[conspire] How to check if a mobo is compatible with

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Sun Mar 30 14:01:10 PDT 2008

Quoting K Sandoval (indigo.kai at gmail.com):

> OS will be :::caaah-ringe-ing:::   MicroSoft XP SP-2 for my Dad with
> absolutely NO network/internet access.

Ordinarily, you'll have to offer people on Linux mailing lists
significant money to help you with problems related to building an
MS-Windows machine:  That's _work_, whereas helping people with
Linux/BSD is often fun, and can help build the open source community.  
(And, after you offer Linux people that sigificant money for consulting
services, they will often say "No, thanks.  ;->  )

Anyway, fortunately, information in this thread is likely to be equally
useful to people constructing machines for _any_ OS.  However, be aware
that you're likely to be entirely on your own for any Microsoft-specific
aspects of your hardware selection chore.

> Do I need to purchase some CPU/Heat sink Jelly? Yes / No  ?

Yep.  As Felicia says, lay it down in the thinnest, most even possible
layer you can.  The idea is to facilitate thermal transfer between the
top of the CPU and the bottom of the heat sink by minimally filling in
air pockets (preventing them from _being_ air pockets).  Any grease /
jelly beyond the minimum required to prevent air pockets is

I'd suggest, just as a sanity check, bringing the CPU with you to verify
that it's plug-compatible, when buying a motherboard.  You're already
pretty certain about that, but verification is cheap insurance.  (Also,
dunno about Socket 775, but I recall embarrassing myself with a much
earlier generation of CPU, the AMD K6, and the fact that the heat sink
can be mounted either the correct way or 180 degrees rotated.  Guess
which I did first?  So, mind the heat sink mounting, to ensure that it's 
actually the right way and thus fully in contact with the CPU.)

> pqi POWER Series 1GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 533 (PC2 4200) Desktop Memory
> pqi TURBO 1GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 533 (PC2 4200) Desktop Memory

Like David Fox, I don't know personally PQI / Power Quotient
International Co., Ltd.  More about RAM-selection and manufacturers of
RAM follows, below.

> Honestly after looking at the pqi and newegg pages, I am not sure
> what the difference is between these two memory sticks besides $4.00.

Comparing the two closely, I see that the "Turbo" sticks claim CAS
(column access strobe) latency ("CL") figures of 3-3-3-8, while the the
regular ones are quoted as 4-4-4.  Trust me, you don't want me to try to
explain what the timing specs are all about;[1] suffice it to say that, 
all other things being equal, lower numbers are better and indicate a
greater likelihood of reliable operation at higher clock speeds.

Without getting into (hardly any) details, here is a loose and sloppy 
explanation about some aspects of RAM manufacture and retailing:
Fabrication facilities manufacture RAM in large "wafers", aiming at some
target clock rate and number of wait states.  (The wait states are clock
cycles during which dynamic RAM is inaccessible because its charge is
being refreshed or otherwise being prepared for renewed access.)  Sample
units from each wafer are put in test rigs and checked for reliable
operation at the target clock speed.  If enough test units pass, the
wafer's RAM chips are certified as good for that fast a mode of
operation.  If not, but the reliability is still good enough otherwise,
the chips get downgraded as either lower-speed RAM or as "seconds"

The RAM thus produced is marked, given brand names according to who was
paying for the initial manufacture, put into batches, and then sent out
into the wholesale and (eventually) retail channels.  Here is the point
where you enter, as a customer deciding whether or not to buy a stick of
RAM bearing X branding from Y retailer.

Mostly, what I'm driving at is that a fair amount of sorting by grade
has occurred upstream of your retail transaction, invisible to you:  Not
all RAM of a given set of (supposedly) guaranteed specs is entirely
equal in quality and reliability, but you have rather little to go on,
in determining whether the RAM you're considering buying is likely to be
reliable or not.  You know only what the spec sheet says (make, model,
performance figures), what the price is, and whom you're dealing with.

And yet, sometimes that's enough.  You may not know for certain which
retailers are bottom-feeders buying "seconds" and rejects and putting
customer returns right back into inventory, but you can probably guess
based on whom the retailer exists to serve, whether he/she has
suspciously rock-bottom prices, whether there's an active returns
counter, and so on.

You can know that the brand names Mushkin, Crucial, Corsair, Geil, or
Micron make the risk of quality-control bullshit minimal -- absent a
retailer specialising (again) in recycling other people's rejects.  Are
brands like "PQI" reliable choices, too?  Dunno.  Please buy a bunch and
let us know in a year.  ;->  (Information has value:  Mushkin et alii
are able to charge higher prices because of the reputation they've

Bruce can give you an earful about his views on Best Buy being a
bottom-feeder retailer, for example.  ;->

Anyway, you'll have noticed, I'm sure, that motherboards' compatible-RAM
specs don't get as specific as things like "3-3-3-8 at 533 MHz".
Instead, they just say things like "DDR2 533/400 MHz" or "PC2 4200".
The fine details are mostly of interest to overclockers / tweakers and
those who are paranoid about avoiding pushing RAM outside its
reliable-operations envelope.  (RAM wait states can often be adjusted in
motherboard BIOS ROM screens.  Doing so too aggressively, or using RAM
that isn't quite meeting its specs, can render a system prone to odd
failures.  That's one reason why, when I hear that a system is suffering
mysterious instability problems, one of my standard suggestions is
"Reset all BIOS settings to factory defaults.")

Near as *I* can tell, both PQI sticks you cited appear compatible with
the Biostar.

Here's an article explaining unbuffered vs. registered, and ECC vs.
non-ECC:  http://www.2cpu.com/articles/44_1.html

> I read that the VT8237R chipset has trouble with running the SATA
> II/SATA 3.0Gb/s drives.
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_ATA#Throughput
> I also read and that some Maxtor SATA 3.0/GB drives are not backwards
> compatible to SATA 1.5Gb/s period.  After doing some reading on the
> internet I figured this drive has a high probability of future
> headaches period.

Is this the part where I get to gloat about being a notorious SCSI

> Then I found this Western Digital Drive.
> Western Digital Caviar SE WD800JD 80GB 7200 RPM 8MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s
> Hard Drive
> http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822135106

Um, "OEM".  "3 years warranty".  <cue minor chords>

I'd be looking for a five-year warranty and no OEM-model bullshit.  I'd
be starting with Seagate, not WDC.  Maxtor's not-bad/not-especially-good, 
IMO.  OTOH, many Seagate models are alleged to run a little more noisy
and generate more heat.  Caveat emptor.

> I found a new Case, PS, and heatsink/fan at Central Computers in Santa Clara.
> Tada!
> http://www.centralcomputers.com/commerce/ccp64648--23cm48np-cooler-master-rc-340c-kkn1-gp-elite-340c-rc-340c-kkn1-gp-cascm-rc340r.htm

Nice.  You might want to compare it against the Antec models that
Central Computers also carries.  When I was helping Cheryl shop for a
similar set of parts, four years ago, we ended up getting a
then-current-production Antec, and she's been very happy with it.

> http://www.centralcomputers.com/commerce/catalog/product.jsp?product_id=22280&czuid=1206873904625

Now, _that_ looks like a fine 430W PSU.

> http://www.centralcomputers.com/commerce/catalog/product.jsp?product_id=19968&czuid=1206306899234

I don't know much about CPU fans, these days, but that sounds good.  It
would have been nice if they'd said something about the bearings (the
part that typically fails), but they don't.

[1] See:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAS_Latency , if curious.
Before someone asks:  I don't know why only three figures, not four,
are quoted for the non-Turbo RAM.

[2] I'm not suggesting you go SCSI.  I happen to be in a different
situation, having a big pile of aging parts including quite a lot of
good SCSI components -- and simply enjoy the schadefreude aspect of
watching people grapple with the inevitable underdesign headaches
inherent this week's cruddy ATA spec.

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