are pointing now to memory. I guess my next step is to remove a memory stick and try to boot it off one. And to switch sticks if that doesn't work. I read of some people saying to increase the voltage but the board and memory are both rated for 1.65v with a warning on Intel's page not to exceed that. The memory in my "real" computer is 1.5v, I don't know if that would make a difference. Or maybe I'll find something to clock up or down in the BIOS. But I've read people saying they went to one stick to install Win 7, then added the second stick and it worked fine. Here's hoping...
This is why I don't give novices crap for not wanting to build a system. Not that off-the-shelf systems are great but if someone wants to pick parts and have Ibuypower or whoever do the assembly, God bless 'em. I at least had some small advantage in that I built my last system so I'm not timid about putting my hands in the case but the learning curve when things go sour can be a bitch.
Oh, and if you know what's wrong, feel free to tell me.