What can Go Wrong Building a Computer from Parts

Standard

Recently, I get itchy and wanted to build a gaming machine.  (Not running BSD, sorry)  Originally, I was thinking buying a Kaby Lake-based Intel Pentium G4560.  I was greedy and wanted a ECC capable motherboard.  The cost spiralled quickly close to a secondhand CPU-motherboard set with Intel Xeon E5-2670.  This particular Xeon processor model has a meaning to me—one of my important customers uses hundreds of these for high performance numerical simulations.  I just think, it is nice to own one of these as my souvenir, right?

I ordered stuffs on an online shopping mall somewhere.  (In order not to hurt their feeling, I decide not to name which country it is.)  The nightmare began.

Ordering

What can go wrong with ordering?  In that online mall, there are numerous shops run by different people of different service quality.  You are gambling with your luck if you order things from a new vendor.

Among the computer parts, I get rejected after payment for the memory modules.  I selected DDR3 ECC UDIMM for the first order, because it works with another of my computer with AMD 1055T processor as well.  Upon the payment, the shopkeeper was friendly and asked me to double check if the memory is compatible.  Once I verified it works, the shopkeeper told me to refund because it is out of stock.  I switched to buy DDR3 ECC RDIMM, which is less compatible to desktop computers, but much more readily available.

I also got rejected payment, indeed twice, for the keyboards.  I was greedy and ordered a niche second-hand UNICOMP keyboard with a red stick (ultranav?) with PS/2 plugs.  At last I gave up and just left it open, maybe sooner with a second-hand IBM Spacesaver Model M4-1… if I dare to try again.

Eventually, the products that could arrive, arrived in good shape, especially I ordered them through a Hong Kong-based consolidation shipping company.

Accuracy and Quality

The quality of the products are not satisfactory.  The only thing that I have no complaint is the memory modules, because they just sit in and work.

The Motherboard

Motherboard plays an important role in the computer.  While I do not expect top-notch quality, I do have some reasonable expectation to it.

Some people like smelling motherboards.  I was curious and gave my board a shot.  It was definitely different, awfully different, but this is just the beginning.  While the board is claimed to be new, the south-bridge heatsinks are obviously dented.

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The original product picture found on the online store is as follows.  Can you spot two more problems?  I am really disappointed that they replaced a PCIe for PCI, and also left my flash drive port empty.

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At later stage of the build, I wanted to unplug the USB3 header cable temporary for cable management.  The plastic part of the header came out with the cable, just in one unplug!  I resorted to plug the USB3 cable onto the bare pins, without the plastic piece.

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This motherboard make is now in my black list.

The Computer Case

I ordered the computer case with the fans and LED strips.  Frankly speaking, the computer case exceeds my expectation.  What disappoints me are the complimentary fans and the LED strips.  Instead of 3 or 4-pin fan headers, they all use MOLEX power plugs.  I got to have a dedicated MOLEX cable going out from the cable-management power supply, which is quite ugly if you ask me.

The Heatsink

Because the Xeon processor can go as much as 120W in peak load, I went to buy a very big heatsink with push-pull technology.  But it ends up being too tall with the computer case.  I was so amazed I made such a big mistake.  I should have checked the height clearance of the computer case and the heatsink dimensions.

Compatibility

After such a painful experience of building, I was actually quite surprise the setup boots up immediately without complaints.

The only issue happened when I try to install the NVidia graphics driver.  In order to get it installed, the computer has to boot into the text mode.  Yet, the text mode of that operating system is broken.  (No, it is not FreeBSD.)  I thought the computer did not show up the login screen because the systemd acted wrongly.  I tried reinstalling and also booting from the installation flash disk many times.  It eventually took me half a day to realise it was the graphics mode.

I am not quite sure what I can do if the computer fails to boot into graphical mode after an update.  Anyway, treat it as a game machine and I will be alright.

Bill of Materials

This is the bill of materials I used, including the ones I purchased before this.

  • Intel Xeon E5-2670 Processor, Qty: 1
  • X79 Motherboard, Qty: 1
  • DDR3-1600 ECC UDIMM 8 GB, Qty: 4
  • DDR3-1333 ECC RDIMM 8 GB, Qty: 4
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX1050Ti Windforce OC 4G, Qty: 1
  • Antec High Gamer Power 520W, Qty: 1
  • Cooler Master T400 Pro, Qty: 1
  • Aigo ATX Computer Case, Qty: 1
  • UNICOMP Model M keyboard, Qty: 1
  • Cooler Master Rapid Fire 87-Key Keyboard, Qty: 1
  • Logitech Wireless Mouse M280, Qty: 1
  • Dell Ultrasharp U2412M Display, Qty: 1

If I only build from only new parts, the first three items becomes as follows.  The core count and memory channels are different.  Hopefully, the AVX2 instruction sets and the DDR4 memory would cover the difference.

  • Intel Xeon E3-1230 v5 Processor, Qty: 1
  • Gigabyte GA-X150-Pro ECC Motherboard, Qty: 1
  • DDR4-2133 ECC UDIMM 8 GB: Qty: 4

At the end, I saved around 300 USD, at the cost not having warranty on the parts.  Well, indeed, owning a computer with Xeon E5-2670 is priceless for me…

Lessons Learned

  • Place no expectation on the fans coming with a computer case.
  • Whenever possible, buy from a local brick-and-mortar store, even with a premium.
  • When buying niche stuff, be more verbose and ask for availability before payment.