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How to Bench Test / Troubleshoot Your System

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Old 08-01-2007, 04:10 PM   #1
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The purpose of this thread is to demonstrate an easy way to test your system prior to complete assembly. If you take the time to bench test your build prior to full assembly you will save yourself hordes of time in troubleshooting a faulty component.

The most efficient way to minimize lost time is assemble each part one piece at a time until operational stability is proven. The bench build is especially useful when troubleshooting a previously assembled system that has begun to show quirky instability problems, possibly caused by a case short or other similar problem which is hard to detect in an occupied case assembly.

Another major benefit to the bench build is the up-close inspection this method offers you, many times I have torn down a flaky system, bench assemble the parts and notice a burn spot, or debris in the video card slot, small plastic chip type debris has been found in the main motherboard connector which prevents full contact of all the pins in the main connector, another common discovery upon up-close visual inspection is burnt pins in the main connector or cpu power connector on the motherboard.

Here we will get started with the steps of bench building & testing. only the bare essentials here, no cd-rom drives, hard drives, floppy drives etc



A) Place the motherboard on top of a non-conductive surface. I personally favor the motherboard box itself as it allows the video card riser to ride past the bottom surface of the motherboard, this is an important consideration (see black arrow)


B) Install the CPU into the motherboard, here is an often made mistake, many fellas want to assemble the cooler heat/sink mounting frame to the motherboard prior to inserting the CPU, this only complicates the install! If you are using a Zalman cooler, pay close attention for the cut out notch which allows the heatsink arm to raise and release the cpu for future maintenance. If you cant raise the cpu locking lever after installing the heatsink mounting frame, then you do not have it aligned correctly (see install instructions)
Therefore install the CPU into the motherboard cpu socket before mounting the heat sink frame. Make sure you align the golden arrow on the cpu die perimeter with the orientation mark on the motherboard socket (see manual)

C) Apply CPU Thermal Grease: If you are using the Intel or AMD factory supplied cpu heatsink it will have a thermal tape already applied to the surface of the heatsink, this will be fine as long as you dont touch the tape; simply mate the heatsink to the cpu and fasten the hold down clips on the heatsink. Once you have allowed the thermal tape to make contact with the cpu you can not just proceed with another attempt at cpu / heatsink mating because, the thermal tape may become slightly bonded or damaged; at that point you would need to remove the thermal tape and apply a thin layer of thermal grease which can be obtained from any computer box store or online computer parts retailer.

If you are using a third party cpu cooler (often called an aftermarket cooler) then you would be advised to use a thermal paste like Artic Silver 5 for which here are the instructions for the proper application:

Arctic Silver Incorporated - Route to Product Instructions for Arctic Silver 5

CAUTION: once you have mated the heatsink to the cpu for even the slightest second you can not remove the heatsink for visual inspection without thoroughly removing all thermal grease (removal of the heatsink from the cpu will result in bare spots and air bubbles in the thermal grease) with either artic silver cleaner or 99% pure alcohol (not the usual stuff we all have hanging around the house; that product has a high water content) the 99% pure version can be found at most any drug store.
Many of us like to use a coffee filter with alcohol applied to help remove aged or dried up thermal grease; after which we suggest you use a clean lint free cotton cloth to wipe both cpu and heatsink clean and dry prior to a new application of thermal grease.


D) Install the CPU heatsink / Fan combo and connect the fan wire to the CPU fan header on the motherboard, this is a very important step, many motherboards will not fire if the cpu fan is not activated, at the very least the cpu temps will rise immediately and cause a thermal auto shutdown.

E) Insert one stick of memory; see motherboard manual for specific slot to be occupied for single stick operation, some motherboards will not fire up unless these rules are followed. Please adhere to the single stick memory install until we have achieved the "first" successful bios screen post.
Often times memory incompatibilities will cause a system not to post, these problems can be quickly identified if you install only one stick for our first post screen goal! (seldom does proven incompatible memory fail to start a system when single stick occupied)
Later in our bench testing we will go after the second post screen, then we can install the second stick, if you have a memory incompatibility it will then show the dilemma without further loss of time!

F) Place the PSU on the bench and connect the motherboard main connector (20 pins or 24 pin) If your PSU uses a 20 + 4 connector (most units use this now) you will either leave the detachable four pin in place for a 24 pin main connector motherboard or you will detach the snap lock four pin from the 24pin connector to reduce the main connector to a 20 pin configuration.
Next step is attach the 4 pin square looking cpu power plug (some boards have an eight pin cpu power plug/ the 8 pin is needed for quad core cpu; four pin is needed for dual core) make sure when inserting the four pin cpu power plug you "hear" the snap of the positive lock of the clip.
Many fellas make the common error of trying to use the detachable four pin connector from the 20+4 motherboard connector to power the CPU this does NOT work you must use the CPU power plug

HINT ........ dual core cpu require 4-pin cpu power plug / quad core cpu requires 8-pin power plug. although some boards can run a Quad core from 4 pin cpu power ............ but most are 8 pin now.

G) Install the video card and the video card dedicated power plug if the card needs such a power plug. Make sure the video card riser extends past the bottom of the motherboard surface (see pic w/black arrow above)

H) Connect a keyboard and mouse to the motherboard. Connect a monitor to the video card, verify the monitor has power active. Connect the PSU power plug into the wall socket.

I) You have two options to start the system, you can assemble the test platform next to the case and just simply bring the case switch wires over to the motherboard as I have done in the picture below and use the button on the case for system activation. (see blue arrow)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Or you can use a small flat bladed screwdriver to just touch the two pins on the motherboard header, these are the same two pins that normally get occupied by the PWR Switch on the motherboard connector header. Simply touch those two pins together for about two seconds and then pull the screw driver away, it should fire up. If not check the switch on the back of the PSU to make sure the PSU switch is on?

at this point in the test you should see the post screen ????? if not; power off the system, inspect everything step by step for accuracy and try again, if still no joy.

Just kidding; swap memory sticks and try again ?

Things to check when the power is activated:

1) Does the CPU fan spin at start-up ?

2) are there any LED lights that are lit on the motherboard when the PSU is connected with the power active in the PSU ?

3) does the video card fan spin ?

4) when the power is active to the system on the bench does the monitor show a yellow or green stand-by light (next to the monitor power button)

Once you get to a post screen I advise you hang there for about half an hour in the bios screen and monitor CPU temps and get your bios settings configured while you are waiting out your temperature monitoring. Set the data & time if this is a new build, boot priority, etc




Now that you have the core components of the Motherboard, CPU, Video Card, two sticks of memory, Power Supply, Keyboard, Mouse & Monitor working; next we proceed to adding Cd-rom drive, Hard Drives, Floppy Drives and the Operating System. All components are added one at a time and verified working. If you build three systems you will receive one new dead part, guaranteed! Thats why installing one variable at a time will save you alot of grief in identifying that culprit when the reaper comes knocking.



in photo above the hard drive is active, floppy drive & cd-rom drive (dont forget jumper pin settings on your drives) and if the bios doesnt detect your drives, then you cant go any further with this process, you must correct that immediately, the bios must recognise your devices before you can use them at all! No drivers whatsoever have to be dealt with at this stage!
If you look closely at the monitor the hard drive is being formatted during the OS install.


Now that all components have been verified and the OS is installed, we can stuff all the "guts" into the case knowing that everything is operational, so if there are any problems we know we made the problems while installing into the case. One word of cautious advice; make sure when you install the motherboard stand offs in the case you only use the motherboard mounting holes which have a silver ring around the hole on the motherboard itself, you DONT use the holes in the motherboard which don’t have the silver ring around the perimeter of the hole!
You should have 9 (usually brass) case stand-offs under the motherboard for a full sized ATX board, make sure there is a mounting screw in each stand-off. If you make the mistake of installing a stand-off where its not suppose to be, the bottom of your board will be shorted!

Its very important that none of the metal surfaces on the bottom of the motherboard touch the case surface or you will create a nasty motherboard short!

If you do not pay heed to this warning, you will suffer the symptoms of a motherboard short, these can drive you insane!

If you are unsure how the motherboard is mounted or if you are unfamiliar with the stand-offs >>>>>> please review this link: Mounting the Motherboard




EDIT / ADDENDUM: if you experience any start-up problems, please review your motherboard manual for "how to clear the cmos" its generally towards the beginning of the manual and often oulined as "CLRTC"

if you encounter any difficulties with this material or need additional help, please start your own thread in the "Motherboard" section of the Hardware Forum. Feel free to Private Message (PM) me if needed.

Enjoy and hope it goes smoothly for you

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Old 08-01-2007, 04:15 PM   #2
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