There are lots of things to consider when building your own PC, especially when transferring the contents of your hard drives to the new machine.
Well, I've taken the plunge, and this is the very first SOS item to be typed on my new DIY 1GHz Pentium III PC. I promised at the end of my 'Building Your Own PC' feature in SOS September 2001 that I'd let you know how I got on, so here are all the details.
I bought one of the new Asus TUSL2‑C motherboards, a Coppermine Pentium III 1GHz processor, and one of the smart Lian‑Li PC60 aluminium cases. I also chose a 300W Ultra Quiet power supply from Quiet PC, along with one of their new Zalman CNPS3100 CPU heatsink/fan combinations.
As always, I spent some time thinking through the best way to make the transfer from old to new PC. I started by reinstalling an old Matrox Mystique graphics card in my old PC, along with an Adaptec SCSI card and Yamaha CRW4260 SCSI CD‑R drive, to release my newer AGP card and faster Yamaha CRW8424 drive for the new machine. I also removed the 256Mb stick of RAM I bought a couple of months back, leaving me with 128Mb for the old PC.
I then backed up all my data partitions onto CD‑R, and used PowerQuest's Drive Image to create image files of all three of my Windows partitions, saving them onto my 30Gb audio‑recording drive. So even after I'd transferred my hard drives to the new PC and reformatted them for use with the new motherboard, I'd still have access to every file from my old setup, just in case.
Finally, I added an old 2Gb hard drive, and used Drive Image to copy across the main Windows partition from my 30Gb System drive. Then I unplugged both 30Gb drives, ready to install in the new PC. This left me with a completely functional Pentium II 450MHz backup machine for emergencies, while releasing all the components I needed to complete my new one.
The Lian‑Li case lived up to expectations, being incredibly easy to work with, largely due to its roomy and well‑thought out design, with nearly all sub‑assemblies being attached using thumbscrews, for easy access and removal. My motherboard and processor were already fitted, and the floppy drive and front‑panel switches were wired up, so all I had to do was fit the CPU heatsink and fan, bolt in the Quiet PC power supply, connect up the power supply's cables, and plumb in the rest of my components.
The Zalman heatsink is an unusual design, being made from many sheets of copper bolted together, and then splayed out into a fan shape reminiscent of a Mohican hairstyle. This provides good heat dissipation, but makes it impossible to attach a normal heatsink fan. Instead, Zalman supply a low‑noise 80mm fan on a bracket that you bolt to your case, using the screws that retain the two PCI cards nearest the processor. It looks odd, but as long as you're careful to position the bracket so that the fan airflow goes directly down between the heatsink 'blades', it works extremely well. I've found it not only efficient but, with the addition of a 'noiseless' fan connector with integral resistor, extremely quiet as well.
I was fully expecting the Quiet PC power supply to be silent, and it lived up to its name, but, surprisingly, the Lian‑Li's twin intake fans at bottom front of the case were also extremely quiet with their three‑position fan‑speed switch in its Low position. Once I'd added another noiseless fan connector to the rear‑case exhaust fan, I had four 80mm fans operating with very low noise.
The Lian‑Li case not only has four 5.25‑inch and three 3.5‑inch drive bays on its front panel, but a further five internal 3.5‑inch drive bays, and this gave me an idea. In my old PC the two 30Gb drives got very hot in their SilentDrive sleeves, because they were placed in 5.25‑inch drive bays well away from airflow. So, I came up with a way to mount them both in the internal cage designed for five 3.5‑inch drives, by drilling some extra holes in the right places. This also placed them directly behind the twin intake fans, providing direct cooling, and worked wonderfully well. Overall, my new regime has left me with a quiet PC whose exhaust is significantly cooler than my old model, and with no hot spots.
I was very careful to earth myself during PC assembly, to avoid static buildup, but was still relieved, on first powering up, to find that everything worked as expected. The BIOS found my processor, hard drives and RAM correctly, and after a few changes to the default settings, to disable Power Management and Boot Virus protection, I saved them and prepared to install some software.
When you're using a new motherboard for the first time, Windows needs to establish what devices it uses, so it's risky leaving an old hard drive in place, complete with its previous operating system and applications, however much time this might save. In the long run you're likely to get a far more reliable system with a clean install on a freshly formatted partition, since this ensures that both your hard drive and Registry won't be cluttered up with unwanted orphan references and files.
However, in an emergency it's possible to edit the Registry to wipe all references to previous hardware, so that when you reboot, Windows will build up a fresh list. I've known people do this if they have to swap out the motherboard on a fully stuffed PC and need to use it almost immediately, but I wouldn't recommend it for long‑term use.
I used PartitionMagic running from DOS to reformat my three OS partitions, so that I could then install Windows 98SE in exactly the same way I described in PC Notes July 2001. However, now that I have Drive Image, I found an excellent shortcut. After installing the first instance of Windows 98SE, I then ran the Intel Chipset Software Installation utility from the CD‑ROM supplied with my Asus motherboard. This installs suitable drivers for the Intel 815e chipset features designed since Windows 98SE was launched (the newer Windows ME provides native support for these).
I then installed the latest drivers for my graphics card, monitor and soundcards, along with TweakUI, and used TweakUI to customise the OS with suitable settings for music applications, as I've mentioned in these pages many times before. I then installed Cleansweep.
At this point, I rebooted into my floppy‑disk version of Drive Image, and created an image of my new Windows partition. Then, while still in Drive Image, I simply restored this new image to my other two Windows partitions, which saved me having to install Windows twice more. This approach also has the advantage of leaving me with a 'ready‑to‑use' image if ever I need to clear out a partition and start afresh.
The next step was to reinstall relevant applications into each of my partitions: General, Music, and Review. Here I was glad of the image files from my previous PC, as I'd forgotten to save my large collection of Internet Explorer favourites, and could just extract them using the Drive Image File Editor. Sadly, the one thing I couldn't reclaim in this way was the authorisations for three plug‑ins which I'd forgotten to move back onto their respective floppy disks. However, having resigned myself to losing them for good and having to use the second and final authorisations, I was pleased to find, when I reinstalled the plug‑ins in question, that their authorisations were still intact on my GigaSampler partition on the same hard drive. This was more by luck than judgement, though!
Overall, I'm extremely pleased with the performance improvement since I started to use the new PC, with much quicker booting times, especially when switching between partitions, and huge reductions in CPU overhead when running plug‑ins. It's still a novelty to find plug‑ins such as the TC Works Native Reverb only taking five percent CPU overhead. I can remember when we all thought 50 percent overhead for a quality reverb was good going!
Ever got fed up waiting for your PC to finish booting? Here's a way to speed things up slightly. Many users have their IDE devices set to 'Auto' in the main BIOS page, but while this makes perfect sense in most cases, it does mean that your BIOS has to re‑detect the same hardware for Primary Master, Primary Slave, Secondary Master and Secondary Slave every time it boots up. The BIOS will nearly always let you change this Auto setting to 'User', and since the default settings will be those previously found by the Auto routine, once you've detected everything the first time you can change all four settings to User, and shave some time off your boot. The only time you need to revert to Auto is if you install a new CD or hard drive.
I was very impressed with the analogue and physical modelling of the Tassman 1.2 softsynth when I reviewed it back in SOS July 2000. Compared with most other forms of synthesis, physical modelling can create far more realistic acoustic sounds, since it creates mathematical models of real world 'Generators' such as mallets and plectrums, which can then be applied to 'Resonators' such as beams, plates and strings, to produce the final sound. At the time, Tassman's main limitation was a high (69mS) latency, precluding real‑time performance, but this didn't stop it from becoming very popular, due in part to its many and varied step‑sequenced instruments.
However, since the review, developers Applied Acoustic Systems have been busy. Version 2.0, released back in April 2001, was free to all registered users and featured drastically improved latency, as well as the ability to run as both a VST and DX Instrument, for use inside Steinberg Cubase and CMS Sonar respectively. Tassman's user base also expanded significantly when a Lite player‑only version of the synth was bundled with Sonar, and the complete version with Sonar XL.
Tassman version 2.1 (another free update) dropped onto my doormat in August, and I had the chance to check out these improvements for myself. New to this latest version is wider support for host applications, including EASI drivers for low‑latency use within Logic Audio, improved VST support for both Logic Audio and the popular Orion shareware package from Sonic Syndicate, and DXi support for Fruity Loops 2.0.
Since my review, the main Player module has been greatly enhanced, with a new button at bottom left to directly Load Instruments, and a much more comprehensive menu bar, offering the ability to load and save Programs consisting of an instrument and a collection of presets, and a collection of Programs in a Bank. The Player module now has a gate switch, so that you can re‑trigger WAV files from a keyboard or sequencer, and since files are now played direct from hard disk they can be of unlimited length. These facilities all make using Tassman far easier than before. Various other new modules have also been added to the roster, adding to Tassman's versatility, but it's the VSTi and DXi support that will tend to encourage new users, as well as the redesigned and more active Tassman web site, which has lots of new instruments to download (hopefully a new one per week in future!). Already available are analogue recreations of instruments such as the Roland Jupiter Six, Korg Poly 800, and Elka Synthex, as well as bizarre, off‑the‑wall designs. Despite an occasionally clunky interface, Tassman is now a mature application with lots to offer the experimenter, especially if your taste includes physical modelling, step sequencing, and experimental sounds that sometimes defy description! Incidentally, SCV London have now been appointed as Tassman's new UK distributors, and they have lopped £50 off its retail price, to make it a bargain £199.