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  • Robert Staples

Bang-for-Buck Small Form Factor Hauptwerk Build

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

It no longer requires vast riches and a PhD in Electrical Engineering to build your own Hauptwerk PC.


As both an avid Hauptwerk enthusiast and a computer hardware enthusiast, I have long lamented the enormous, oversized, full-size computer that I have been using to use to run Hauptwerk.  While the computer functions acceptably, because of its status as a “budget build” two years ago, it is running out-of-date hardware for which no in-place upgrades are available, and it certainly leaves a great deal to be desired when it comes to two things:

  • Size – It is HUGE, and weighs over 30 pounds

  • Loading Speed – It was running the cheapest old-fashioned hard drive available at the time


Fig. 1 - The Newly-Arrived Computer Parts

Being a big fan of Small Form Factor (SFF) computers, as well as looking forward to the completion of my mobile Hauptwerk console project (keep your eyes peeled for another post about that later this summer), I decided that the time had finally arrived to upgrade my Hauptwerk computer.


Before getting into the build process, the result of the build has the following specifications:

  • Intel i7-7700 CPU – Quad-Core/8-Thread 4.2 GHz

  • 32GB DDR4-2400 RAM

  • Samsung 970 EVO M.2 Solid-State Drive

  • Wireless-AC with 2 antennas

This build configuration was, in my opinion, a very reasonable configuration which is sufficiently future-proof for a moderate Hauptwerk user such as myself, while allowing for in-place upgrades in the future.


In this post, I aim to provide both a reasonably detailed build log for anyone interested in building a small form-factor PC for their own Hauptwerk needs, and also give some of my thoughts on the benefits of both this build and small PC’s in general for Hauptwerk.




The Parts

After a great deal of research, I purchased the parts that would go into the PC itself.  While this process of researching and comparing specifications and prices lasted several months, the end configuration consisted of the following parts, ordered from Amazon.  I will note here: it is critical that any parts purchased be checked against the official compatibility list of the motherboard.  More on this later, but it bears repeating.


Case - ASRock Deskmini 110 - $137 - Link Here

CPU - Intel i7-7700 - $310 - Link Here

RAM - G.Skill 32GB (2×16) DDR4-2400 SO-DIMM - $327 - Link Here

SSD - Samsung 970 EVO M.2 250GB - $103 - Link Here


Once these were all ordered, and they had arrived two days later, the build began.


The Build

For anyone who is familiar with custom-building a PC, this section may be uninteresting and repetitive, but for anyone interested in an extremely beginner-friendly PC build for Hauptwerk, or any other purpose, feel free to follow along here.


The first step is to open the ASRock Deskmini 110 kit.  This kit, unlike traditional full-size DIY computer builds, comes with a motherboard and case pre-assembled, and a laptop-style power supply.  Thus, all that is required is to remove four small screws on the rear of the unit, and slide the motherboard tray out, revealing the inner workings of the machine.


At this point, the beauty of the Small-Form-Factor ASRock kit comes into play.  Since the motherboard is already mounted, the power supply is outboard, and the front panel headers are already attached, there are only really three things that need to happen:

  • Installing the CPU/Fan (Blue in fig. 2)

  • Installing the memory (Yellow in fig. 2)

  • Installing the M.2 cards (Red in fig. 2)


Fig. 2 - ASRock DeskMini Motherboard - Annotated

Begin by lifting the retention arm by pressing down, then to the side, and then finally releasing the arm.  This allows the lifting of the cover.  Once the black plastic filler is removed, very carefully place the CPU into the socket, making sure to align the notched corner of the processor with the notched corner of the socket.  Then, the cover can be placed back over the socket, the retaining arm can be slowly pressed back into place, and the CPU is in!



Fig 3. - Installing the CPU

The next step is to install the memory.  Note: some builders may prefer to install the fan next, instead, but I prefer to leave the fan off until booting the first time, to ensure that the CPU is properly fitted before installing the fan and its associated (possibly messy) heatsink paste.

When installing the memory, be sure to press the locking mechanisms on each end of the slots into the unlocked, or “down” position before inserting the modules.  Failure to do this this result in potential damage to the motherboard.  Once the locks are unlocked, simply make sure that the notch on the bottom of the memory module aligns with the notch in the slot (they’re asymmetrical) and press the module firmly into place.  I find it’s best to press on each end separately in sequence, not both at once.  Once each end of each module clicks into place, the memory is installed.


At this point, it is prudent to retrieve the power supply from the box, a spare monitor, and boot the computer.  This way you can be certain that the most sensitive part of the entire build, the processor, is properly seated.  Do not leave the computer running for more than a few minutes this way, but it is prudent to perform this check now, before installing the fan.  If the computer boots at all, you’re good to go.  Press the power-off button and prepare to install the fan.



Fig. 4 - Memory installed into the computer

Installing the fans on Intel’s new processors is an incredibly easy task, and no longer even includes manually applying any messy paste!  Simply remove the fan from it’s box, remove any protective plastic, ensuring that the silver-colored paste on the bottom is not covered, and place the fan on top the CPU.  It is not directional, so rotation is not important, although be sure to install such that the CPU cable is run in a safe place (not touching the heatsink).  In addition, the new Intel fans are easier than ever to install.  Simply press the pins on each corner until they click, and you’re done!  Finally, simply plug the fan plug into the header at the bottom side of the board marked “CPU_FAN”.  The connector is keyed, so make sure the key slot is on the correct side.


The final steps in this build process are two install the M.2 cards.  The ASRock Deskmini kit that I purchased (the one linked above) comes with a Wi-Fi module and antennas included in the kit.  This is the next item to install.



Figure 5 – The Wi-Fi Module and SSD. Bottom – Wi-Fi; Top – SSD;

Before installing the Wi-Fi module, let me tell you something I learned the hard way: attach the antennas before inserting the module itself.  If you don’t, it’s not impossible to get them to attach after-the-fact, but it’s quite a bit more difficult and causes the module and motherboard to bend and flex uncomfortably.  I found that the easiest way to attach the cables was to lay the cable on the backside of the attachment post (nearer the body of the card), and press toward the outside edge of the card.  Due to what I believe is a locking mechanism used to strengthen the cable connection, I was never able to get the cable to click by pressing straight down.  The angled approach worked reliably.  Do not attach to the external antennas yet, leave the wires hanging for mobility purposes.


The Wi-Fi module is a simple installation, simply align the notch on the bottom of the module with the notch on the bottom M.2 slot, and press into the slot.  There will not be a “click” in this case, just press it lightly until it stops.  Then, take one of the provided screws and screw the other end of the card down to the board.  After this, punch out the antenna holes and install the antennas themselves, being certain to run the cables safely around the CPU.  Additionally, be sure to tighten each antenna’s base nut well, to avoid the antenna unscrewing the entire post by accident.


Finally, last but most certainly not least, is the storage.  I used, and I encourage anyone building nowadays to also use, M.2 NVMe Solid State Disks (SSDs).  Solid state disks, in short, have no moving parts, and are orders of magnitude faster than traditional drives.  This is critical in Hauptwerk, and is one of the core reasons I did this build, to improve loading times for sample sets.


The storage is installed in the same way as the Wi-Fi module, but uses the other (longer) mounting post.


At this point, the machine is complete!  I won’t go into installing the operating system, as that’s covered in numerous other sources online.  But, after a 4-minute installation (thank goodness for Solid-State Disks!), Windows was up and running and I was able to install Hauptwerk, the USB key drivers, the key itself, and plug it into my console!


Takeaways

This project has been one of the most fun and most useful computer builds I’ve ever done, and I have had several takeaways from this build that I think pertain to Hauptwerk systems and Hauptwerk users in general:

  • Size First and foremost, this project proves that Hauptwerk users can have both a small form-factor computer as well as high performance. In the past, to get a machine with this much memory and solid-state storage would have required a larger traditional CPU build or purchasing a grossly-overpriced Mac of some kind.  With this new kit from ASRock, I’m able to have a full-fledged Hauptwerk PC inside a 5-inch square case.  I’ve read books larger and heavier than this PC, which is amazing! In my case, since I’m making my console portable, I literally would not have been able to continue to use my old tower computer.  For other users, however, the small size could yield great benefits for space-saving in situations where space is at a premium.  In my situation, this also applied, since the console currently resides inside my walk-in closet.  As you can imagine, it dominates the space, so freeing the floor space is a great benefit.  Additionally, I encourage other Hauptwerk users to investigate VESA mounts for this form-factor.  VESA mounts allow the computer to be mounted to the back of the monitor, thus removing the CPU visually from the entire console.  This will likely be a future upgrade for this system.

  • Bang-per-Buck This is something that really amazes me every day about modern computers. The fact that a user can have a computer which has 32 GB of memory, a solid-state drive, and a 4.2 GHz Quad-Core CPU for $900 is impressive.  If I had bought only 16 GB of memory, I would have been around $700.  That’s a killer performance deal for moderate users of Hauptwerk! As an IT professional, I certainly appreciate custom-built dual-socket rigs with 3 SSDs in RAID and a quarter-terabyte of RAM (I say this as the owner of three full-sized servers myself…), but for more budget-conscious Hauptwerk users, myself included, this combination of form-factor and performance with cost is really a wonderful offering.

  • Beginner-Friendliness This is probably the most striking aspect of this build. I’m not even that old, but I can remember when building a computer was a harrowing task, fraught with peril and potential to damage equipment.  After this build, and two other recent builds (A Ryzen 1700 gaming build and an i7-7700k workstation build), I honestly am amazed how incredibly foolproof computer building is today.  It’s literally impossible to connect the wrong plug to the wrong port, for example, and modern BIOS and OS software is so compatible that formally installing drivers is almost a thing of the past.Without a doubt, anyone tech-savvy enough to plug their DVD player into their TV and successfully watch a movie can probably build their own PC.  Especially something like the Deskmini kit, where there’s no power supply to worry about, and no front headers.  Simply buy the parts, plug them in, and you’re off!

  • ALWAYS Check Compatibility Lists – Always! After building the system the first time, I proceeded to install the operating system. However, this process would crash on error at a seemingly-random point in time, every single time.  For the sake of brevity, I will not proceed into details, but I struggled to track down this error, and after two trips to my local computer store to buy replacement installation media and memory, I was still getting errors.  I eventually concluded that I had a bad memory module, so I returned the memory and bought another pack of the same memory.  After waiting for this to ship, I tested it and, to my absolute frustration, it still wouldn’t work!  I was able to get the Operating System to run long enough to install once, but the machine would simply blue-screen at unexpected times thereafter. Eventually, after a great deal of thought, I realized I’d made an incredibly stupid mistake… I hadn’t checked if the memory was on the official “support” list for the motherboard.  After a quick check, it was not.  I ordered some that was (The G.Skill listed above in the official parts list).  While I’ve never had a consumer-model computer build which was sensitive enough to actually bother with what memory was installed (I’ve had plenty of servers that were choosy, but not consumer machines), this machine clearly did.  Note for the wise: check the compatibility list (Available Here). Also, MemTest86 is a fantastic tool.  I was able to diagnose that my memory was having errors using that tool.  When running on the original Crucial-brand memory, I had over 16,000 errors before the 7th test had even completed.  Once running the G.Skill, it ran repeatedly to completion without a single error.  It could not possibly have been easier to use, so I highly recommend MemTest86 for memory troubleshooting.

  • Other Notes I would also like to acknowledge that this build could be completed with a much smaller budget simply by replacing the i7 processor with an i5 and the memory with 16GB instead of 32 GB. These substitutions alone could get the cost down to near $550 for what would still be a stout Hauptwerk PC.

Conclusion


Figure 6 – The completed build. Standard Organ Keyboards for size reference.

In conclusion, it is now possible for a totally un-initiated user to build a wonderfully capable system to run most reasonable Hauptwerk configurations on their own.  Using the ASRock Deskmini kit and readily-available modern parts, any Hauptwerk enthusiast should feel confident building their own very-capable Hauptwerk PC so small that it likely fits underneath their keyboard stack – standing upright!


I hope that this post encourages other Hauptwerk users to experiment and journey into the realm of building their own computers, as well as building small form-factor computers.  Not only can they save money and feel extremely proud of their equipment, they can now also, with the right equipment, make the computer small enough to toss in a backpack or under their desk.


Additionally, I am always available if anyone has any questions or thoughts.  I enjoy conversing about computer hardware, and will always be glad to offer pointers and assistance to anyone looking to build a Hauptwerk computer on their own, in any form factor.


Robert Staples