Mo & Terry Smedley


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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!

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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!
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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 picture, too).  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 global economy! 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!
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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 to watch.  


For the technically inclined, here are the components I used to build the computer:

bulletIntel D865PERL motherboard (i865 chipset), with onboard audio and optical digital audio outputs, 8xUSB, 3xIEEE-1394, 10/100Mbps Ethernet
bulletIntel Pentium 4 CPU, 3.2GHz clock, Hyperthreading w/800MHz front-side bus speed
bullet2 x 512MB Kingston HyperX PC-3200 memory modules (CAS latency of 2.0)
bulletnVidia GeForce FX 5700 Ultra 256MB video card
bulletpair of Seagate 120GB SATA (serial ATA) hard drives, mirrored (RAID-1) through Intel chipset
bulletsingle Seagate 40GB UltraATA (ATA-100) hard drive for "vanilla" OS installation
bulletSony 16x DVD/CD reader
bulletNEC ND-2500A 4x/8x DVD/CD writer (reads/writes all DVD flavors:+/-R and +/-RW)
bulletAntec TrueBlue 480 watt power supply
bulletMitsumi 3.5" floppy with internal USB digital memory card reader (CF, SM, SD)
bulletLian Li PC-65B black aluminum case with clear acrylic side panel
bulletMicrosoft Windows/XP Professional, OEM version