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[nextpage title=”Preventing Overheating”]

If you want to ensure that you won’t face overheating, random crashes (resets and the infamous “Blue Screen of Death”) and performance issues with your PC you should check whether it is assembled 100% correctly or not. In this tutorial we will show you where to look for assembling errors on your PC.

First, let’s start with the PC assembly itself. The errors describe on this page can overheat your PC thus causing random problems like random resets and crashes (PC “freezing”, “Blue Screen of Death”, etc).

  • Antistatic foam: Most motherboards come from factory with an antistatic foam (usually pink, white or black) in their packing. Many technicians, when installing the motherboard to  the case, pinch this foam between motherboard and metallic chassis, thinking that this procedure will avoid that motherboard from touching the case metallic frame. It happens that this foam holds motherboard-generated heat, hindering the normal airflow that exists between motherboard and the case chassis. Therefore, it is quite common that a computer assembled using this foam crashes or issues random errors, due to the overheating.

Antistatic foamFigure 1: Pink antistatic foam that comes with the motherboard.

Antistatic foamFigure 2: The use of antistatic foam below the motherboard prevents the correct airflow and causes overheating. Don’t put this foam inside your PC!

  • Internal main power cord: In AT cases it is quite common to have the main power cord that connects the power supply to the power-on switch in front panel hanging loose over motherboard, often hindering the heat dissipation and even contacting the processor fan, causing it to stop running and PC to crash due to overheating. The ideal would be to lay this cable to the power supply switch by the right side of the case (facing front of case in upright position), in the upper part of the frame, and not hanging loose by left side, as it is common to find. Since AT cases are used only on very old PCs, you probably won’t face this issue, however we kept it listed here for historic purposes.

Case Power CableFigure 3: Correct place to lay the power cord cable on AT cases.

  • Other loose cables: The same idea applies to all other cables inside the PC, like the power supply cables and the flat cables used to connect the hard disk drives, optical drives and floppy disk drives. You should fasten these cables with a cable holder and put them inside an empty 5 ¼” bay in order to prevent these cables from blocking the airflow inside the PC and also preventing them to stuck the CPU fan.

Cable holderFigure 4: Cable holders are the perfect tool for organizing cables inside your PC, preventing overheating.

  • Thermal grease: If you are facing overheating problems with your CPU, you should check whether thermal grease was correctly applied on the CPU or not. We wrote a full tutorial on this subject, so you should read it.
  • Under dimensioned case: Cases look all the same, but they aren’t. Current Intel CPUs (Pentium 4 “Prescott” and beyond) require cases with a side duct in order to improve the airflow inside the case. If you don’t use a case with this side duct you may face overheating problems. We wrote a full tutorial on this subject, which you should read.
  • Extra fans wrongly installed: If your case has extra fans, you should check if they are installed on the right position, i.e., blowing the air in the right direction. Fans installed on the rear part of the case must be installed pulling the hot air from inside the PC case to the outside. Fans installed on the front part of the case must be installed pushing cold air from outside the case to the inside. Putting your hand near the fan should be enough for you to feel which way it is blowing air. If any extra fan is reversed, just remove it from your case and install it again, flipping it over. In Figure 5, you can see how extra fans must be installed.

Extra fansFigure 5: How extra fans must be installed.

[nextpage title=”Other Typical Problems”]

The problems listed below are not directly related to overheating, but you should check them as well.

  • Loose motherboard: Your motherboard must be very well fastened to case’s metallic frame. We’ve seen many cases where the computer gives random resets or crashes when the desk was rocked, just because the motherboard was practically loose inside the case. In other cases, it is very common for the PC to lose its machine setup when a new daughterboard is installed, as motherboard bends (due to lack of padding points) and some of the motherboard soldering points contact the metallic frame. Therefore your motherboard must be very well fastened to case’s frame, using the largest quantity of fastening points as possible. To learn how your motherboard should be correctly installed to your case, read our tutorial How To Install a Motherboard.
  • Hard disk flat cable: If you still use a parallel IDE hard disk drive (e.g., ATA-100, ATA-133) instead of Serial ATA (SATA), you should check carefully how it is installed. Parallel IDE hard disk drives use a 40- or 80-wire flat cable that normally has three connectors, one in each cable end and one midway. The hard disk must be connected to one end of the cable and motherboard to the other end. The midway connector stays normally loose. It happens that some technicians connect the hard disk to the midway connector, is such a way that a cable end connector hangs loose (see Figure 6). This is not good, as this stretch of the cable will actuate as an antenna, receiving and injecting noise in the data transmission, and as such hard disk transfer rate will be reduced. Also, if your hard disk cable is using a 40-wire flat cable, we recommend you to replace it with an 80-wire cable.

Wrong hard disk drive installationFigure 6: Wrong IDE hard disk drive installation, using the midway connector. Don’t do this!

Correct hard disk drive installationFigure 7: Correct IDE hard disk drive installation, using both ends of the cable.

  • Optical drive as hard disk slave: Also if you still use a parallel IDE hard disk drive, the optical drive (CD, DVD, etc) must be installed in the secondary IDE port of motherboard, configured as “master”. Many people install the optical drive on the same cable as hard disk (using that midway connector that stays usually empty), as “slave”. In that way the hard disk drive and the optical drive will have to strive for cable utilization, as they use same cable, and both devices can’t change information with the system processor simultaneously, reducing computer performance. If your computer optical drive is sharing the same cable as the hard disk drive, undo this installation: install it on the motherboard secondary IDE port as “master” (you will need a 40- or 80-wire flat cable). Newer motherboards, however, are coming with just one parallel IDE port (see Figure 11), giving us no other option than installing the optical drive and the hard disk drive on the same cable. If this is your case, we highly recommend you to replace your hard disk drive with a Serial ATA one in order to leave the optical unit alone on the parallel IDE port, thus increasing system disk performance.

Wrong hard disk drive installationFigure 8: Hard disk drive and optical unit are sharing the same cable. Don’t do this if your motherboard has two or more parallel IDE ports.

IDE portsFigure 9: Parallel IDE ports on a motherboard.

Correct IDE cable installationFigure 10: Correct cable installation.

Parallel IDE PortFigure 11: This motherboard has only one parallel IDE port, so the “wrong” installation is our only choice. In this case we recommend replacing your parallel IDE hard disk with a Serial ATA one.

[nextpage title=”Memory Issues”]

Almost all new PCs allow the RAM memory to work under a scheme called “dual channel”. Under this scheme the memory transfer rate is doubled (at least theoretically), as the processor (in the case of AMD64 CPUs) or the north bridge chip (in the case of all other CPUs) will access the memory at a 128-bit rate, instead of 64-bit. Nowadays all new PCs accept this feature, except the ones based on socket 754 CPUs from AMD (e.g., Sempron).

So you need to check whether this feature is enabled or not on your PC in order to make it to achieve a higher performance.

To use this feature you need to use two or an even number of memory modules, i.e., if you have just one memory module, dual channel won’t be enabled. Thus it is better to have two 256 MB memory modules than a single 512 MB to make your 512 MB RAM, for example.

Also, it is not just a matter of having two modules installed; they must be installed in the correct sockets. This is really tricky because it depends on the motherboard. Some motherboards require that you install the modules sequentially (i.e., the first module on the first socket and the second module on the second socket), but the majority of motherboards require you to jump one socket (i.e., the first module on the first socket and the second module on the third socket). Many manufacturers use colored sockets in order to differentiate the memory sockets, but also there is no fixed rule here. Some motherboards require you to install the two modules on sockets with the same color; others require you to install the two modules on sockets with different colors. So there is no fixed rule here and you should check the correct installation by reading your motherboard manual.

There are two basic ways to check whether your PC is using dual channel or not. The first one is by checking what appears on the screen right after you turn on your PC. The second way is by running a hardware identification program. If your PC isn’t using dual channel, you will need to check what is going on: or you have just one memory module installed (and should replace it with two modules or buy another identical module and install it on the motherboard) or the two memory modules you have are wrongly installed (i.e., the second module is installed on the wrong socket).

On Figures 12 and 13 you can see what should appear on the screen right after you turn on your PC. If your PC memory is configured under single channel, “single channel”or “64-bit mode” should appear; otherwise “dual channel” or “128-bit mode” should be shown – what we want.

Pay attention that many motherboards are nowadays showing a big colored screen with the motherboard manufacturer logo instead of this text screen; you should hit TAB during this graphical screen in order to switch to this text-mode screen. Also, this screen is shown only for just one or two seconds, so you may need to hit the Pause key in order to read what is written there.

Single ChannelFigure 12: Our memory is configured as single channel (the second module was installed on the wrong place).

Dual ChannelFigure 13: Our memory correctly configured as dual channel.

As we mentioned, another way for checking your memory configuration is by running a hardware identification utility. We recommend Hwinfo. Install and run this program and you should see the memory configuration by clicking on “Memory” on the left tree menu. On Figures 14 and 15 you can see our PC configured under single channel and dual channel, respectively (check the “Memory runs at” line).

Single ChannelFigure 14: Our memory is configured as single channel (the second module was installed on the wrong place).

Dual ChannelFigure 15: Our memory correctly configured as dual channel.

As we mentioned, if your memory is configured as single channel you should check what is wrong.