Computer Lessons

I put together my new system. Here’s what I’ve learned:

I got my cable internet access, so I set up my Linksys wireless router and bought a cheap alkaline battery-run corded phone for use with it. I had to buy an extended cord for it. I just don’t like having to charge up a cordless phone and have that extra high bandwidth signal beaming through my head (and to everyone else). Vonage worked instantly. Just plug in the phone and pick it up and you get a dialtone. Hot.

I set up my PSP to access the wireless. I had to use the right 128-bit WEP key to make it work. I had first tried the PSP’s internet browser in the terminal in Spain, and it worked wonderfully.

I got a USB 2.0 PCMCIA card for my laptop because it only had on-board USB 1.1, which is extremely slow even for MP3 transfers. Now I have my external 120GB hard drive linked to my laptop, shared on my network so I can listen to MP3s on either system. I inserted the card while my laptop was on and it detected it and installed the drivers immediately. I had to add the NetBIOS protocol to both computers’ network settings so that they’d see each other.

I had a mountain of boxed OEM computer components to put together. The CoolerMaster case is very easy to work with. It has a tray for the motherboard which slides out easily. You can also take off each side panel independently with the removal of only a few screws. I inserted the power supply, disk drives, hard drives, RAM, sound card, and TV tuner. Then I put the CPU on. I took the cooling unit frame off the motherboard and attached the one that comes with the ThermalRight XP-90. I used the wrong screws at first so I bent the mobo a bit but then I found the right-sized screws. After that, I attached the heatsink with some arctic silver thermal paste on the CPU as instructed. Did I put too much on? I had to go out and buy a 92mm fan which I will replace with a better one shortly. The local stores did not have 92mm — I had to drive out pretty far to find one at a second Computer Wizards store. The employees warned me about overclocking, and told me my heatsink didn’t use 92mm. Which it did.

I plugged in all the components. No problems there once I became familiar with where the power slots on the board were and how to hook up SATA. I had some problem figuring out which jumpers were attached for power, reset, hdd, etc. The documentation didn’t match up from the DFI LanParty board’s manual to the case’s sparse manual.

The system didn’t boot up at first. Gotta move the power jumper over one row I guess. Then it started up. I ran it in BIOS a bit to watch the temperature. It got up to 37 degrees with stock settings and the case closed. Pretty high I think. With the side panel open (for accessing things I had to fix), the temperature dropped to 28 degrees. Might need to cool that better later.

I had a lot of problems finding a way to fdisk and format the drive. Fdisk didn’t support this bigger SATA drive so it said I could only make a partition of 8GB. I didn’t have a boot disk (my WinXP pro CD is in my toughbox, still in Iraq I think) so I tried to burn some and those didn’t work. When I’d try to format the drive after fdisking it, it would say “invalid drive, or format not supported”. I ran out of ideas except to find a bootable OS install CD.

Someone down the hall had an emachines WinXP Media Center CD which was actually great because I wanted Media Center. There was no footprint from emachines. When I put the CD in, it started right up and I installed the OS, as it automagically fdisks the drive and formats it also. I was saved by finding this CD! I’d been spending a day and a half trying to figure out a way into my own system.

At this point, I was glad I had a laptop connected to broadband for completing these tasks. WinXP MCE recognized all my components except for the on-board LAN, which I found drivers for on the LanParty CD. I rebooted and then had Internet access, so I went through Windows Update and dl’d everything. I added ZoneAlarm, AVG, DirectX, XViD (for DivX), and all the drivers for my components. I had to configure some settings in MCE and in the Creative software to enable 5.1 sound through the speakers. I tried to get Motherboard Monitor but it’s not being updated anymore. So I need an app that monitors CPU temperature. I got CPU-Z for checking the CPU settings.

I got Firefox. In IE there was no link to download Firefox on Mozilla’s site. Kinda weird? I added tabbrowser extensions (far better than Tab Mix Plus because of its multitude of configuration options), adblock, googlebar, bloglines,, bugmenot, google safe browsing, image zoom, and search engines for wikipedia, the M-W dictionary,, and flickr.

I installed TweakUI to fix some settings, as well as Battlefield 2, Alcohol 120% for burning, dbPowerAmp for music encoding/decoding, foobar2000 for music (much smaller footprint than WinAmp), Second Life, Doom 3, Civilization IV, EditPlus for text editing, Daemon Tools for virtual drive mounting, and WinAce for compression/extraction.

I downloaded a small app that lets you tune your ClearType. This is important because you can configure how you want your text to appear on the screen. On my 19″ LCD I sometimes catch myself marveling at how stark and crisp the text looks on screen after having tuned ClearType.

I tried running Media Center, which is notoriously fickle. I couldn’t get the cable TV feed to work — it would say that there was a decoder failure. Looking it up online didn’t yield much except recommendations to people to install DVD software like WinDVD. I tried the PowerDVD software that came with my OEM parts but Media Center didn’t like that either. Eventually I downloaded the MS Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility. That showed that the two decoders I had (PowerDVD and Sonic) were not completely compatible. So then I downloaded nVidia’s decoder and that showed to be 100% compatible. My TV feed worked!

Later I ended up breaking MCE again after installing some codecs and RealPlayer. I’m not sure what caused it. But then I installed the rollup update 2 for MCE and that restored my live TV somehow. MCE is notoriously sensitive about codecs, access, and compatibilities!

Now everything works great but it took some ironing out of wrinkles that googling did not seem to solve very easily. I had to find some files that were not included with parts or the OS even though they were necessary to get things working. Strange. Oh well. I do not know how your typical computer user would have fixed all this stuff.

Time to BF2!