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 Post subject: System builder tips: Nov. 5 2007 ComputerAmerica show notes
 Post Posted: Wed Nov 07, 2007 2:39 pm 
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Show Notes: November 5, 2007 ComputerAmerica show featuring Scott Mueller

Links to both hours of the show are here:

This show featured several tips for system builders, including front panel
connections. The industry standard Front Panel I/O (FPIO) Switch/LED connector
pinout can be seen in the following document:

Front Panel I/O Connectivity Design Guide
http://www.formfactors.org/developer/sp ... 04-005.pdf

Note that this document defines a *single* 10-pin connector for the
Power/Reset switch and Power/HDD LED connections (among other things). The
FPIO Switch/LED connector is technically described as a 2x5 0.100" pin-header
with pin 9 missing (for connector keying purposes).

This industry standard Switch/LED connector has been employed on virtually all
Intel motherboards since May 1999 (the first example I saw was the WS440BX in
Sept. '98). This was of course also incorporated into systems sold by mfrs.
using Intel OEM boards at that time such as Dell, Gateway, MicronPC, etc.

It finally became a true industry standard in Oct. 2000 when Intel published
the first release of the Front Panel I/O Connectivity Design Guide. At that
point most other motherboard manufacturers adopted this standard as well.

Anybody who's built more than a handful of PCs should be well aware of this,
however I'm surprised to find many who are not. For example, here's somebody
who needs a copy of my book <g>:

"Still, it seems ridiculous that motherboard and chassis vendors
haven't agreed on a standard pin pattern for front panel connectors that
would allow five annoying little connectors to be replaced with a single
cable and jumper block."

Hello?.., McFly?., Anybody Home? <g>

Of course my readers know that what he's ranting about and wishing for has
been in existence for nearly *10 years* now.

Come on, THINK McFly! <g>

As has been part of my normal system-building and component selection mantra
for many years, I would avoid any motherboards failing to incorporate industry
standard FPIO Switch/LED, USB, and/or FireWire connections.

For instance, note that the MSI motherboard Carey mentioned on the show (MSI
K9VGM) does in fact conform to the industry standard 10-pin FPIO Switch/LED
and USB connectors, which can be confirmed by checking the manual for that
board: http://www.msicomputer.com/product/p_sp ... V&class=mb

In fact most motherboards I've worked with since 1999 have incorporated the
industry standard FPIO connector(s). Of course there are exceptions, for
example ASUStek is one of the few holdouts still using non-standard FPIO
connections, which I consider an excellent reason to *avoid* ASUS boards
wherever possible.

Aside from ASUS motherboards, the biggest problem with FPIO connections has
been with chassis. Most chassis manufacturers still insist on including
built-in FPIO "dongles" using multiple individual "loose" 1-pin, 2-pin or
4-pin connectors for the Switch/LED, USB, Firewire, and Audio connectors, when
ALL of these *should* be single 10-pin (2x5 with one missing key pin)
connectors instead.

Fortunately a universal solution is available. One can purchase 10-pin (2x5)
header connector shells for about a buck each, and easily move all of the
terminals from the multiple loose connectors into the single connector shell:

This makes for a single plug-in connection for each of the Switch/LED, USB,
FireWire, and Audio connectors. You can even "key" the connectors by inserting
key pin plugs into the appropriate holes, thereby making them nearly foolproof
as well.

I've been doing this for several years now on the systems I build, as it makes
not only the initial assembly much easier, faster and more foolproof, but it
also provides the same benefits for anybody working on the system in the


To demonstrate this, I just finished a new DVD called: "Upgrading and
Repairing: Build a PC with Scott Mueller", which will be released on December 3rd.:

Upgrading and Repairing: Build a PC with Scott Mueller

This DVD covers dealing with FPIO connections as just one of the
informative segments. This new DVD also comes with a booklet that explains
everything in detail that is shown in the video. Not only is this designed to
enable a novice to properly spec. out and build a system from scratch, but it
also contains numerous tips, tricks and information for experienced builders
as well (such as the FPIO information).

I'm also writing a detailed article covering the FPIO connector problems (and
how to tame them) for an upcoming issue of PC World magazine.

On a related note, the current (November 2007) issue of PC World has my
article on saving up to $100 or more each year in PC power costs *per system*
by properly configuring them to use ACPI standby and hibernate modes:
http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,13732 ... ticle.html

Another FPIO pet peeve of mine is the compatibility problem with the
integrated Audio found on most motherboards and the FP Audio jacks included in
most chassis. The problem can be summarized as follows:

There are two standards for both the motherboard based integrated audio (which
includes a FP Audio connector on the board) as well as for the audio jacks
(Mic and Headphone) in most chassis. The two standards are called AC'97 and HD
Audio, and unfortunately they are somewhat incompatible with each other.

Most motherboards with integrated audio changed from AC'97 to HD Audio
(codenamed Azalia) in 2005. For example, all motherboards based on Intel 9xx
series (introduced in late 2004) and 3x series (introduced in 2007) chipsets
include HD Audio, while the 8xx and earlier series included AC'97.
Unfortunately the chassis have lagged behind, as many chassis even *today*
still come only with AC'97 jacks.

The result of mixing these is usually a non-functional microphone jack, a
partially functional headphone jack, no automatic muting when headphones are
plugged in, and no support for HD Audio jack sensing in general.

Some solutions to this problem include purchasing only chassis with HD Audio
jacks, or blocking off the existing AC'97 jacks and installing a floppy bay
front panel that has proper HD Audio jacks, such as this unit:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6813999356

Note that while this unit does include an industry standard 10-pin HD Audio
connector, it also unfortunately includes "loose" multi-connector USB and
FireWire cables which I would have to convert to single connectors using new
10-pin (2x5) shells.

Here is an even better front panel bay adapter with proper 10-pin connectors
(even properly keyed and color coded) for HD Audio, USB, and FireWire:
http://shop.intel.com/shop/product.aspx ... 2&pfid=165

Here are some inexpensive jack plugs that can be used to block off unused or
improperly wired microphone and headphone jacks:
http://shop.intel.com/shop/product.aspx ... 27&pfid=98

Another solution is to get a motherboard that includes configurable FP Audio
designed to support both AC'97 and HD Audio jacks (see below).

To determine if a board has AC'97 or HD Audio, check the specs. for the
integrated audio. If they state anything about "Azalia" (Intel's codename for
HD Audio) and/or "jack sensing" (part of the HD Audio spec.), that would
indicate HD Audio instead of AC'97.


My current recommended chassis are the Vostok series by EnerMax, which feature
integrated HD Audio jacks, along with superior cooling, support for lots of
drives, and a very professional appearance:

ECA2020 Vostok microATX ($66)
http://www.enermax.com.tw/english/produ ... sp?PrID=79
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6811124127

ECA3120 Vostok full ATX ($70)
http://www.enermax.com.tw/english/produ ... sp?PrID=78
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6811124126

My current recommended motherboards include the following GigaByte models:

I actually think that these new Gigabyte "Ultra Durable2" motherboards are
the best on the market right now, even against Intel's own boards:
http://www.gigabyte.com.tw/FileList/Web ... 27_ud2.htm

I especially like the $135 GIGABYTE GA-G33M-DS2R for PC systems, SOHO servers,
and general use for pretty much everything except ultimate gaming systems:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6813128053

That particular board includes just about everything you could ask for
integrated right into the board, and yet still includes legacy ports as well.

It will accept a wide range of processors from the $44 1.6GHz Celeron 420
(Conroe) to the $1,030 3.0GHz Core2 Extreme (Quad core) QX6850, and it will
even accept the next generation 45nm Penryn chips when they are released as
well. And since I mentioned overclocking in the show, as one example you could
install a $285 2.4GHz Core2 Quad Q6600 and in most cases *easily* (and
reliably) overclock it to 3GHz. That means you essentially get a $1000
processor for $285! Now that's what I call *value*. <g>

That particular motherboard also has gigabit ethernet (I wouldn't even THINK
about building a system without gigE anymore), SATA 3.0GBps (AHCI/NCQ),
supports up to 6 drives in a RAID configuration, has all solid-state
capacitors (no bulges or leaks ever), and has eSATA support (twice as fast as
USB or FireWire for backup). Plus, with the addition of a $17 ADD card it can
even run dual displays using only the integrated video:
http://shop.intel.com/shop/product.aspx ... 5&pindex=1

Not to mention one really cool feature on this board is that the integrated
audio can be configured to properly support *EITHER* AC'97 or HD Audio jacks,
making it fully compatible with chassis featuring either type of jacks.

Besides serving as the base for a great PC, another excellent application for
this board is as the basis of a home server. For example, this $135 board plus
the EnerMax ECA2020 case ($39 at ZipZoomFly), 1GB RAM (about $30) and a
Celeron 420 CPU ($44) totals to only $248, and will flat BLOW AWAY the $500
USR8700 as a home server for about *HALF* the cost!!:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6822134001

Add a 500GB drive ($100) and it will also blow away the new $569 HP MediaSmart
Home Server for nearly half ($221 less) the cost as well:

In fact with support for 6 drives there are a number of interesting
server/RAID drive combinations possible. For a reliable home server setup, you
could run a RAID 5 array with 3 drives, have a fourth drive setup as a hot
spare, and a fifth installed as a boot drive. Then you could use the 6th port
to connect an external eSATA drive for high-speed daily or weekly backups.
With the bracket and external eSATA and SATA power cables included with the
GIGABYTE board, you can place the external backup drives in simple $4 rubber
"enclosures" like this:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6817990005

That way you could have a couple of backup drives that you directly attach
externally (on a rotating basis) and do backups twice as fast as USB, without
having to pay for $30 enclosures for each drive.

These days, any family or small business with 2 or more PCs needs a home/SOHO
server, and with the capabilities of boards based on the Intel G33 chipset,
you can obviously build better SOHO servers for much less than the larger


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