Nehalem - encounter at dawn

A little while ago, Intel sent us an evaluation Nehalem board, together with 3GB of memory, an 80GB SSD and a few bits and pieces. Charles and I decided to assemble this beast on camera for Dialogue Box, prior to running some benchmarks and using it as our testbed for the rest of the series.

A little while ago, Intel sent us an evaluation Nehalem board, together with 3GB of memory, an 80GB SSD and a few bits and pieces. Charles and I decided to assemble this beast on camera for Dialogue Box, prior to running some benchmarks and using it as our testbed for the rest of the series.

It's been a while since I built a PC - Charles, I think, has always found such manual labour somewhat beneath him - and it showed. Lots of odd cabling that wasn't there last time I looked, masses of ambiguous instructions in a variety of languages (some resembling English), and heatsinks the size of toasters that had to be bolted into place with spring loaded screws clearly descended from Bullworkers.

Eventually, we got all the bits in roughly the right configuration with only minor personal injuries, and turned the thing on.

Nothing.

Check. Recheck. Turn on.

Nothing.

Nothing? Oh, there was a strange flash of red light from the motherboard (reminding me of the time I plugged a 27128 UVEPROM in backwards to the programmer and discovered the Light Emitting One-Time Pad). Googling for the component names on the board-mounted LEDs revealed precisely one reference. In Dutch. Saying that it's probably to do with CPU overheating. Well, even at 3.20GHz a CPU doesn't overheat in under a tenth of a second.

I'll spare you the swearing (although some bleeping may make it through to Dialogue Box), but eventually we found out that I'd plugged in a tiny cable into a tiny socket - and that despite the cable falling into place exactly next to the socket, and fitting exactly right, it should not have been plugged into anything.

Tiny cable removed. Life! Light! Fans turn, BIOS flickers, keyboard responds - rah! Time to get an OS loaded. I have a bootable USB with Ubuntu 8.10 on it; much easier to get that going at first than Windows.

No go. BOOT ERROR is as far as I get. Works with everything else, I tell it. Eventually, after a great deal of trying increasingly bizarre experiments, we install Ubuntu onto a 400GB notebook SATA disk we plug into a tiny Lenovo AMD-based cheapo desktop client, then put that hard disk into the Nehalem machine.

If you try this with Windows, it gets very upset - changing too much hardware under the feet of an installation is a recipe for many, many blue screens of death, and a motherboard transplant is verboten. Ubuntu, bless it, couldn't care less: it may have found itself transported from a titchy little client box to a rampaging quad core monster, but it came up like the sun on an August morning.

it's rather thrilling to run the system monitor and see eight CPUs barely ticking over (quad core with hyperthreading, dontcha know). Next up - we'll get that SSD going, just enough so we can torture it to within a nanometre of its flashy life.