Now that you’ve chosen and bought all your parts, it’s time to put them all together!
To preface, I do have a few pictures, but not enough. And if you’re like me, you really need to see someone else doing it, so at the bottom of this post I have included a link to a video that goes through a build very clearly and comprehensively. You can see exactly what goes where and how to do it. I recommend reading through my guide and watching the video before you begin.
There really aren’t too many tools you will need. For a basic build, the only mandatory tools would be:
- Anti-static wrist band
- Phillips screw driver
(To be quite honest, I’ve never actually had an anti-static wrist band! However, it is good practice to use, so if you want to do it right, get one! I just had to be extra careful. Don’t move your feet on the carpet. Touch a piece of grounded unpainted metal often – like the inside of your case.) You may need a couple different sizes of Phillips screw driver, or even a flat head screw driver depending on your parts. Some optional fancy tools are:
- Magnetic screw driver
- Zip ties
A magnetic screw driver may save you a lot of annoyance if you are clumsy and drop tiny screws a lot. Zip ties help keep your cables neat and tidy in your case.
Also make sure you have plenty of light and a nice big, clean, hard surface to work on. If you can work in a room that is tiled or has hard wood, that is better than a carpeted room – for anti-static purposes. Finally, keep your pets away and don’t pet them while you’re building.
I call this Step 0 because it is unboxing your parts. You will be handling some of the most advanced technological inventions in the world! Some of them are extreeeeeeeemely sensitive. You most likely have lots of dirt and oil on your hands and hair that falls out and dead skin cells that are constantly sloughing off. I don’t care how many times you wash your hands! They’re still dirty — compared to the parts you’ll be handling. Therefore, as you unbox, keep the items in their anti-static bags as long as possible. Wait until the last minute until you are ready to go before finally taking them out.
Anything with a circuit board – only touch and hold it on the sides! Do not touch the top or bottom unless you can keep your fingers on bare board.
To the left is a picture of my last build right before unboxing. I apologize for the quality of the photo. That was a previous smart phone of mine that took really not great photos.
Open up your case so you can reach inside. Some cases allow you to remove two sides making it easier to work. The last build I did, I could actually remove two sides and tip the top and front on a hinge for even easier access!
If your case does not come with the power supply already installed, do that first. Make sure the switch on the power supply is turned off. The location of the power supply depends on the design of the case and the power supply itself. Most are installed in the bottom rear of the case.
Find the location and align the four screw holes in the power supply with the four screw holes on the case. Make sure the fan on the power supply is pointing out of the case and it is next to a screen so that heat is dissipated away from the inside of the case.
Screw in the screws to hold the power supply to the case. You may take the power cord and plug it into a turned-off surge protector. Keep both surge protector and power supply turned off as you continue the rest of the steps. Now is also a good time to fix your anti-static band to an unpainted metal location on the case.
The next steps will involve the motherboard. If you’re unfamiliar with the components on a motherboard, here is a labelled diagram to help, which links to the site from which it comes.
Next, you’ll install the CPU onto the motherboard. Take out the motherboard and set it on top of the clean box it came in.
The CPU array on the motherboard is covered with a holding plate and a latching spring arm.
- Unlatch the arm and pull it back.
- Pull back the holding plate to expose the CPU array.
- Take your CPU out of the packaging, being careful to only hold it by the sides.
- Check where the notches on the CPU match the notches on the array and drop the CPU onto the array. Try to drop it as flat as possible so it doesn’t catch on the notches.
- Once the processor is seated properly, fold back the holding plate and swing down the arm and press the arm back into its latch.
Now that the CPU is in, remember to not touch the top of the processor! You don’t want to have the oils from your skin sitting on your processor.
Now you’ll want to install your RAM sticks into the DIMM slots on the motherboard. If you have fewer RAM sticks than slots, check your motherboard’s manual to find out which slots to use.
- Line up the notch on the stick to the notch in the slot. It only fits one way.
- Press the stick into the slot until the tabs at the ends click into place.
Now you can install the CPU cooler/heat sink. If it is the stock cooler that came with the CPU, that’s fine. If you purchased an after market heat sink, follow the instructions that came with it. Don’t forget your thermal paste if your CPU doesn’t have any already!
Also, here is where you may need a flat-head screw driver.
- First, find the four holes in the motherboard to support the four pins on the cooler.
- Next, find the CPU fan header. This is the power connection into which you’ll plug the cable attached to the cooler.
- Make sure you orient the cooler so that the cable can a) reach the header, and b) slack in the cable can reach the clips provided on the cooler.
- If you haven’t already, apply your thermal paste – a pea sized amount in the center of the CPU is fine. It will spread when the cooler is installed.
- Whether you press the four cooler pins down or have screws that you screw down, be sure to use a diagonal pattern to do so. Press down two diagonal pins and then press down the other two, or move in an X pattern with screws, going gradually until they are tight.
Now you’re ready to install the motherboard into the case! Hopefully the case or the motherboard came with spacers/risers to hold the motherboard off the metal side of the case. Double check where the pin holes are on the motherboard and on the case. Often, cases are designed to fit more than one size of motherboard so be sure you have the correct mounting locations before moving in with the sensitive, expensive electronic hardware!
- Insert the I/O shield in the back of the case. This is where your hookups for various on-board peripherals are going to be.
- Install riser pins if not in already.
- Position motherboard in the correct position in the case.
- Carefully! Screw in the screws into each hole on the motherboard. (Here’s a good place for a magnetic screw driver if you have one!)
Install hard drives and optical drive if you have one. Your case should have bays for installing drives. Read the manual for your case to find out how to mount your drives to the bays.
For your optical drive (DVD, BluRay, CD, etc), there may be a plate at the front of the case in place where the drive goes. Take that plate off and slide the drive in through the front of the case until it is flush with the front. Fix the drive in place with four screws – two on each side.
If you have a graphics card, you can install it now. GPUs can use one, two, or even three I/O slots at the back of the case.
- Take out the plates that are on the slots that you need, and keep the screws that were on the plates handy for GPU installation.
- Flip back the tab on the PCI-Express slot you are using.
- Insert the card into the slot, and push down until the tab clicks back into place.
- Re-install the screws fixing the GPU to the back plate of the case.
Power! Now you can connect all your power cables to the motherboard and the graphics card (if needed). Also, if you have a liquid cooler, that may also need power. Don’t forget to connect the following cables coming from the power supply:
- Motherboard 24-pin cable
- CPU 8-pin cable
- GPU 6- or 8-pin cables
- USB 3.0 power cable
- Case fan power cables
- SATA power cables to drives
In addition, your hard drives and optical drives require SATA data cables routing from the motherboard to the drives. If you have 6Gb/s and 3Gb/s connections on your motherboard, use the 6Gb/s connections for hard drives, and the 3 Gb/s connections for optical drives.
Finally, you have various buttons and devices at the front of your case which need power – a power button, a reset button, maybe some USB ports, an LED indicator or two, and maybe a headphone connection and microphone connection. These have power cables that all attach to a single case interface header on the motherboard. You may need to read your motherboard’s manual to figure out which cable plugs into which pin on the header. The cables should be well labeled.
The Final Product!
Here is the video showing an entire build from beginning to end. Watch this video for the tips and tricks Brett gives for each step. For example: to find the correct mounting holes to attach the motherboard spacers to (Brett calls them risers), place the motherboard on a sheet of paper and trace the mounting holes through. Once the spacers are in, press the paper over the spacers until the spacers push through. Make sure the spacers push through where the traced holes are located.
Finally, I wanted to include this video. It’s not educational, but because we are TechDifferent, it shows that women like building computers too!