PC Building Guide FAQ: Part 2


Last month I kicked off the PC Building Guide FAQ with answers to several questions that plague first time builders. The response was positive, with more than a few would-be builders coming out of the wood works. That may seem surprising considering this is Maximum PC, but represented in the readership are users from all different experience levels, and we sometimes take for granted that there are a significant number of those just starting out. It's these folks that this series is intended, and today I'm putting the spotlight on some of the more common post build inquiries. Let's dive right in!

Windows just loaded for the first time, now what?

Once you've successfully installed Windows, you're only halfway home. There are still plenty of optimizations to be done, not the least of which includes installing your hardware drivers. Your motherboard most likely came with a setup disk, and this will contain your chipset, audio, Ethernet/LAN, and if applicable, your onboard video drivers. After that, head over to Windows Update and get all those security holes plugged up and patched!

Does my setup disk contain the latest drivers?

In more cases than not, the answer is no. To install the latest drivers right from the get-go, you have two options:

1) You can install just the Ethernet/LAN drivers from the CD, giving you internet access to download the latest versions from your mothboard manufacturer's website. If going this route, be sure you're hidden behind a firewall before going online, especially if you're not connected through a router with a built-in firewall. This hasn't been much of an issue since XP started shipping with SP2, which includes a firewall, and the same holds true for all versions of Vista.

2) Download the latest drivers on another computer, and burn them to a CD or copy them to a USB thumb drive. Both will be recognized in your newly built PC.

I think I installed my RAM in the correct slots, but how can I be sure it's running in dual-channel?

When you first turn on your computer, it should tell you if you're running single or dual channel. If it doesn't say, or the screen flashes too fast to read what's up there, you can still find out which mode you're in. Download and install CPU-Z , then click on the Memory tab. In the upper right corner it will say either Single or Dual, letting you know which mode your RAM is in. You can also view the latency timings, information about your motherboard, and your processor's vitals.

I have a 500GB hard drive and I partitioned 100GB for the OS when I installed Windows. Now when I look in My Computer, the other 400GB is gone. Where'd it go?!?

The remaining 400GB is still there, but Windows won't recognize it until you've formatted the free space. To do this, click on the Start menu, select Run , and type diskmgmt.msc and hit the enter key. A disk management window will appear, and in the bottom pane you should see your 500GB hard drive. Next to the 100GB partition (which should be marked as Healthy), you'll see the remaining 400GB as unallocated. Right-click on that unallocated chunk, select New Partition , and then follow the prompts. When asked, you'll want to set it up as a primary partition. If you think you might want to experiment with dual booting down the line (Linux perhaps?), then don't format the entire remaining space, and instead set aside a portion for another OS.

Should I benchmark? And if so, what are some good ones to run?

People benchmark for different reasons, and you'll often see posters boast of their most recent score in some performance measuring program. But the reason you should benchmark isn't for bragging rights, but to make sure your system is operating correctly and to detect any potential problems. For example, if you score much lower in 3DMark06 than others with a similar configuration, then that's a sign that something's awry. It might be that you're using outdated drivers, or maybe you forgot to install them altogether. Benchmarking can also be used to test for stability, which again can help uncover potential problem areas and give you a chance to address them, rather than find out you have an unstable system in the middle of a video conference.

As for which benchmarks you should run, give the Benchmark Bonanza! blog a read.

I can't hear any sound with Sound Blaster card, or it's muffled and sporadic. What's going on?

One common trait all motherboards share is onboard sound, and if you're running an add-in soundcard, such as an X-Fi, the two could be conflicting with each other. You need to make sure you've disabled your motherboard's onboard sound in the BIOS (hit the Del key during POST to enter your BIOS).

If you've disabled onboard sound and the problem persists, then verify that you're running the latest audio drivers from your soundcard manufacturer's website. And if that still doesn't fix it, try moving the soundcard to a different PCI slot. Also check that your speakers (or headphones) are plugged in securely, and in the correct inputs.

When I look in CPU-Z, it shows my Core 2 Duo running much slower than advertised, but it sometimes jumps up to the correct speed, then slows down again. Is my processor broken?

To save power and reduce heat output, your processor is throttling. It's called Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology (EIST) , and what it does is adjust your processor's multiplier and voltage, depending on what you're doing. For example, while your computer sits idle, EIST will drop the multiplier down, resulting in a decreased clockspeed, and also lower the voltage so you're consuming less power. As soon as you put a demand on the processor, for example loading a game or encoding a DVD, the stock multiplier and voltage settings are restored.

EIST doesn't hurt performance because it only kicks in when your PC isn't doing anything demanding, but if you'd rather disable this function, you'll need to head back in your BIOS. The specific location varies by motherboard manufacture, so consult your mobo manual if you're having trouble finding it.


My time's up! Once again, if there's enough interest, I'll continue another day with a Part 3. Let me know what topics you folks would like to see covered ( One4yu2c@gmail.com ), and just like last time, questions/comments are always welcome.

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