Building a Better System
The Importance of Docs
Good documentation can be the difference between a smooth computer-building experience and a nightmare that ends with a fried motherboard. Experienced PC builders may not need much hand-holding, but having decent installation help available is nonetheless critical.
For one thing, terms of manufacturers' warranties vary (visit our online chart for more information), and you're not covered under any of them if you damage the motherboard--for instance, by installing a component incorrectly. This is why documentation is so vital.
Ideally, your documentation should include a big setup poster with a detailed map of the motherboard (although a well-illustrated manual is an acceptable alternative). Gigabyte's color poster is among the best, with step-by-step instructions, clearly labeled jumper settings, and a handy map of the board's layout. The company lists motherboard models by name on its Web site, where you can easily drill down to find drivers, manuals, and compatible components for your board. Leadtek's manual provides a clear map of its motherboard, plus explanations for each part of it, but as for step-by-step installation, you're on your own. MSI's user manual has excellent installation instructions, including illustrations and schematics of the board's parts. Finally, Soyo's thin manual offers the basics, but it doesn't provide sufficient step-by-step directions for novice PC builders.
For additional help and guidance, you can find a wealth of information online, whether in forums, on Usenet, or at vendors' Web sites. For instance, AMD and Intel provide information on their sites regarding how to install a processor.
Putting It All Together
Installing your new board probably won't be hassle-free: In only half of our test cases did installation go without a hitch, and that was thanks largely to the skill of Elliott Kirschling, a senior performance analyst in the PC World Test Center and an experienced PC builder. The other four motherboards threw up some unexpected roadblocks, but none of the problems we encountered proved catastrophic. For instance, Abit's documentation didn't specify which Serial ATA chip is on the motherboard, and we couldn't easily find the right choice on the installation screen. When we picked the wrong Serial ATA chip from the list, we had to start the installation over again.
In case you get stuck and need to talk to a human, many vendors offer phone support, but good luck finding the numbers: Most motherboard makers don't list a support number prominently in manuals or online but instead direct you to send an e-mail to tech support via their Web site or to look in their online forums.