Back in February, I posted about my daughter building her own computer to celebrate her ninth birthday. We left off at painting the case with the promise of construction. Believe it or not, she actually built it back in February, I have just been too busy to get around to the write up. Without further ado: the documentation of what ended up being a fantastic father-daughter project!
Step 1: Unpacking and bench testing
I made it explicitly clear to my daughter before the build began that she would be responsible for putting all of the parts together herself and that I would only offer verbal instructions or a bit of muscle if needed. I wanted to make this as instructional as possible and make sure that she knew the fundamentals of what each of the parts did and how best to go about putting them together. So we removed all parts from their packages and connected them for a good Power On Self-Test (POST) to make sure there weren’t any major issues prior to installation. She was pretty amused at the process of seating the processor, thermal paste, and heatsink.
Step 2: Seating the motherboard
This part took a little patience, as the case didn’t have any standoffs pre-installed. After spending some time consulting the documentation, we figured out which holes needed to have standoffs and then spent a bit of time pushing the motherboard into place.
Not surprisingly, she didn’t enjoy matching the switch and LED wires to their appropriate spots on the motherboard. It took a little trial and error, but we sorted it out.
Step 3: Bolting up the rest of the parts.
This was the fun stuff; putting in all of the other bits and pieces.
Everybody looks forward to that moment when they get to discuss the finer points of AC versus DC power with their little girl. It’s a big moment in a young woman’s life.
Getting the 120mm fans mounted was a bit of a pain for her, due to having to drive the screws into the plastic. For those who have never done this before, the holes aren’t normally pre-threaded, but the plastic is soft enough to yield to the screws as they bore in.
Step Always: Cable management
Throughout this whole thing, we carefully discussed the importance of cable management, both for airflow and to make repairs easier in the future.
Step 4: Finishing touches on hardware
Wifi doesn’t happen without antennas! Not surprisingly, she was utterly charmed by the pair of wifi antennas she screwed into the back.
Step 5: FIRE IT UP! FIRE IT UP!
… BUT DON’T SET IT ON FIRE!
Step 6: Install the operating system
As promised, we went with a nice user-friendly installation of elementaryOS. Almost everything went smoothly until the first time the system went to sleep or attempted anything that tapped the onboard 3D graphics processor. After a bit of web searching, I realized that Intel’s Haswell architecture wasn’t fully supported by the Linux kernel in elementaryOS (3.2.0). So, I got to learn how to install an alternative kernel (3.12.0-7generic), but it went much faster than I expected and everything else worked very smoothly.
All told, this was a great project. My daughter was able to put everything together and take total ownership of her very first computer. Honestly, she was kind of losing interest by the end of things, but we both enjoyed spending the time together. It was an amusing return to the roots for me, since I haven’t built a computer since 2009. Even if she doesn’t sustain a long-term interest, she’ll always have a nerdy memory of the time she and her old man custom-built a Linux computer together.