Reviving an old PC, part 3: Assembly

Time to get my hands dirty. I’d done my research and gathered replacement parts. So today, I built my first PC in twenty years. The last one probably was a Celeron 300A machine in a beige case or something.

Software issues

Before messing with the hardware, I wanted to upgrade Windows 7 to whatever its latest version was, and then use the Windows 10 upgrade tool. That way, I’d have an activated Windows 10 install before any of the parts would change. I figured this gave me a better chance of ending up with a legally activated Windows install in the end.

That did not work out as planned. Like the previous owner, I ran into video issues every time Windows Update would get the latest Intel HD Graphics driver. The machine would boot just fine, but then the screen would go black as soon as you logged in.

So I decided to risk it, and just take the whole thing apart, and re-build it. I’d worry about software later.

Assembly

Mounting the RAM and cooler before installing the motherboard into the case.

Since I wanted to change a lot of things, I completely disassembled the PC into parts. These are my takeaways from then building a PC after years of buying pre-built ones.

  • It’s not very complicated, and most parts come with instructions for mounting/connecting.
  • Mounting a CPU cooler is nowhere near ar daunting as it was back in the Pentium 4 era, when large heavy coolers used to hang off small plastic clips and the CPUs were fragile and would sometimes even crack.
  • Sliding motherboard trays are no longer a thing :).
  • Putting the motherboard in first is no longer a good idea. Put most components (RAM, CPU) on the board first.
  • A very large cooler could block access to the motherboard’s screw holes. But if it doesn’t mount it first too.
  • Somehow, this cooler came with thermal paste pre-applied, but without a protective little plastic thingy over it. Messy. Looks like a got one that had previously been unboxed.
  • The connectors for things like the power button, LEDs and front audio are still a mess, it helps to jot down which wires go where. Or take pictures.

Booting up

To my surprise, once I’d put everything back together, the machine booted. Straight into the BIOS, which is apparently normal after a CPU change. It showed the new processor working, and the extra memory. So I checked some settings and booted off a USB stick to install Windows.

This lead to the same video issues I ran into earlier, but this time, I had an idea. The monitor I was using has a DisplayPort input, and the Asus motherboard offers VGA, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort. Turned out that while the HDMI signal went black, DP worked just fine. It looks like this affects more users, but I have yet to find a real solution. For now, using DP is okay.

I tried Linux Mint, and it would run fine over HDMI, but at a maximum resolution of 1080p. It’s possible that DP is needed to get decent resolutions, and the Windows driver does not handle it very well when that limitation is exceeded.

But the good news is that this PC runs just fine. It’s snappy, it’s very quiet, and all the hardware is detected and operational. I’ll have to do some stability testing and such, but so far, this Covid-19 lockdown project is a succes.

Roy Tanck
I'm a freelance WordPress developer, designer, consultant, meetup organizer and speaker. In my spare time I love to go out and take pictures of things.

2 thoughts on “Reviving an old PC, part 3: Assembly”

  1. Hey Roy. I read your three-part article reviving your old PC, and I was surprised to see your PC boot up. After using Linux Mint, you can try to boot Windows 10 32 bit OS.

    1. Why would you expect the PC to not boot up? With an i5 it’s perfectly capable of running a 64-bit OS. Mint was just a quick test to confirm the HDMI issue was in fact driver-related.

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