Build Your Own
New products & Tips for building a custom PC
By john a. burek
The sound of cool
The Austrian-designed Noctua NH-U9F
promises to keep your CPU at remarkably low noise levels—as low as 7dB,
the company claims. It’s helped by its
Ultra Low Noise adapter and the fan’s
oil-pressure bearing. This $49.90 cooler
is compatible with LGA775 and Socket
754, 939, 940, and AM2 motherboards.
You can install its 92mm fan turned 90
degrees to avoid physical interference
with motherboard heat sinks or other
components, and even mount a second
fan, if you like. Noctua,
Front-panel finery
Airlift in gratuitous front-panel bling by the 747-load with the
$74.99 PowerWatch from AeroCool.US. This titanic drive-bay device
eats two bays and provides a striking visual display of case temperature (at four locations, detected by wired sensors), case-fan
spin rates, and a user-set threshold temperature at which a warning alarm will sound. Flash-memory-card slots along the left side
support practically every format in creation (25 in all), and you also
get four powered USB 2.0 ports. (These require special cables that
are sold separately, however.) The bezel comes in a choice of black
or silver. AeroCool.US,
Two-by-four foundation
Harness the power of four cores—and two nVidia GPUs—
with the $289 Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6 motherboard.
Designed to work with the latest Intel quad-core processors (with support for up to a 1,333MHz front-side bus)
and based on the nForce 680i SLI MCP chipset, this board
provides two PCI Express x16 slots for dual-card Scalable
Link Interface (SLI) at true x16 bandwidth, plus a third
x16 slot (x8 bandwidth) for a physics-acceleration card.
Support for nVidia’s LinkBoost technology enhances performance even further with compliant nVidia GPUs. Also,
Gigabyte’s innovative QuadBIOS feature stores copies
of the PC BIOS in multiple locations for safety. Gigabyte
Technology, April 2007
help & how-to
build your own
Fans at your command
Make legions of your (case) fans
do your bidding with the Scythe
Kama-Meter. A $35.95 control
panel that fits into a 5.25-inch
drive bay, it lets you adjust the
speed of up to four case fans and
track the temperatures of four
hot spots inside your case. Plus,
a built-in volume-control knob
lets you wire in your PC audio for
tweaking straight from the panel.
Scythe bundles black, silver, and
white bezels to match your PC’s
color scheme, and the readout’s
backlight can cycle among seven
luminous colors. Scythe U.S.A.,
Hard-core board
The Abit AB9 QuadGT is ready for Intel’s
quad-core processors—and a whole lot
more. This $219.99 LGA775 motherboard,
based on the Intel 965 chipset, is built using
long-life solid-state capacitors and features
a host of uncommon extras, including a
rear-panel CMOS-reset switch, two external Serial ATA (eSATA) ports, and fanless,
silent heat-pipe cooling for its onboard
components. The two PCI Express x16 slots
support a CrossFire dual-card arrangement.
(Note: The second slot provides only x4
bandwidth.) Plus, serious home theater-ites
may be drawn to the board’s High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) audio
header, which works with a compatible
graphics card to let you output true highdefinition audio and video. Universal Abit
A house for your cards
Two fire-breathing high-end video boards invading your
PC’s case tend to send temperatures skyward—but not if
your case is ready for them. The $299 Cooler Master CM
Stacker 830 nVidia Edition is the first PC enclosure specially certified by nVidia for use in an SLI arrangement
with two GeForce 8800 GTX cards. With nine 5.25-inch
drive bays and room for up to nine 120mm fans, expansion room and cooling should be nonissues. (Fan noise
might be another matter.) This aluminum abode is compatible with ATX and BTX motherboards, plus several of
their subtypes. Cooler Master,
Radiators for your RAM
Run-of-the-mill RAM coolers are simple metal
sheaths that fit over a RAM module to wick
away heat. Thermalright advances that design
with its HR-07 Memory Module Cooler, which
employs twin elevated fin assemblies to shunt
heat away from your hardworking memory
chips. Slip on a pair side by side, and you can
even mount a cooling fan on top. But be warned:
The width of these $24.99 coolers will likely
block adjacent DIMM slots. Only extreme overclockers or deep-pocketed modders need apply.
Thermalright, www.
April 2007
install it now
ATX Motherboard
PREP WORK. Some major-maker
PCs use proprietary designs, so
check your case and power supply
(PSU) for ATX compatibility first.
If you’re upgrading a motherboard—not
building a new PC—you should reinstall
your OS with it. Back up critical files and
settings, and gather OS discs before starting. Backups complete, fetch pliers, screwdrivers, and Post-It Notes. Unplug your
PC, detach external cabling, and open the
case, touching its frame to dispel static.
all cables from the motherboard.
To ease replugging them on the
new board, as you detach each,
wrap it in a Post-It, notating the cable’s
terminus. Note: To remove the main
power connector(s) leading from PSU to
motherboard, squeeze first—don’t yank.
Fine wires run from the power switch,
speaker, and LEDs to a cluster, or
“header,” of pins on the motherboard.
Unplug these, sketching the pins’ layout
and which wires correspond to them. Also
label and detach header cables for frontpanel USB, audio, or FireWire ports.
Next, unscrew and pull expansion cards
from your motherboard. (A graphics card
may have a slot latch to disengage first.)
Label/detach any wires leading to cards.
The board should now be untethered.
Remove the motherboard tray, if the case
uses one. Then unscrew the board from
the tray or case bottom.
MOUNT IT. Check the installed
brass mounts (“standoffs”)
against the new board’s mounting holes. Add standoffs as
needed with pliers; remove extras.
The new mobo includes a rectangular
panel with port cutaways. Compare it to
your case’s. If they differ, pop in the new
one. To mount the new board, wiggle its
ports through this panel. Then screw it
down—mounting holes should align with
standoffs. (If your case uses a motherboard tray, you may need to tweak this
Motherboard in place, install the CPU
and its cooler per their instructions. Use
thermal paste, and plug the fan’s power
cable into the “CPU fan” header. Then
press your RAM into the DIMM slots, and
reinsert the graphics card (if any). Install
other cards only after the OS is restored.
REWIRING JOB. The toughest task: hooking up front-panel
ports, LEDs, and switches. Consult your sketches and the motherboard manual to match the wires for the
power switch, activity LEDs, USB/FireWire
ports, and other components to their
Next, attach your drives’ data cables to
the board’s IDE or Serial ATA ports. Also
reconnect the motherboard’s power connectors (check your Post-It Notes) and any
untethered case fans. For fans with threepin connectors, use “chassis fan” headers.
input devices and monitor, and
boot with your OS disc in the optical drive. Watch for stray cables
obstructing fans, and check that the CPU
fan is spinning. (If all’s well, before next
reboot, replace the cover.) In the BIOS, direct the PC to boot from the optical drive.
Reboot, then reinstall your OS, and later,
your apps, programs, and settings. April 2007