D975XBX / Conroe build hassles

Assembling the new computer proved to be quite a source of frustration. But I got it going.  And so begins the epic saga…

Seasonic M12 Power Supply

The Seasonic M12 modular power supply is pretty cool, it does reduce the cable clutter a fair bit. But not as much as I would like.

  • For some reason, the supply has both 4-pin and 8-pin auxilliary 12V power lines. A motherboard will only use one or the other. The unused one is a pain in the ass to hide away.
  • The modular accessory cables are great, but somehow I still wish they were more modular. They’re always too long, or too short, or too many connectors on them. It’s head-and-shoulders better than the old non-modular style, but I guess what I really want is completely custom cables, cut to the perfect length and secured in place.

Nexus Real Silent Case Fan

I had some trouble with the Nexus Real Silent case fan… the frame casting made it incompatible with the soft silicone rubber mounts that came with the Antec Sonata case. I was able to fix that by machining away some of the plastic. The fan still works fine.

Intel D975XBX Motherboard

The Intel D975XBX motherboard comes with a bunch of SATA cables. I hate them. The motherboard-end of the cables have metal spring latches, which I’m sure were designed by Satan himself as a cruel practical joke. Once you plug one in, it will not come out. Ever! You’ll rip the $#%$^ SATA connector right off the #$#% motherboard before you’ll ever see that sick bastard mother-#$%$-ing piece-of-crap unplugged.

After getting burned by this, not once but twice (somehow narrowly avoiding damaging the motherboard), I gathered up all the SATA cables and got Medieval on them with a pair of pliers. Ripped the #%#&$ metal latches right off them. With the latches removed, they aren’t as secure as I would have liked, but they’re not going to fall out by themselves.

Installing Windows XP – RAM problems?

Real trouble began when the time came to install Windows XP. I put in the Setup disc, and booted up. The DVD drive (a Plextor PX-755SA) was recognized and booted up. Setup starts with the standard message:

Setup is examining your computer hardware…

… and hangs there. For a long, long time. I get tired of waiting. Something isn’t working.

I got out my Ultimate Boot Disk for Windows, and booted that up. Some of its utilities run from a bootable Windows image, which hangs with a similar “Setup is examining” message. But some other utilities on there run standalone.

I tried the Memtest86+ utility, thinking perhaps my RAM is defective. It ran to a few percent, and the machine rebooted. Not a good sign. Retried, it ran to a few percent again (a different amount) and rebooted.

Now, this was an old Ultimate Boot Disk, conceivably with an old version of Memtest86+ that doesn’t properly support the fairly new Intel Core 2 Duo. I went online to look for an updated Memtest86+. I found one, which specifically does support Core 2 Duo. Wrote a boot floppy with it, and tried it out. It appeared to recognize the CPU properly, ran to a few percent and rebooted.

I figured the problem was one of two things:

  • Defective RAM sticks.
  • Memory timings too aggressive (though I wasn’t running more aggressive than they are rated for.)

I went into the BIOS config and tweaked the RAM timings to the most conservative possible settings. Rebooted the machine, but it wouldn’t boot at all. Not even the BIOS booting messages. Total door-stop.

I figured now I would need to clear the BIOS configuration. I opened up the case and set the jumper to clear the BIOS settings. Left the system open on its side. Turned it on, BIOS booted up to the config screen and let me reconfigure the RAM timings to “Automatic”. “Exit and Save Changes” crashed for some reason. Tried it again, and this time it worked.

Ran Memtest86+ again… it completed to 100%. What happened? I’m back to the same settings as I started with, and now it’s working. I figure one of two things fixed the RAM problems:

  • The BIOS config had some weird garbage in it, and clearing the settings fixed it.
  • Running the system on its side let the RAM sticks make better contact.

Just in case the latter was the solution, I went in and reseated the RAM sticks. Closed up the system, and ran Memtest86+ yet again, for a couple full passes, which went without errors.

Installing Windows XP again – Now what?

I put the Windows XP setup disc back in, and tried it again. It just hung again, at the same place. What the…?!?!?

I started casting about for possible things that might be offending XP’s delicate sensibilities. What is different about this system?

The first thing that came to mind was that I was using a brand-new Plextor PX-755SA DVD burner, with a SATA interface. Maybe… just maybe… Windows XP Setup doesn’t like running from a SATA-interface DVD.

I grabbed the older ATA-interface Plextor DVD from my upstairs computer, plugged it in, and tried Setup… it seemed happy! But I didn’t let it complete installation, because I wanted to get to the bottom of this.

Some Googling did not reveal anyone else ever having a problem with installing XP from a SATA DVD drive. It occured to me that perhaps it was the SATA interface itself it doesn’t like. The Intel D975XBX has two SATA interfaces, one provided by Intel’s own ICH7R southbridge chip with Matrix RAID, the other provided by a Silicon Image Sil 3114 chip. I had my hard-drives plugged into the Intel Matrix RAID ports, and the DVD drive plugged into the Sil 3114 ports.

On a whim, I tried moving the DVD to one of the Intel SATA ports. Tried out XP setup again, and it was happy! In this configuration, then, I reassembled the system and let the Windows XP complete.

So, there you have it folks… If Windows XP setup is hanging at the “inspecting your computer” step, and you’re running from a SATA-connected CD/DVD, try using a different SATA port or switch to an ATA drive.

How is it?

After XP was installed, I moved the completed system to its new home in the studio. Away from the noise of my workbench, I was suddenly struck by how quiet this machine really is! The two computers on the workbench in another room are more noticible than this potent beast right here in front of me! When the hard-disks are inactive, it really is almost inaudible.

I’ve been slowly working through the installation of the all the studio software: MIDI drivers, MOTU Firewire audio drivers, Cubase SX3, virtual instruments, etc, etc. Haven’t yet heard any music out of it, but I will soon I’m sure.

5 Responses to “D975XBX / Conroe build hassles”

  • Holy crap man… I’m so beyond that now I would have been crying had I been run through that gambit. That’s why I’m happy to buy black box Dells. Although I guess if you want quiet, you have to do custom.

    As for clean lines on the inside around cabling and stuff, remind me to show you the inside of my G5… It is the most amazing thing ever. Of course, you can’t expand it at all really, but still, really really well thought out case and layout.

  • Much jealousy on this end….


  • Neeeeeeeeeeeerd.

  • Yep, same problem here, the windows xp sp2 boot falling over no matter what confi, although with a conroe/asrock775dual/crucial553 mix. I guessed at memory and chucked in the ubuntu install disk that has a superb memory test, and of course works perfectly with the conroe.
    The memory tested fine, so I relaxed the cas settings in the bios and enabled the ‘memory compatibility mode’ which I’ve not seen on any other motherboard before. Problem sorted, windows boot cd loaded fine! I returned the cas setting to auto and the system seems stable, or at least as stable as XP can be…

  • It’s your sata drivers…

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