How To Build Your PC

Building a PC from scratch is not as difficult as you might think, just watch out for some common pitfalls.

Man installing PC parts

Building a computer may seem like a massive undertaking, but when you take each step one at a time, it's not nearly as complicated as it appears. It can also save you a decent chunk of cash compared to buying a pre-built PC. Once you have all the parts, putting them together isn't difficult at all. While there are important things to consider while you build, we can help you avoid any potential pitfalls.

Before you start

Read all the instructions. If your instructions conflict with anything you read here, go with what the manual says.

Avoid static. The last thing you want to do is accidentally zap a fragile piece of electronics with static electricity. Build your computer on a flat surface away from carpets or other places that might cause a build up of static. Your kitchen table is probably a good choice, assuming it's not made out of fur.

Get your case ready.  Everything happens in here so make sure your case is empty, clean and dust free. Also, make sure everything is going to fit in your case. Take some basic measurements to be sure that once you plug the video card into the motherboard, it's not going to stick out past the side of the case.

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Step 1: Set up Your Motherboard

Warning: Make sure your motherboards design configuration will fit in your case. There are a number of standard configurations and you want to be sure the motherboard and case are both using the same one.

Remove the motherboard from its packaging. Set it in a static-free location. You’ll be plugging most of the other parts into the motherboard. Refer to the image below for the size of each connection, but note that locations on your motherboard may be different.

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Step 2: Plug in the Processor to the Motherboard

Warning: Motherboards will be designed to be compatible for either Intel or AMD processors. Make sure your motherboard and processor are compatible before moving forward.

There will be an obvious square space where your processor goes. There should be a couple of tabs that you can slide the processor in, and it will click into place. Don’t push down too hard.

Next, you’ll want to attach the heat sink on top of the processor. Most current processors have adhesive already attached. Simply remove the paper attached to the adhesive and lower the heatsink onto the processor. You may also need to add the adhesive yourself in order to stick the heatsink to the processor.

Step 3: Add the Ram

This part is easy. Take each stick of RAM and push it lightly into each slot until it clicks in place. Review the diagram above to make sure you don't mix up the RAM slots with the PCI slots.

Step 4: Install the I/O Plate in Your Case

In the box with your motherboard was small piece of aluminum with a bunch of holes it. This shows you where the connections will be for your keyboard, mouse, USB, etc. Snap it into place in the back of your case (taking care to make sure you put it in right side up).

Step 5: Screw Power Supply into Position

It’s time to start putting things in the case. Take the power supply out of the box and screw it into place in the back of the case.

Step 6: Put the Motherboard in the Case

Warning: Find the brass standoffs that came with your case. They are designed to sit between the motherboard and case to keep the motherboard from touching the side of your case, where it could get a static shock. It's possible your motherboard already has them attached, but check to be sure.

Slide your motherboard gently into the case, lining up all the appropriate screw holes, and then screw it down.

Step 7: Install the Graphics Card onto the Motherboard

Warning: If your motherboard has more than one slot for a GPU, but you're only using one, the motherboard may have a preference which one you plug into, so check the manual first.

Locate the PCI slot on the motherboard. This is where your graphics card will go. Push it into place until it clicks, like you did with the RAM.

Step 8: Install Your Drives

Find the dedicated slots for your hard drives and DVD drives. Simply slide them into place and screw them down.

Step 9: Plug in All the Wires

Warning: Take this part very slow and make sure you don't forget any connections. There's a better than average chance when you press the power button the first time, the computer won't come on because one of these connections was missed.

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Wiring can seem intimidating, but it's fairly simple if you take it a piece at a time. All the plugs are different so you won't accidentally plug in a hard drive where your processor power supply is supposed to go.

There will be two major cables running from the power supply to the motherboard: a 24-pin, and either a 4-pin or an 8-pin. Plug these both into the motherboard.

There are two 6-pin PCI plugs for your graphics card. Plug them in.

Your drives use a thin connection called a SATA. Plug one into each drive you’re using.

There will also be a collection of small cables in your case that attach to the motherboard so any USB or audio jacks on the front of your case work properly.

Now you've got a computer that's ready to go, just plug in your monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers, and let're rip.

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About the Author
Stephen Libbey Contributor

Stephen is a veteran of the consumer electronics industry where he was a sales manager for numerous products, everything from basic stereos to whole home automation systems.  Most of the people he knows in that industry call him Dirk, but that’s not important.  He is an avid gamer, occasional podcaster, coffee snob, and watches much more TV than is probably healthy.  Today he is a freelance writer specializing in his various geek obsessions.  You can join his obsessions on Twitter, @childe_dirk

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