From a novice point of view, building a computer might seem to be a daunting task. In reality however, building a computer is no more difficult than playing with Legos. The only difference here is that your parts probably cost upward of 300$-400$ dollars at the minimum, so you don’t want to mess up.
From my personal experience, in reading others methods of construction and then trying it myself, the best way to start is to find a good static free environment. Static electricity seems harmless at first, simply because it doesn’t seem to gather in large enough quantities to actually hurt anybody. While that’s true for people, the sensitive electronics used in computers are not the same way. Motherboards, RAM, graphics cards, and hard drives are all good examples of electronics that need to avoid static.
This is why when you’re taking them out of the packaging, they are almost always wrapped in an antistatic bag. Past this however, the best antistatic environment I’ve found is an unfinished basement, or a room with otherwise non-static creating surfaces (read: not rugs). All that being said, I’ve rubbed motherboards on carpets without causing any damage – most static protection is a precaution more than anything, but certainly a precaution that you do want to have, because that one time that static could cause damage, you don’t want it happening to your brand new 300$ graphics card.
First Steps: Setting Up the Motherboard
Once you’ve picked a good spot to build, start with the base of the computer – the motherboard. Take it out of the packaging, and if this is your first time building a computer, identify the spots you are going to need to be aware of later in the process. The RAM slots, the PCI and PCI Express slots, your processor bay, your SATA ports, your fan plugs, and possibly the IDE port (this is becoming outdated quickly, though if you’re reusing an older hard drive, it may still use this). All of these should be laid out in the instruction manual provided with the motherboard, and if that fails to help, most of these slots are labeled right on the PCB of the motherboard as well.
Mounting the CPU Processor
I always start by mounting the processor to the motherboard. Sometimes, if you’re using a third party or aftermarket heatsink, you’re going to need access to the bottom of the motherboard to mount it. Some cases provide a hole for this, but when you’re building the computer for the first time, its easiest to just keep it out of the case. Your processor should match the slot on the motherboard if you purchased the correct hardware – check back later for a “How to buy computer parts” tutorial if you’re having trouble choosing components. This part isn’t hard at all once you do have the right parts though. First, there should be a small lever on the side of the socket on the motherboard. Lift this up to open the slots for the pins. Now, take your processor out of the box and line it up with the layout (I believe all processors only fit in one way, so if it doesn’t drop in, just rotate it 90 degrees until it does). It should slip right in, and once it does simply close that lever. Congratulations! You just mounted your first processor.
Installing the Heatsink and Thermal Paste
Now you have to mount the heatsink onto the processor. This part is designed solely to cool your processor – that’s why when you plan on overclocking, or pushing the processor harder than it was designed to stock, you should buy a larger heatsink, or look into watercooling. This tutorial will simply explain how to mount the stock heatsink. First off, you’re going to need to apply thermal paste. Some heatsinks that are provided with processors come with thermal paste pre-applied. Look out for this because you do not want to apply a layer to the processor only to realize manufactures already did that on the heatsink for you. If that isn’t the case however, you need to buy your own thermal paste.
One of the best on the market currently is Artic Silver Five. This comes in a small syringe. To apply, simply squeeze out a small bit onto the face of the processor and spread it evenly across using something like a notecard. This layer should cover the entire chip, but should be as thin as possible. Too much thermal paste can cause an insulation effect and damage your chip. As for clamping on the heatsink, both Intel and AMD have a simple clamp system that the motherboard company is aware of, so nothing needs to be changed or adjusted like you might have to with an aftermarket heatsink. For this simply place the heatsink flatly on the chip, and secure the clamp. Heatsinks tend to vary chip to chip so I can’t be too specific on the how-to here, but the clamps are made to be easy to use. The instruction manual for the chip and motherboard probably have details you can check up on as well. Finally, if you have a fan on your heatsink, plug it into the processor fan port and you should be ready to go.
Adding the Power Supply
Now before the motherboard goes into the case, the power supply should be installed. This can go in after the motherboard as well, but for most cases, especially smaller ones, its much more convenient to put this in first. There will be a mounting point for this on either the bottom or top of your case. Your power supply is most likely the standard size (if it isn’t, you probably aren’t building a computer) and should slide right in. There should be four screws included with the case and power supply (they should be the same screws, so use whichever) and you can screw it in via the four holes in the back of the case. Set the small red switch to either 110V or 220V based on your outlet. The default for the US is 110V. If this is set incorrectly, you could potentially fry your supply, so make sure its correct.
Opening the Case
Now that your power supply is installed, you can move on to mounting the board to the inside of the case. Per the cases instructions, pop off the side and find which standoff points you are going to need for your motherboard size. These are usually labeled with letters, and the ones you need for your motherboard (full-ATX, micro-ATX, etc) are usually detailed in your cases instruction manual. Using these points, take the standoffs provided with the case(usually a brownish color), and screw them in! Now you’re ready to place the motherboard within the case.
Securing the Motherboard
This step is generally simple, but it is very vital that the motherboard is secured correctly. Place the board in with the PCI slots lined up with the rear expansion slots of the case. The processor should be towards the top of the case, and the SATA ports should be towards the bottom (note: this is the case on most motherboards – yours may be slightly different). Now use the screws provided with the case to screw the motherboard in. Make sure to get every single screw, even the ones that are difficult to reach. The screws act as grounds from the metal case to the motherboard, so a missing screw could cause your computer to not boot up or randomly shut down.
Installing Random Access Memory (RAM)
Before connecting your power supply, you should install your RAM sticks. These are easy enough to install. Locate the RAM slots on your motherboard and simply press the tabs on either side to the open position. The stick will only go in one way, and all you need to do to install it is apply pressure – the tabs should close in with a click and boom! Your RAM is installed. Rinse and repeat for additional sticks.
Graphics Card Installation
Now, I usually hook up the f_panel (I’ll explain later) and power supply, but if you have an aftermarket graphics card as opposed to an embedded one, it may need a power hookup and in this case its easier to put the card in first. Thankfully, this is as easy as the RAM. The only difference here is that you need to remove an expansion slot cover. The PCI Express slot doesn’t even have tabs, so just press it in until it clicks. You can then secure it with a screw where the expansion slot cover used to be and your graphics card should be ready to go.
Connecting the f_panel
Now we move onto the f_panel. This, although one of the easiest tasks once you’ve done it a couple of times, can seem extremely difficult for a beginner. Basically this is the panel of tiny plugs and pins that connects your cases power button, reset button, USBs, and speaker/mic inputs to the motherboard. In this step, turn to your motherboard instruction manual and look for the f_panel diagram. The f_panel itself is just a small piece on your motherboard with small pins. There should be writing on the PCB labeling it as such, and labeling where each cable should go. This is much clearer in the manual, which is why I suggest you look it up there. Now grab your assortment of cables from the front panel of the case and get to plugging. The plugs from the switches and inputs should all be labeled with a positive, negative, and plug type. If a positive/negative label is missing, there should be a single color for every negative, and a different color for every positive. Now just match up the labels with the correct pins on the f_panel according to the manual, and you should be set to go!
Power Supply Cables
The power supply is next. The first cable I recommend connecting is the giant 20-24 pin cable. There is only one spot this will fit on the motherboard, and it will only fit in one direction. This port is labeled in your manual and is usually directly across from the PCI slots. If you mess that one up, I can’t help you. Next, you have a 4-6 pin cable that runs to the top of the motherboard. This again fits in only one way. If you have a graphics card that needs extra power, plug this in now as well. The plug quickly becoming standard for aftermarket cards is the 6 pin PCI Express plug, and it should be labeled as such. If your power supply does not have this, most graphics cards will come with an adapter that uses peripheral plugs.
Disk Drive Installation
HDDs, SSDs, and DVD/CD drives are next in the lineup. The installation of these varies heavily from case to case so I won’t go too heavily into it, but the basic setup tends to be similar. For your DVD/CD/Blu-Ray drive, remove the front plate of the computer case and slide the drive in. There should be a lock that you can lock in the drive with, and if not, there are screws that the drive can be secured with. Now for plugging it in – with newer drives, this is done using a SATA power cable. Your power supply should have these with about three to a cable so that drives can be daisy chained when you have multiple. These should be labeled and are the only ones that will fit.
Now if your drive is older, it will simply use a 4 pin peripheral cable. For the data connection, newer drives use SATA cables. Usually two of these are provided with the motherboard, so for a single disc drive and single hard drive setup you shouldn’t need any extra cabling. Simply plug one end into the disc drive and run the other one to the motherboard. Plug it into the port labeled as number one, so that your computer knows which drive to boot from when installing your OS. If its an old drive and uses IDE (big ribbon cables) simple do the same except use the IDE port on the motherboard. For the hard drive, install according to the cases instructions. Every case is different, but they usually give a pretty good summary on how to install the hard drive because they know this. When it comes to plugging it in, it is literally the same exact story as the disc drive. Once this is in place and connected, your computer is nearly ready to go!
To finally finish up your computer, just install any wireless cards or extra USB cards if you have them per the instructions (these use PCI slots, and act similar to an aftermarket graphics card, without the power). Then simply plug in any fans that your case has and try to boot it up! If you get a BIOS screen followed by a screen asking for boot media, you’ve successfully built a computer!
Computer Build Conclusion
So in conclusion, to build a computer, these are the steps:
- Get familiar with the motherboard
- Mount the processor
- Mount the heatsink
- Mount the power supply in the case
- Mount the motherboard in the case
- Install the RAM sticks
- Install aftermarket graphics (optional)
- Wire the f_panel
- Wire the power supply
- Install HDDs/Disc drives
Article courtesy of kevin at Technology-Flow.com
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