Introduction: How to Build a Computer(basics, Compatibility and Construction)

Most computer building tutorials only tell you how to assemble the components of a computer. Before this can happen parts must be purchased. I don't want to guide you blindly in to buying whatever I am building, so my goal is to tell you about the parts that you are buying so that you can build the best computer for you. So, I am going to tell you how what components do what so you can spend your money where it will help you most, as well as how to make sure that your components are all compatible with each other. But in the end I will still be assembling a computer at the end of this and the final result will look something like that picture below. So if you are interested continue on the next page.

Step 1: Basic Functionality

I want you to be able to make the best purchasing decisions possible when deciding where to spend your money. So I’m going to explain what parts affect what so you can spend your money most efficiently for your needs. So what do each of these different parts do. If you already know what components you want to buy you can skip ahead to the next section in step 9.

Step 2: Mother Board

The mother board is the component that allows all the other components to communicate with each other. It has controllers for memory and storage, and buses for all the other components to communicate on. Most mother boards will be fine as long as they are compatible with all of your other components. A more expensive mother usually allows you to either attach more components, or overclock more effectively. (overclocking allows you to run components faster than they were intended to run. However this requires more power and places greater strain on components. )

Step 3: RAM

RAM(random access memory) is the primary memory for the computer. Whenever you have a program running or data being accessed by the CPU it is stored in the ram. This is because it is much faster to read data from RAM than it is to read from the HDD/SSD. Having more RAM allows you to multi task more by giving you CPU access to more data simultaneously. Most users will need no more the 4 Gb of ram for all of their needs, however if you plan on doing a lot of gaming it may be worth it to upgrade to 8 Gb. If you are an enthusiast or are planning on running a lot of VMs (virtual machine) you may want more than that but that only applies to a very small subset of computer users.

Step 4: HDD/SSD

HDDs/SSDs (hard drive disk/ solid state disk) are your long term storage. HDDs use magnetic disks to store data and are slower to access, but they are still fairly cheap. SSDs use something similar to flash to store memory. They are much faster to access, but are significantly more expensive.  A 500 GB hard drive will cost about $60, where a 512 Gb SSD will cost about $400, so the price difference is substantial. If you have a lot of data I would recommend using a HDD rather than a SSD because of the massive difference in cost per Gigabyte.

Step 5: CPU

The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the part of the computer that runs the programs on the computer. It is essentially the brain of the computer, whereas the RAM and HDD are the short term and long term storage of the computer. Getting a faster processer will increase your performance as long as you are not being limited by your RAM. If you are doing computing intensive tasks, then you will want to have a faster processor, but most users do not need an extremely fast processor.

Step 6: Heat Sink

The heat sink is the piece that dissipates the heat produced by the processor. Processors do produce a lot of heat and thus need things to help cool them. If you are just building a computer and running the processor normally then the stock heat sink that comes with the processor will work just fine. However if you want the computer to be extra quiet, or if you want to overclock your processor you will want to buy a 3d-party heat sink. Liquid cooling loops also work well for both of these applications and I have one in my computer. 

Step 7: GPU

The GPU (Graphics processing Unit) is the device that allows your computer to display imaged to the monitor. A more expensive GPU will allow you to render more complex things in real time. However you will only need an expensive card if you plan on doing intense gaming or GPU compute based on how powerful integrated graphics have become.

Step 8: Power Supply

The power supply is both the transformer that converts the AC power from the wall to the DC power consumed by your components as well as the thing that distributes the power between your components. Your power supply needs to have enough power to power all of your components and I would recommend getting a larger one than necessary in case you decide to upgrade your computer with components that require more power later.

Step 9: Case

The case is there to ground all the components to the power supply protect the components and help regulate airflow around the other components. More expensive cases tend to hold more HDDs and other components as well as have better regulation of air flow. For most users an expensive case will not be necessary.

Step 10: Compatibility

Once you know what parts you generally want you need to make sure that all of the parts will be compatible with each other. If you don’t the computer probably will not work, so this section is here to help you chose parts that work well together. If you know how to tell of components are compatible then feel free to skip ahead to step 17.

Step 11: Mother Board/CPU Compatibility

The most important thing is to make sure that the motherboard and CPU both use the same socket. The socket is the connector between the CPU and the Mother board.  If it is not the same the socket may not line up mechanically or it may not have the proper electrical characteristics. Some sockets are backwards compatible but the best way to make sure that everything is compatible is to make sure that the motherboard and processor use the same socket.
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Step 12: Mother Board/RAM Compatibility

Mother boards will only support one kind of RAM. Right now the most common type is DDR3. Some older mother boards and ram will be DDR2. Make sure that your Mother board and Ram are both the same kind. Also make sure that your mother board provides enough Voltage to your Ram. Some Ram requires move voltage because it runs faster. Make sure that your mother board provides enough voltage to your RAM.
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Step 13: HDD/Mother Board Compatibility

For this there are currently 2 standards. Older hard drives will use IDE which uses a broad ribbon cable for data transfer. Modern HDD will use a Sata interface. The Sata interface has 3 iteration: Sata1.0 (1.5Gbits), Sata2.0(3Gbits/s), and Sata 3.0(6Gbits/s). To get the best performance out of your hard drives it is best to use drives that have the same or higher version of the Sata Interface. IDE is significantly slower. Also make sure that you have enough of the proper power connectors for your drives.
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Step 14: Mother Board/GPU Compatability

If you are getting a discrete GPU make sure that your motherboard has the proper slot. Most modern GPUs will use a PCI Express 2.0 or 3.0. The nice thing is that PCI Express like Sata is backwards compatible. So as long as you have a PCI Express Slot on your mother board you should be able to run any graphics card with a CPI Express port, but it would Give you best performnce to have a 2.0 or 3.0 slot. 

Step 15: Case / Mother Board Comapatability

Mother boards and cases come in a number of different standard sizes. Examples of this are ATX, mini ATX, and mini ITX. ATX and mini ATX are the most common. When you start getting better mother boards they tent to get larger in size so you need to make sure that your mother board will fit in your case. if the case you have does not support you mother board size you will not be able to attach your motherboard to your case with out modifying it. 
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Step 16: Power Supply Compatability

To determine how much power you need there are many helpful power supply calculators on line that allow you to calculate how much power your components will need.  One of the most extensive ones is located at but there is also a good one but simple one at .
Also make sure that your power supply has the proper plugs for all of your components. 
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Step 17: Assembly!

This is where we assemble the computer. If you already know how to do this, the there is no more relevant data in this document.

Step 18: Install the Power Supply

The first step here is to install the power supply in the case so that the case will be grounded. Make sure that the switch on the power supply is in the off position. If you and the case are not grounded there is a chance that you will shock one f the components with static electricity. If you do this than the component probably will not work any more. It is advisable to use an anti-static wrist band but I have found that as ling as I frequently ground my self to the case(by touching some of the metal in side) I am able to prevent myself from shocking any of the components. 

Step 19: Install the Back Plate

The back plate is a small rectangular piece of metal that comes with your mother board. It is used to close up the back of the case while still allowing access to the ports on the back of your motherboard. It needs to be inserted in the rectangular hole in the back of your case from the inside aligned the same way as the ports on the back of your motherboard are. There are usually 2 little metal nubs on each side that are used to hold it in place. Make sure that bot are past the ridge on the inside of the case for it to be held securely in place.

Step 20: Installing the Standoffs

Standoffs are small screws that also have threads in the top of them so another screw can be screwed in to them. These need to be screwed in to the case at the correct points for your mother board size. These will ether be specified on the case its self or in the cases instructions. They can be tightened with ether a pair of pliers or a small wrench.
Warning: be careful not to strip the screws or it will be very hard to secure the mother board properly as well as remove it.

Step 21: Insert the Motherbaord

The mother board then needs to be placed in the case next. Hold the mother board by the edges to avoid getting grease from your hands on the components of the mother board. Then line up the back panel components with the holes on the back panel. Then line up the holes on the motherboard with the standoffs and insert the first screw to hold it in place. After you have done this you can release pressure from the mother board and put the rest of the screws in. 

Step 22: Installing the Ram

Once you have the mother board installed it should be grounded to the case and so it is now safe to install the components on the motherboard. On the sides of the RAM slots there are latches to hold the RAM in place. On some mother boards there are latches on both sides, on others there is only one on one side. Pull these back so that the slots are not blocked by the latches. Line up the RAM module with the first slot.
Warning: make sure that the notch in the RAM module is lined up with the notch on the RAM slot on the mother board, other wise you my damage the RAM module and/or the mother board while trying to insert the RAM.
Push down on both sides of the RAM until the latches latch shut holding the RAM module in place.

Step 23: Installing the CPU

For both Intel and AMD chips there is a lever that must be lifted so the CPU can be placed in its socket. Once the socket is ready for the CPU it needs to be lined up. On AMD chips there is a small gold arrow in one of the corners of the chip. This needs to be lined up with the arrow on the corner of the socket. On Intel chips there are 2 notches on ether side of the chip that need to be lined up with the  socket. Once the CPU is lined up place it in the socket and secure it in place by re-securing the lever. 

Step 24: Installing the Heat Sink

Once the CPU is in the socket the heat sink needs to be installed. If there is thermal paste already on the CPU you do not need to add more, but if there is not then you will need to spread thermal paste on the CPU. follow the instructions that came with the CPU for specifics for your brand of thermal paste. If the heat sink uses the AMD standard socket for attaching  then you will just need to hook the two clasps around the prongs on the socket and tighten. other wise it could use a variety of different mounts for attaching and I would recommend looking at the instructions that came with it.

Step 25: Install the GPU

Ignore this step if you do not have a discrete GPU. To install the GPU you will first have to remove panels of the back of your case. The number that you will have to remove depends on how many slots your GPU takes up. The panels will ether be unscrewed or need to be broken out. Once you have the panels removed you need t o line up the PCI Express slot in your computer with the slot on the GPU. Firmly insert the card till the latch holds your card in place. Then screw the card in where you removed the screws to hold in the back panel. 

Step 26: Installing Drives

The method for installing drives is very dependent on your case. Some cases have tool-less drive bays like the one pictured allow you to slide your drives right in. Some have other railed mounting systems. Some make you screw you drives in to the case but it is different for most so I suggest you look at you cases instructions for how to install a hard drive or optical drive.

Step 27: Wireing

Once you have everything in the case it is time to wire everything up. first off your mother board and GPU need power. I suggest looking at your mother board to determine what all ports need power because there are usually at least 2 and some times more. Once this has happened you need to hook up your data cabled between your mother board and drives. If your motherboard has Sata data then the ports for this will usually be in the lower right hard corner of your board. Then attach the power cabled yo hour drives so that they are provided with power. The next step is to hook up the fans in your case and on your heat sink to the dedicated fan ports on your mother board. The locations of these ports is different on every motherboard so in order to find these you will need to look in the mother boards user manual  This is important to make sure that your components do not overheat. The last step is to hook the front panel cables to your mother board. this varies greatly between mother boards so you will have to look in your mother board's manual to find this. you will defiantly have USB, front panel audio, Power switch, reset switch and HDD LED to hook up with the possibilities of a few more switches and ports to hook up. once you do this hook up the computer to a monitor and flip the power switch on the power supply to turn it on.