How to improve the chances of a successful install of Windows 7 on a home built PC:
Here are some steps you can take to help insure success when installing Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7. Test utilities for home built Do It Yourself (DIY)computers.
You just finished assembling your new computer and it will not POST or Windows will not install. Not an uncommon occurrence especially now that Windows 7 is available.
Overview: Over the years BIOS features and settings have become more and more complex. For an Intel P4 processor it was pretty much straight forward. Socket 775 processors upped the level of complexity and now Core I7 and I5 motherboards have made what was once a relatively simple and straight forward task an Alice in Wonderland plethora of not so well detailed BIOS options.
Most BIOS in effect will try to learn your configuration and make adjustments the first time you boot your new computer. If it fails to recognize your memory properly it will reboot one or more times until it does. Sometimes you can get stuck in an infinite boot loop, more on reducing the chances of this occurring this later.
If you are thinking about overclocking, then start by dropping back to the stock speed as a safe starting point when you boot your computer for the first time. Your BIOS may have a setting named ‘Optimized Defaults’, use this if at all possible.
Since there are far too many BIOS variations I can’t cover them all, but you however should take the time to read the motherboard user’s manual to familiarize yourself with various BIOS options and settings before you boot your new computer for the first time.
Your New Motherboard: Even if you just purchased your motherboard there is a good chance the device drivers and software utilities on the packaged CD may be obsolete and have been updated. This is especially important if you plan to install Windows 7. Download the latest set of device drivers from the manufacture’s support web site for your specific motherboard make, model and revision.
One or more BIOS updates may be available, read what the updated BIOS fixes, if it does immediately apply to you then leave well enough alone until you have a stable system up and running. As a side note, many motherboards allow you to save multiple BIOS configurations so don’t hesitate to save a known good configuration before you make any BIOS changes. You user’s manual will provide the information on what features you have available to save configurations and how to update your BIOS to a later revision.
Memory Configuration Tips: 1) Verify the memory you purchased is on the motherboard manufactures “Qualified Vendors List” (QVL). It rated speed meets or exceeds the processor’s bus speed. The rated voltage meets the motherboard’s default Ram/Memory voltage.
CPU Base Clock/Memory Clock http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/261138-30-understanding-memory-timings
Exploring the impact of memory speed on Core i7 performance A look at channels, bus speeds, and latencies http://techreport.com/articles.x/15967 2) If you plan to use SLI or Crossfire start with only a single graphics card installed.
3) Don’t install all your memory sticks. Start by installing the least amount of memory sticks (in the proper slot) that your motherboard will support. Usually you can get way with installing a single stick. Boot the computer and check the BIOS memory SPD values and voltage settings are what they should be. Record this information on a notepad as you may need it later.
Now try running Memtest86+: http://www.memtest.org/ Memtest runs from a boot disk or CD and should eliminate or confirm if one or more of your memory sticks are bad or the SPD values in the BIOS are set incorrectly and causing memory issues. Let Memtest run for as long as you can, 2,4,6,8 or more hours. Memtest will stress your memory pretty hard so while the test is running ground your self to the case (eliminates any static electricity charge) and with one finger lightly touch the memory’s heat spreader. If it only slightly warm that good, but if it’s hot to the point of being barely able to touch then abort the test and check your BIOS memory voltage and SPD settings are correct for the CPU and Memory you installed.
If there are no reported errors then shutdown the computer, turn off the motherboard standby power by setting your power supply switch to the “Off” position, now wait until the standby power LED on the motherboard is no longer on or if there is no LED wait 5 minutes and then remove the first memory stick and replace it with the next stick to be tested. Repeat this process until all the sticks pass testing on an individual basis.
If all the sticks pass individually then consult the use’s guide for a 2 or 3 stick configurations and run memtest again. If there are going to be any memory problems this is were it will most likely occur. You may need to make adjustments in the BIOS and or verify the correct SPD values and voltage settings have not change from the values you observed when only a single stick was installed.
Test your hard drive: Before you install Windows check your drive manufacture’s web site for their drive diagnostic utilities. Some are available as a bootable CD. Run a full test (this may take a while) of the drive as Windows 7 is not capable of detecting bad sectors when it formats your drive.
The lack of detecting bad sectors during the Windows 7 installation process can leave you wide open for any number of installation problems. Windows XP does not have this problem as you have a choice of performing either a “Quick” format (the only format Windows 7 has) or a “Full” format when installing XP, always choose a “Full” format.
Even if you plan to install Windows 7, if you have a copy of Windows XP around (no need to activate) try installing it and then install and use the following tools.
Utilities to Monitor and Test your hardware: These utilities are a basic set of tools that can assist in trouble shooting and insuring the computer you built is stable and trouble free.
Core Temp: Monitor the temperature of each core of your processor. For non overclockers using the stock Intel/AMD heatsink and cooling fan you can expect a temperature of 32 to 40C at idle and up 60C to 65C when running Prime95. http://www.alcpu.com/CoreTemp/
CPU-ID (CPUZ): Shows the CPU voltage, clock speed under various load conditions and more. If you are using Intel's EIST speed step technology you can verify the no load versus full frequencies. Also there are two tabs (Memory and SPD) which show the actual memory speed and 'SPD' tab shows the rated speeds for each memory slot that is populated. If the actual speed under load exceeds the memory’s rated speed you may need to change the divider ratio or reevaluate your memory specifications as they are below what required by the processor’s bus speed. http://www.cpuid.com/cpuz.php
Prime 95: http://www.mersenne.org/freesoft/ It's a stand alone .exe file contained in a .zip archive. With both Core Temp and CPU-ID running start Prime 95 and run the ‘Stress Test’ option for 3 hours or more. If your PC can pass this test both your memory and CPU are fine (close the case cover to maintain proper ventilation before you start). Most overclockers will run this test for longer periods of time to insure their computer is rock solid stable.
HD Tune: Provides drive info and has an option to test your drive. Run the ‘Full’ error scan. http://www.hdtune.com/
SpeedFan: Good online hard drive health analysis feature (SMART tab) for hard drives. It will show how your drives compares with other drives of the same make and model. Also reports various temperature measurements. http://www.almico.com/speedfan.php
GPU-Z: A lightweight utility designed to give you all information about your video card and GPU. http://www.techpowerup.com/gpuz/
HWMonitor: A hardware monitoring program that reads PC systems main health sensors: voltages, temperatures, fan speed. Captures load and non load (Max and Min) values. http://www.cpuid.com/hwmonitor.php
PC WIZARD: A powerful utility designed especially for detection of hardware. It's able to identify a large range of system components and supports the latest technologies and standards. http://www.cpuid.com/pcwizard.php
The Final Test: After you have thoroughly tested you new computer, possibly made numerous BIOS tweaks and rebooted a dozen times or more, there is one final test. Start by saving your current BIOS settings and then shut down the computer, turn off the power supply, removing the AC power cord and waiting 48 hours or more. Then connect the AC cord, turn on the power supply and see if the computer boots without any problems. If it doesn’t then you may have gone too extreme with the BIOS settings. If on the other hand the PC boots without any problems then save the BIOS settings again and label it as your baseline.
Conclusion: Although there are numerous additional tools available, the ones mentioned in this article should get you started. Not mentioned are Graphics card stress test software like NVIDIA’s ‘Smoke Test’. But the goal here is to get you started and overclocking and gaming systems are beyond the intended scope.
Final thoughts: Take your time when assembling you system, don’t rush. Read the manuals and instruction guides. Memory, Memory, Memory, the wrong memory for you motherboard and processor can lead to a lot of hair pulling. Don’t overlook your power supplies rated wattage as good planning dictates that your supply should have a rating of at least 33% more watts than the total demand of all your components. A cheap or underrated supply may not be able to handle the load or provide the extra power you need when upgrading components. This could result in random blue screens and or premature failure. Adequate CPU and Case cooling is a must with today’s high wattage processors and graphics cards. A stock Intel or AMD heatsink and cooling fan may be OK for general purpose use but not for overclocking.
Overclocking: That’s a whole subject in itself. General rule is that the average user will not notice a CPU clock speed increase of 15% or less. How far do I push my systems, about 30% with Prime 95 running all day and then back off to a more conservative 20% overclock. But most times after completing all the stress testing, I reset the CPU to its rated clock speed for systems I use for everyday purposes.