A new Workshop Computer

or, hours of fun with Kaby Lake

 My new Software Defined Radio was messing up my computer. A combination of software bugs (because the application is still being written) and problems with the USB ports is to blame, so I decided to build a small computer for use in my workshop. This would be advantageous because that's where the test equipment is located and it wouldn't matter so much if that computer got messed up occasionally.
 I dug out a case, a half decent motherboard and processor, a power supply and some other parts including a 250GByte SSD and installed Windows 10, but I soon found the SDR applications used too much computer power and either gave intermittent sound or just crashed the machine. My i5 computer was running about 15% processor power to run the Lime application but the new one was way over 60%. I checked and the processor was only an E2200 (dual core running at 2.2GHz). I decided to overwrite Windows 10 and go back to Windows 7, but ended up with the same very high processor load. I looked around for a cheap second-hand computer but unless one shelled out many hundreds of pounds you'd end up with a slow machine so I decided to buy brand new.


 Above... First attempt using an Intel E2200 dual core processor

 It's been some time since I built a new computer. First a new processor, but these were really expensive. I found that the terms i3, i5 and i7 are still being used, but these chips are now on their umpteenth update and I'd need a new motherboard with a Socket 1151 to use a new 7th generation product. Next I looked at benchmarks for various Intel processors. My own computer is an i5-3570 rated at "3978". Most older chips (even the quad cores) are rated at "1500" and below (my dual core E2200 is a mere "1179") so I ruled out all of these. I turned up the "G" series in the local suppliers catalogue, checked benchmarks and found that these were rated pretty high... for example the G3285 was "3812" almost as good as my i5. I looked at my supplier's pricelist and found the G4560. This is too new to be benchmarked on the page I looked at but should be something over 4000.

The price of a G4560 was a third of an i5 so I ordered one. A suitable motherboard posed a problem. The new chip is called "Kaby Lake" and red warning notices against the latest motherboards showed difficulties in using this series. I moved to the very latest boards and selected an Asrock B250. No red warnings and it was half the price of similar boards. As it uses DDR4 RAM I ordered a couple of 4GByte sticks and also a 120GByte SSD. This should be fast enough.


 I set it all up in an ancient computer case, put a Windows 7 DVD into a portable USB DVD reader and proceeded to install the operatiing system onto the SSD. It didn't work. After some checking, I swapped the portable drive for an old DVD reader. It's an IDE type so I used a SATA to IDE converter. Things got underway but after a minute or so I couldn't use the USB keyboard or USB mouse so proceedings stalled. After some more checking and after some BIOS changes I plugged in a PS2 keyboard and USB mouse and started again. Things were ropey. The computer kept suddenly rebooting. Eventually, after numerous attempts I stopped to consider what was going on. It turns out that there may be a conspiracy. It's all to do wth USB architecture and the necessary drivers. A Windows 10 DVD is equipped with the new drivers but anything older, such as Windows 7 is not. Ostensibly, one cannot, or one is supposed not to install an operating system other than Windows 10 on a new computer. Fortunately, it turns out that the B250 Asrock board has the necessary bits of code on its driver CD to allow one to install Windows 7.

 There's a lot of discussion about Kaby Lake versus Windows 7 on the Net. The basic problem is not dissimilar to one found in Windows XP when this was first introduced and one wished to use an SSD. Installation failed because the XP disk had no means of recognising your SSD and so couldn't find anywhere to install itself. A hardware RAID system option was also impossible to automatically install. In both cases the operating system designers paused the installation so one could add extra drivers. This pause in proceedngs may be a mystery to lots of people installing a new operating system but it's essential in some cases, like those mentioned, when a floppy disk had to be introduced, and later a USB memory stick to add extra drivers. A second method is also possible.. that is to modify the installation disk by adding the extra drivers, but this is messy. I don't know about other motherboard makers, but Asrock's solution is to offer an additional option. The B250 motherboard has a PS2 port and this of course is recognised by the installation program, however as it's only a single socket you're faced with using either a PS2 keyboard or a PS2 mouse, but not both. This leads to some confusion. You need a keyboard so you can fill in your user name etc. and with some experimentation you can fiddle with keys to shift the cursor around as you proceed with the installation. Using a PS2 mouse will prevent you typing your user name.

 If you manage to work out appropriate keystrokes and end up with a Windows 7 desktop on your Kaby Lake setup, the USB mouse, and indeed any USB ports won't work. Asrock have included a patch on their driver CD and this sorts out the problem by adding the extra USB drivers to Windows 7. This step is not altogether straightforward however as you need to navigate around their driver CD without the benefit of a USB mouse. I got round the problem by just installing all the drivers in one go, a step which is offered automatically. I suppose you could reboot and swap your keyboard for a PS2 mouse and then be able to select what you want instead of installing everything... Buried in the drivers is the USB patch and this got added with everything else, so after an age whilst lots of superfluous things were added the desktop eventually reappeared with a working USB mouse.
 Despite understanding the restrictions I had trouble. Installation always failed at roughly the same point but I tried again and again and again, until after a while the penny dropped. I'm using a newish-looking power supply taken from the computer predating the i5 I'm currently using. I was quite happy with the old computer but it occasionally switched itself off. As I'd put this failure down to the processor or motherboard, I'd relegated the box to the corner of my workshop. I'd then cannibalised various parts and just now I'd transferred the power supply to the new workshop computer. I wondered whether the sudden loss of power, which I'd put down to a BSOD reboot, could be a faulty power supply and may have nothing to do with the B250/Windows 7 problem. I swapped the nice newish-looking PSU for an ordinary one and surprise... the computer stayed switched on. I wiped the SSD and proceeded to install Windows 7. All went well until near the end of the installation when I got an error message and the thing rebooted. I tried again... same error message 0x80070017, so I looked for an explanation and found it was probably a bad DVD. I borrowed a DVD reader from another computer. This is a SATA type, and after yet another attempt at installing Windows 7, the Windows Desktop appeared. Success... or not... the keyboard worked OK but the mouse did not.

 Above.. the new computer in the process of construction

 I now need those pesky USB drivers that are missing from the Windows 7 installation. I decided to proceed by running the driver CD that came with the motherboard. Having no mouse limited the options available, but I was able to select "Drivers" and "Install everything"... nothing else was selectable. I left the thing running as it was taking ages and possibly stalled except the hard drive lamp was flashing merrily. I came back after 30 minutes to find the Windows 7 Desktop in place and a mouse pointer resting in the centre of the screen. Wobbling the mouse showed the Asrock USB driver patch had been successfully installed.

As the installation was using a standard, low resolution graphics driver, I ran a new driver downloaded from Asrock's website and after a while I got a high definition picture. System Manager shows everything working correctly, and I loaded an anti-virus and an Office package with no trouble. The Internet works fine and I can even access my security cameras and read my i5 computer hard drives over the local network. Next I need to install the SDR software and drivers... the whole reason for the exercise.

After carrying out some testing using my Lime SDR I decided to add a graphics card. This will help to reduce processor load by off-loading the work needed to drive the display. Fortunately for the budget, I found an unused graphics card (below) left over from a computer build a year or two ago.



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