SCL Cluster Cookbook
Assembling a PC

·   Installing the Motherboard   ·   Installing Memory Modules   ·   Installing Disk Drives   ·   Finishing   ·   Testing   ·
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If you have purchased motherboards, memory, disks, cases, and video cards as separate components, you will have to assemble the PCs and test them fairly thoroughly. Be sure to read the manuals provided with each component and avoid doing anything that would void the warranty. If you are not familiar or comfortable working with PC hardware, be sure to read the manuals thoroughly and look through this guide before starting, or get assistance from someone with the required background.

Before touching any electronic components, attach a grounding strap to your wrist and attach the other end of the strap to a grounded piece of metal to discharge static electricity. Static electricity easily damages electronic components. Merely touching a grounded piece of metal to discharge static may be insufficient protection against damage, so use a grounding strap.
Be sure that all components are unplugged from line power before you remove covers to avoid damaging yourself!

The PC-Guide's New PC Assembly Procedure is a very good place to look for PC assembly procedures. The guide is more detailed and informative than what I have written here.

The PCBUILD mail list is devoted to questions and answers for people building their own PC computers from components.

Installing the Motherboard in the Case

Tyan Tech Support has a good set of instructions for installing a motherboard, with the exception that they completely neglect attaching all of the case's connectors for the Turbo LED, Keyboard Lock, and Reset button, so match your case's wires for these items to the appropriate connectors on the motherboard. As your motherboard may not have built-in hard disk and floppy disk controllers, you may need to skip the part about connecting your disk drives to your motherboard, but the rest of the information may apply.

Installing Memory Modules

Installing memory is fairly simple, but one must be careful to properly insert the modules in the connectors on the motherboard. Don't remove the memory from its static-resistant bags until you are ready to install each memory module. Read the guide for your motherboard to discover the order in which the memory modules must be installed. For each memory module that you are installing, carefully remove the module from its bag, then install the module into the appropriate slot on the motherboard. It is very easy to bend the holding clips, so be very gentle. No excessive force should be necessary to install the module. Be sure that the module is properly seated and level with the motherboard, and that both retaining clips on the sides of the module are fully set. Use a small mirror (like a dentist's mirror) and a flashlight if necessary.

Installing Disk Drives

Installing hard and floppy disk drives in the case seems different for every brand of case. You must put the drives in the appropriate enclosure and secure the drives with screws, but every case has its own peculiar installation method. Read the case's manual, if it has one, to figure out the particulars for your case. Be very careful not to drop the drives, force them too much, or apply any force to the printed circuit board. Also be sure to use the correct screws for the drive to avoid stripping the threads on the drive. Once the drive is physically secured in the case, connect the four-prong white power connectors to the drives (they are keyed, so they can only be attached the correct way). Finally, attach the data cables to the drives and controllers, paying special attention to keep the red stripe on the data cables oriented to pin 1 of the connectors.


Finally, install the video card and any other cards or optional equipment. You can wait to install the network cards until you are ready to test the interconnect, or you can install them now.


A new PC, whether built yourself or by someone else, should probably be tested to make sure it works. In the past, the author has used commercial programs like CheckIT for DOS on new PCs for several days to test new systems. A quick check of the Simtel MS-DOS archive showed that there are a couple of freely-available system testing programs:

As it will be necessary to boot the computers with MS-DOS to run these testing programs, it may be useful to format the hard disks with MS-DOS. A simple MS-DOS boot disk with copies of the programs FDISK.EXE and FORMAT.COM will suffice to boot the systems. You can then run FDISK to allocate space on the disk for DOS and (after rebooting) use FORMAT C: /S to format the hard disk with DOS and make it bootable.

The author has seen systems that will occasionally "freeze" during this "burn-in" period, but then work fine after a while. So, don't be too concerned unless a system barely works at all or consistently fails after a period of a day or two of operation.

Appearance of any vendor in this document does not constitute endorsement of that vendor by Ames Laboratory.
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Maintained by ghelmer / Last updated on 08/17/98