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More and more people are building their own PCs than ever before – a pastime which teaches you how computers work, lets you work with your hands, and gives you a brand new device at the end of it! Wondering how to put a new PC together from scratch? Read on, and find out all you need to know about a step-by-step guide to building your own PC.
Building Your Own PC: Source Your Components
Building up a parts list for your computer can be a terrifying prospect: where do I start? What do all these numbers and serial codes mean? What is compatible with what? And how do I know how much power my PC will need? Thankfully, there is a bevy of resources online which enable you to understand exactly what each part of a PC does, how they work together and what you need to build one. In essence, you need eight key things: a case, a motherboard, a compatible CPU, a CPU cooler, GPU, RAM, storage and a power supply. You also need system cooling, but many cases come with pre-installed cooling fans, making your life easier in the process.
In essence, the CPU is your computer’s brain, handling complex calculations and tasks to run things. Your GPU handles graphics – which is anything from your desktop to rendering videogames. RAM is your computer’s short-term memory – the more of it you have, the faster your computer can work and the more tasks it can handle simultaneously. Storage is where your operating system and all your files go, and the power supply keeps it all running! Now, how to put them together?
Populate the Motherboard
Before the motherboard goes anywhere near your case, you should populate it with your CPU of choice and RAM. CPUs are extremely delicate to install, and doing so from inside the case makes a hard job even more so. Intel CPUs have an array of contact points on the bottom, which must be lined up with pins in the motherboard’s CPU bay. Use the gold triangle in one corner of the CPU to line it up with the socket on the motherboard, and carefully lower it into place. The bracket on the motherboard should have a load arm, enabling you to press and lock the CPU into place. AMD CPUs are the inverse, with pins on the chip lining up with notches in the motherboard. The load arm for an AMD board holds the chip in place by tensioning against the pins, instead of locking down from above – otherwise, the process is more or less the same.
Now for the RAM, a far easier job. RAM slots into any of the four RAM slots available on the vast majority of motherboard – just make sure you know how the motherboard reads the slots; motherboards treat the slots as paired, meaning you could lose out on RAM by plugging them into the same “bank” by accident.
Install the Power Supply (and Cooling Fans)
Carefully slot your power supply into your case, ensuring it is oriented correctly and the cables are pointing in the right direction, and screw it into place. Your power supply is the first thing to go in for two key reasons: first, because you have complete control of, and access to, the various power connections coming off it. You can pre-arrange the cables to be in the right place for when you install other parts, and avoid struggling to thread cables around a populated case later on. Secondly, having the power supply plugged in first enables you to earth your case and components, by plugging it into an outlet for your outlet earth. Do not turn the power on yet, though!
Now is also a good time to install the fans, for the same reason – you can painlessly route the cables to where they need to meet the motherboard, before installing the motherboard and blocking access.
Install Your Storage
The storage bays are accessible on the reverse side. Depending on the storage you intend to use, they will be installed in different places: a storage bay near to the power supply will support 2.5” and some 3.5” drives, while vertical trays above them can support the newer, smaller m.2 standard. Generally speaking, your storage is most likely to fit in the cage by your power supply, utilising either screws to hold them in place or a proprietary plastic lever system. Slot your storage into the bays provided, ensuring the SATA cable is poked through the back and accessible from the other side, and hook them up to your power supply.
Install the Motherboard, GPU and Expansions
Now the motherboard can go in. Gently lower it into the case, and fasten it to its anchor points. With the motherboard securely in place, you can now install the GPU into the PCIe* 16 slot on the motherboard. Make sure the GPU’s connection to the motherboard is firm before screwing it into place. If you are installing additional cards such as a video capture card or separate Wi-Fi card, now is the time to do so.
Install the CPU Cooler
Now that the motherboard is seated and completely populated (barring connections), you can finally install your CPU cooler. You may have opted for a classic heatsink, or a more involved powered fan solution – either way, the process is the same – and either way, you will need thermal grease to regulate your CPU’s temperature. Place a small dot of thermal grease on your CPU surface, then install the cooler according to its included instructions, making sure to firmly press the cooler into place over the CPU, spreading the grease out in the process.
Hook Everything Up
It’s finally time to plug everything in! Start by thinking about power – what needs it? Your case fans need power, but they receive this from the motherboard; plug them into the motherboard. Your motherboard needs power; find the largest connector on your power supply, with two rows of up to 14 pins. This is your motherboard power supply. Plug it in. Your CPU and cooler may require power – look for a 4- or 8-pin connector near your CPU. Lastly, your GPU may also require auxiliary power, so check with the make and model you have ahead of moving on.
Next up, ensure your expansions, case switches and inputs are connected your motherboard – this includes the on switch, and any USB or SD slots. Now plug your SATA cables from your storage into the motherboard. Congratulations – you have a computer!
Do one last idiot-check before you power on your computer. Is everything plugged in, and plugged in the right place? Trace down any spare connectors, and figure out if they are required to be plugged in; it can be easy to forget to power an expansion card, especially if you’ve devoted serious time to studying your motherboard’s various connection slots. Press the power button. If you see no signs of life, don’t panic – simply check your power connections again. With another pass or two, you’ll find your error and your new PC will leap to life! All that’s left is to set up the software side…