PC Build Part 3: Build
The build is surprisingly straightforward, but you’ll still probably encounter some kind of issue if it’s your first go-around. A note on troubleshooting: simple questions can lead to google-holes that get increasingly intimidating as you wade deeper and deeper into swamps of new jargon. In this case, just ask what to do next. I learned reddit is more noob-tolerant than stackexchange — people often answer within seconds.
Remove case panels.
Remove screws on front side panel to remove panel. If tempered glass, leave the plastic on the side panel until PC build is fully completed to avoid scratching the glass.
Remove back side panel. The case vendor may have stored accessories in the drive cage or the power supply shroud. (Mine didn’t have any.)
Lay case on side and set aside for now.
Remove motherboard from antistatic sleeve.
Some people say to place the motherboard on the antistatic sleeve. If you do this, turn the sleeve inside out — the outside of the sleeve is conductive, while the inside is antistatic. You can also set it atop the box it came in, since cardboard is nonconductive, or directly on the table. Everyone on the internet has a theory it seems… Just make sure you follow your grounding procedures any time you’re touching the motherboard. Wear a wrist strap if you have one.
Lift bar on side of CPU socket.
Remove CPU packaging and pick up by edges — do not touch the CPU’s surface.
The CPU socket and CPU are each keyed with a triangle in the corner. Match golden triangle on CPU with triangle on socket.
Set CPU into socket, pins down, gently wiggle to make sure fully down. This has to be one sure, steady movement. The pins on the CPU are sensitive and bend and break very easily. There’s no need to press hard or shift it after it’s in place.
Push the lever on the CPU socket down until it locks into place.
Install heat sink.
Some CPUs come with a stock cooler. This is what the mounting bars on the motherboard on either side of the socket are for. If you’re installing your own own cooler, you may not need these, in which case you can remove the mounting bars with a screwdriver. I didn’t have to remove anything.
Every cooler is different and has different installation instructions, so just consult the manual. Once you’re 100% positive you know how to finish the heat sink installation (note: you’ll be using the Phillips), then apply thermal paste to the CPU. The thermal paste is very slippery and shouldn’t get any dust, so know how to finish the installation before applying any paste.
Apply a drop of thermal paste the size of a grain of rice or green pea directly onto the center of the CPU’s heat-spreader surface. Use thermal paste or bad things will happen. Don’t use too much thermal paste or other bad things will happen.
Finish manual instructions for heat sink installation.
Install RAM in DIMM slots.
DIMM (dual in-line memory module) slots are the place on your motherboard where the RAM goes. They are the long slots usually arranged in groups of 2, 3 or 4 on the side of your CPU. You may also see DIMM slots referred to as RAM slots. The more DIMM slots your motherboard has, the more RAM you can install.
Hopefully the cooler is not so large as to encroach on the DIMM slots. I did not measure this in advance, and I’m not sure that pcpartpicker.com would have caught this issue. If yours doesn’t, a solution might be to remove the cooler temporarily in order to install the RAM, then reinstall the cooler. If that doesn’t work, your parts just might be incompatible. It doesn’t seem like this is a problem that happens very often.
The arrangement of the memory sticks in the slots matters. Consult the motherboard manual for installation instructions. It seems like, usually, if you have two RAM sticks like I did, you’ll install them in color-matched slots furthest from the CPU (slots 2 and 4 for me).
There may be side latches on both sides of the DIMM slots, or one side might be fixed. On my motherboard, one side was fixed.
Match the notch on the ram stick with the notch in the DIMM slot. Mismatching (and thereby breaking) the RAM stick is common on the “common beginners mistakes” lists.
Apply even downward pressure until side latches pop into place.
Install IO shield.
Get the IO shield (comes with the motherboard) and pop IO shield into place on the side of case. The shiny metallic side goes inward, and the audio round holes go toward bottom. Press firmly around the edges and make sure all the holes (ports) are fully accessible before screwing into place.
Install motherboard in case.
Decide whether to install motherboard or radiator first, if you have a radiator. The rule of thumb is motherboard first. I didn’t have a radiator, so I didn’t have to worry about this.
The motherboard needs to be raised off of the surface of the case with the standoffs. Otherwise bad things happen (there’s all kinds of disaster-porn related to PC building; frying the motherboard is among the most nightmarish).
Install motherboard standoffs (little pegs). You should have 8 to 12 pegs. Different configurations match different motherboard form factors: ATX, MATX, ITX. If the configuration of the pegs doesn’t match the motherboard, you can rearrange the pegs. There should be a legend on the case itself (look closely) or in the manual.
Insert the motherboard by holding the sides. Do not hold by the cooler.
Push in gently, aligning the rear IO with the IO shield. It took some time to make sure all the IO slots were aligned with the shield.
Use the screws that came with the case to screw in motherboard — there should be 8 to 12 screws.
Once securely attached to the case, the motherboard is installed. Some people don’t install the motherboard into the case until the very end; it’s up to you.
Install power supply.
Hopefully, your case has ventilation and dusters at the bottom. If it does not, install power-supply fan-up. But if it does have ventilation, install fan-down. My case has ventilation at the bottom (it seems like most do) so I installed fan-down.
Depending on the case, it’s possible you may need to mount the power supply unit. I did not have to do this.
Don’t forget about the insulation pads. Your whole PC could short circuit if your PSU touches your case.
Connect cables to power supply.
The 24-pin ATX is the supplemental motherboard power connector and it connects to the motherboard. The clip will go on the side that has the little ledge.
The 8-pin EPS connects to the CPU. EPS stands for Encapsulated PostScript. An EPS file can contain text as well as graphics. I did not have a cable that matched, so consulted the good people of reddit for this. My brother’s friend said it was fine to use non-matching cables, so that is what we did.
The 8-pin PCIe is for the video card. It may be a 6 plus 2 design. Just hold them or latch them together as you plug in. Peripheral Component Interconnect Express, better known as PCI Express (and abbreviated PCIe or PCI-E), is a computer expansion card standard. PCIe is used in motherboard-level connections and as an expansion card interface.
Serial ATA (SATA, abbreviated from Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) is a “computer bus interface” that connects host bus adapters to mass storage devices such as hard disk drives, optical drives (CD drives e.g.), and solid-state drives. These cables let the drives exchange data with the computer through the motherboard. In my case, the SATA cable plugged into the mechanical hard drive and but not the SSD, since with my components the SSD is only connected to the motherboard and not directly to the power supply.
The power cable will connect to the electrical socket. Don’t connect to the electrical socket, but go ahead and plug this in. Apparently, it’s a common rookie mistake to not plug these in all the way. They need to be securely attached, so press hard.
I ended up with lots of extra peripheral cables and lots of extra VGA slots leftover on the power supply. This is okay.
Connect front panel connectors.
The connectors need to get wired to motherboard: Power button, reset button, hard drive, power LEDs USB ports (2.0 and 3.0), audio jacks, HDMI port (for VR). If any pin snaps off of any headers you’re sort of screwed, so be careful here.
Route each cable through the cutout closest to its appropriate header. Look at the motherboard manual to see where each pin goes.
Connect power switch (check positive/negative), hard drive LED, and the other small connectors in the bundle. One video referred to these as “little bastards” because they are very tiny and annoying. My motherboard came with a little header that is labeled with the front panel parts, so I could connect them to the header and then plug the whole header into the board; this was a very helpful extra component, but not essential.
Connect USBs. Mine only had 3.0 but you might have 2.0 and 3.0. The pins are very easily breakable, so be gentle and make sure it’s going in the right way. If your motherboard has multiple headers, as long as it matches the USB type (2.0 or 3.0) you can pick any header; it doesn’t matter which.
A note on the different versions of USB: USB 1.1–12 MB/s | USB 2.0–35 MB/s | USB 3.0–400 MB/s
You can usually recognize USB 3.0 because it will have blue somewhere and it might have an abbreviation SS (for Super Speed).
Connect audio connector.
My fans are built into my chassis. If you are adding your own fans, you may need to pop off the front panel of the case. Read the manual and make sure you install them facing the correct direction, otherwise they will not be very useful.
Connecting fans was not totally straightforward so I wrote a reddit post. My side panel fans had cables so short that they barely reached the side to the motherboard so I bought a fan extension cable.
Insert hard drive into hard drive cage and screw in. The hard drive has moving parts and is subject to damage from knocks, so you should use all screws and don’t skimp. I did not see screws for this and mine seemed to fit securely in the cage, so I just locked it in the cage without screwing anything in at all… hopefully this is fine.
Plug in SATA cable (to PSU) and data cable (to motherboard).
Typically, SSDs and hard drives use identical SATA power and data cables. Before you mount SSD, you may want to plug it in first with SATA and Data cables (if it makes sense — your call). I did not actually use any cables at all because because my SSD is an M.2 SSD. An M.2 (pronounced M-dot-2) SSD is a solid-state drive (SSD) which has a very small form factor and is internally mounted.
Consult motherboard manual to see which of the PCIe by 16 slots to populate. Typically, it’s the top slot, but check the manual to be safe.
Remove expansion slots by removing the thumb screws. The number you need to remove depends on how wide your card slot width is. A vast majority of video cards use a two-slot design.
Lower the latch that’s at the end of the slot and pop the video card in. There will be a clicking sound. Put the thumb screws back in. Connect the PCIe connector. Line up with latch. If it’s a 6+2 design, make sure those are connected.
Clean up the cables.
Cable management makes your system look nicer and neater if you have a tempered glass panel. And neatly organized cables will make life easier if you have to go in and switch something later. If your case has a basement, stash them there. Mine doesn’t, so I just hid them in back behind the motherboard. You can use zip ties or velcro cable ties in tandem with tie-down points around the motherboard tray, if you have them.
Also, make sure all plastic is removed from the components (check the GPU) otherwise you’ll end up with melted plastic. Some components’ cables say to leave the plastic tags on or else the warranty will be void, so don’t remove those.
That’s it — power it on. You can go ahead and put the case panels back on or wait until you’ve booted the operating system and confirmed everything is recognized.
Here’s a good transition video that goes through the last two steps and into OS setup.
Continue to PC Build Part 4: Set Up