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Trials and Tribulations of a First Time MSI Builder

Update:10-11Source: network consolidation
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I'll try to keep this short and sweet (IMPOSSIBLE!), but hopefully this may make sense to some of you out there who have sought and found solice here on the MSI boards....
First off....I'm a first-time MSI MB user.....my system specs are as follows:
Voyeurmods Verge X case
MGE Vigor 500 PS
Athlon 64 2800
MSI K8T Neo FSRII
1 gig Kingston 400DDR (KVR400X64)
1- 80 gig Barracuda SATA
Thermalright SLK948U and TT UFO fan
Aopen DVD/CDR combo drive
TT Hardcano 12
Enermax 6 fan controller
Asus 9800xt
Audigy Platinum
and assorted other fans, belts, and whistles......
Now...the story and the point behind this post:
I have only built one other comp....2.4 Pentium Platform......nice, stable rig.....a few extra goodies to qualify it as a "semi-mod"...but it was a great system to cut my teeth on, and in all fairness, I had a lot of extra help with cables/bios/cpu install, etc.  I wouldnt call it a "from-scratch" set up...Never one to NOT jump into the deep end of the pool, I decided to move up a bit and try a new build from scratch....I wanted a decent rig...strictly gaming......as close to state of the art as my budget would allow, but I was prepared to make exceptions......
My original MB of choice once I settled on an Athlon 64 was the Abit KV8. It was a great-looking MB; I thought the OATES cooling system was a significant upgrade from a lot of others...and I liked their "UGURU" system management tool...unfortunately, the Abit MB is now sitting in a trash bin....I have to say that, all emotion aside, Abit wont be seeing my cash any time in the future.....to call the OATES system a total failure would be an understatement...only AFTER I started reading the Abit boards did I realize that virtually every builder was removing the plastic OATES shroud and tossing it away.......the screw alignment in the OATES portion of the board, coupled with almost any aftermarket HS/fan alignment warps the board slightly and doesnt allow multiple sticks of memory to sit properly in the slots......if you folks think thats a joke, just check out the Abit forums.....I'd say that right now, the negative reviews of the KV8 boards are surpassing the "positive" reviews by a ratio of 2 or 3 to 1. And then try RMA'ing the board once its warped!
Now granted, the Thermalright SLK puts a hell of a stress load on the CPU section of the MB through sheer weight alone, but the MSI board, TO ME, seems to be a bit "beefier"....a tad thicker in construction. I dunno...maybe its the layout, or weight distribution. But I digress and this was "supposed" to be short and sweet....      
Many hours of bareboning the build with the Abit board resulted in me switching manufacturers and trying MSI. Everything I tried....all the tech support....all the forums and Abit messageboards.....litterally swapping out every piece of equipment....nothing got that Abit board to boot up. I was getting error messages that werent even acknowledged by the manufacturer! Folks, you have NO idea how much better a product MSI is putting out compared to Abit.
For starters.....the board sits damned near perfectly on the standoffs.....one does NOT have to remove the video card to get at the memory slots (the Abit board requires MOST if not all video cards to be removed if swapping memory in slot 1)...the layout of the SATA and IDE brackets seemed a bit more ergonamically proficient on the MSI board.....about the only thing that appealed to me (initially)more on the Abit board was an "on board" LCD error check system that seemed to be a bit easier to use than the MSI D Bracket system. I say "seemed to be", but again, going back to basic board layout and design, the LCD's are virtually covered by the IDE cables that have to sit over the LCD's because of their close proximity to each other. Nice idea. Poorly executed.
So....if any of you first-timers have concerns about choosing the MSI board, start breathing easier.....once I switched boards, and used the exact same components as my first try with the Abit board, the K8T Neo started up first time out of the box.....everything about this board (knock wood), so far, has been great, and I also have to say that the help that all of you here dish out has made this experience nothing short of amazing.
Jocko, whoever the hell you are, you are my new Obi Wan Kenobi! Your advice in a few threads to newbies like myself was so damned "dead-on" ....so accurate...its like you know these boards and systems from the circuit on up! And I have to thank you right now for helping me even though we never exchanged emails or posts......many, many, many thanks!
Also, Mike...your thread for first-timers......it should be part of the itinerary for ALL newbies. Thanks for taking the time to share....
Finally...some additional thoughts that may help others ( or may not):
1. Configuring the BIOS is, to me anyway, always a bit scary. I like pointing and clicking...I hate pressing enter and using arrow keys...there are just too many damned choices and I'll always wonder if I made the right ones......scan back a few threads and search out any of Jocko's advice regarding the initial load of Windows and SATA drives...he makes this part easy. Also, there are several websites that give advice on optimum BIOS configs....you can find many links here on these forums.
2. If any of you want custom modded cases at decent pricing, dont be afraid to use Voyeurmods. Everything about Brian and his crew is top notch.....the customer service....the shipping.....the Verge X case is simply perfection.....I cant say enough nice things about them.
3. Kingston memory can be purchased directly from their USA website at fairly discounted pricing from just about anyone else on the web.....I paid $139.00 for 2 512 sticks of 400 DDR(not per stick...$139.00 total) a while back...pricing changes weekly so if you like Kingston product, check them weekly for specials...so far it has worked perfectly in my rig, and because you are buying direct, the warranty is as good as it gets.
4. The Thermalright SLK 948 is one hell of a heatsink, and the TT UFO fan that sits on top of it makes for one nice combo! My CPU refuses to overheat under load, and I cant say enough about how easy it was to install on the board. If any of you want a superb aftermarket product this does the trick nicely.
5. Any idea why the 2 power slots on the MSI MB are on opposite sides of the board? That was the one glitch I found on these boards that Abit did right...place the 2 power connections side by side for better cable management.
6. If on the first power up the entire system stays dark, chances are it AINT a bad Power supply...more than likely its front panel headers in the wrong slots..check your wiring. If there is just a slight glimpse of power and it cuts out immediately, its almost assuredly wrong wiring....the PS is shorting itself out.
7. On the HOT topic of power supplies....my MGE has 20 amps on the 12 volt line...I know, I know....its barely adequate to some of you....but I have to say this in as nice a way as possible: folks, it AINT always the power supply when a problem develops. I have read countless.....COUNTLESS posts/threads on both Board forums where a problem is "diagnosed" as being a crappy power supply. Some folks wont even discuss any other issue until a different PS is installed. The sad/funny thing is....if you read back through the threads here, as well as the Abit boards, I'd say 90% of the solutions to the problems didnt end up being the PS at all! Its more like: 30% user error....20% memory...10% CMOS clearing....20% component failure(including MB)....10% CPU seating.....10% PS.
8. Do....regardless of how much extra work is involved here....DO utilize a barebones build BEFORE you install in the case and hook up all the peripherals.....it cuts out SO many potential problems before they happen, and just makes so damned much sense. I know its extra effort, but if youre a first timer, and you want that first boot to take place; you want that main screen once you press "DELETE", this is the way to go.
9. Clearing CMOS.  LOL! Yup......oh the errors of first- timers like myself!!!!!! Dont even bother posting here until you make sure you cleared the CMOS properly, and if youre not sure how, dont be afraid to ask stupid questions like I did here.  
10. Dont be afraid to use cardboard as your anti-static material under a barebones...it works well...costs nothing...and your only potential issue is heat build up if your CPU freaks out.
11. DONT overuse your Artic Silver 5 on the CPU.....forget all the advice about "spreading out evenly" a thin layer of silver all over the CPU cover.....use the "grain of rice" method in the center.....a very small amount spreads out like you cant imagine! After I removed the HS from the CPU on the Abit board, I couldnt believe how thoroughly well the paste had spread over the CPU cover. If I had used more, or spread it out, the TR SLK would have forced it well over the sides of the CPU.
12. DONT be afraid of the BIOS. The MSI manual actually does a pretty decent job of guiding one through the initial set up, and YES...do NOT forget to press F10 to save all your changes.....it took me a couple of tries to make sure the changes "took".
13. DONT panic if you miss the F6 move on Windows install for SATA drivers.....it seems that on XP home, pressing F6 when prompted to made no difference.....30 seconds later the "add 3rd party drivers" screen comes up anyway.....for reference sake, my total Windows XP install took 16 minutes from start to finish.
14. Loading the VIA SATA drivers at that point in Windows is tricky for one very simple reason: the floppy doesnt have any "scroll down" arrows for multiple driver install. They are hidden UNDER the initial screen....press "S" when prompted for the initial driver....and then scroll down under the first batch to find the second one...highlight it and press "S"....dont panic if the screen doesnt change immediately...it "feels" like Windows lags a bit but the screen DOES change.
15. SATA cables dont always "sit" snugly in Barracuda drives...I tried 3 different cables from legit manufacturers in 2 different Seagates....they all fit...they all work...but just a tiny amount of pressure unseats them....use caution and try to keep any other cables from pressing OVER the SATA near the HD.
16. Bench test your system for at least 24 hours of continuous useage before you move it or do anything else with it......it just makes sense to see if anything shorts out or heats up......
Feel Free to email me ([email protected]) if you have any questions or want any ideas.....MSI has made my first real build a blast!
JJ

The Best Answer

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Hi
Welcome, glad you got some benefit from the threads, it all so easy once you've done it a few times, aint it.
Glad your going well, now you can help others  
you could also join the folding team and help medical research.
enjoy
cheers
jocko