A Heathkit it isn't, but....
Gone forever are the days where you could order electronic gear in kit form
from Heathkit or Allied Electronics (Knight Kit). In the late 1960's and
1970's, I built plenty of electronic kits - several 25" color TVs,
stereo equipment, shortwave radios, a robot, and my favorite computer of all
time, the Heathkit H8. While you can't build much of anything at the
individual electronic component level (resistors, capacitors, transistors), it
is still possible to "roll your own" computer. This page
describes my recent project to build a computer from scratch by specifying and
assembling all the component pieces.
The project must have been a success - this page and these photos were
assembled using the new computer!
|Here are all the components, still in their
packaging, just as I received them from NewEgg, an online computer parts
distributor. I ordered the parts from NewEgg on Monday night, they
were shipped on Tuesday, and arrived in Humptulips on Thursday.
Instant gratification - the hallmark of modern e-commerce.
||I've removed the packaging from the parts so
you can see everything that will go into the new box. From left to
right, front row: graphics card, motherboard and Pentium 4 CPU with
heatsink/fan on the right. Second row: power supply, stack
of DVD/CD drives, stack of hard drives, memory modules
on the right. In the back is a aluminum case with clear side
panel (so you can see all this stuff once it's together!).
||This is the Intel motherboard (D865PERL)
fastened to the nifty slide-out tray from the LianLi case. The
Pentium 4 CPU is the small copper colored chip in the plastic case to the
right. It's not significantly larger (physically) than the chip I
used to build my Heathkit H8 (an Intel 8080). But it's a whale
of lot more powerful. It deals with instructions 32 bits at a time,
the 8080 did just 8 bits at a whack. It runs at an internal clock
speed of 3.2GHz (billion cycles per second). The 8080 loped along at
a measly 2MHz (million cycles per second). And the new CPU comes in
a case with 478 pins to connect to the motherboard, the 8080 had just 80!
||The Pentium 4 CPU with its massive heatsink
and cooling fan have been mounted on the motherboard. The tray is
being fitted inside the case. The LianLi case is masterfully formed
and machined, and carries a hard anodized black finish. Inside the
case, there's room for 4 CD/DVD drives, three "floppy-like"
devices, and five 3.5" hard drives. I will install a DVD
reader, DVD writer, 3.5" floppy, and three 3.5" hard drives - so
there's still room left over for more stuff later!
|All the parts have been mounted and
connected. The bright blue strips running vertically next to the CPU
fan are the memory modules. I used 2 - 512MB Kingston HyperX memory
sticks, that run with very fast memory cycle times ("low
latency"). The bright red cables are the new Serial ATA (SATA)
hard drive connections - these are replacing the old fat ribbon cables
used with older ATA drives (although you can see a couple of those in the
||Here's the case all buttoned up, showing off
the clear side panel. Customizing and dressing up a computer case
has become a very hot hobby all unto itself - it's called "Case
Modding". If you want to see some outstanding examples of
modified cases, click on this web link
(then click on the "View Our Case Gallery" button).
||One of the fun parts of building a computer
is being able to specify exactly what you want to have. I couldn't
find the front panel audio (headphone and microphone) connections I wanted
at NewEgg, so I contacted a manufacturer in Malaysia directly (through
their web site). I was able to
order this customized front panel (with audio, IEEE-1394 (video) and USB
connectors) and have it shipped directly to our house from the
factory. Ordered on Monday, arrived in Humptulips from Malaysia via
FedEx on Thursday! Think again if you don't believe we're in a
||If you're going to have a clear side panel,
you better do something to light the place up. I haven't yet added a
lot of lighting (it's on the drawing boards), but here's some cool
lighting from the power supply fan that shines soft, UV blue light down on
the CPU heat sink. You'll need to double-click on the thumbnail to
get a good view of this. Take a stroll through the case modding
section of Fry's Electronics, and you'll see all kinds of lighting
accessories for the interior of your computer!
|Remember all those useless dash gauges we
wanted in our cars? Here's the modern-day
equivalent. This control panel lets me watch the performance of the
motherboard as I run programs. New, high speed Pentium computers run
HOT. There are EIGHT cooling fans in this computer! You can
see speed and temperature monitors on four of them in this screen
snap. When you start pushing the computer, you can see the
temperatures start to climb, and the computer automatically increases the
fan speeds to compensate.
||For some time, RAID (redundant array of
inexpensive disks) technology has been used in the business world to
"mirror" two disks together so that a disk failure won't cause
any data loss. That technology is now available on some high-end
consumer computers. This is the Intel control panel that shows I
have constructed a single 120GB "RAID" volume from two mirrored
120GB hard drives. Either can fail, and no data will be lost - the
mirror will take over for the failed drive.
||The nVidia graphics card (a GeForce FX 5700
Ultra) is designed to do very rapid manipulation of 3-D images. This
is a screen snap from a demonstration program called
"Dusk". While this 3-D model dances suspended in
space, you can use your mouse to move the "camera" in any
direction to create your own "live video". It takes
massive computing power to be able to manipulate all those 3D graphic
images - this kind of thing was just a pipe dream ten years ago.
It's not very impressive in this still photo, but it's pretty spectacular
For the technically inclined, here are the components I used to build the
|Intel D865PERL motherboard (i865 chipset), with onboard audio and optical
digital audio outputs, 8xUSB, 3xIEEE-1394, 10/100Mbps Ethernet|
|Intel Pentium 4 CPU, 3.2GHz clock, Hyperthreading w/800MHz front-side bus
|2 x 512MB Kingston HyperX PC-3200 memory modules (CAS latency of 2.0)|
|nVidia GeForce FX 5700 Ultra 256MB video card|
|pair of Seagate 120GB SATA (serial ATA) hard drives, mirrored (RAID-1)
through Intel chipset|
|single Seagate 40GB UltraATA (ATA-100) hard drive for "vanilla"
|Sony 16x DVD/CD reader|
|NEC ND-2500A 4x/8x DVD/CD writer (reads/writes all DVD flavors:+/-R and +/-RW)|
|Antec TrueBlue 480 watt power supply|
|Mitsumi 3.5" floppy with internal USB digital memory card reader (CF,
|Lian Li PC-65B black aluminum case with clear acrylic side panel|
|Microsoft Windows/XP Professional, OEM version|