Intro: How to Build a Desktop Computer
Building your own computer might sound like a challenge but it's really quite simple. It can be accomplished with normal household tools and minimal technical knowledge.
This guide will assume that you've already selected parts for your computer. This part of the process is pretty length and you'll want to make sure that you have the best parts for your budget before you proceed. Before starting to build, be absolutely sure that your components are compatible with each other by using some of the websites below.
This guide also assumes that you will not be installing a DVD/CD drive and will be downloading an operating system via USB.
Various guides can be found elsewhere such as here:
If you want to save some money, you should also check out
It has various guides for picking out parts and a tool to help you find the online store with the lowest prices.
- A case
- Central Processing Unit (CPU)
- Graphics Card
- CPU Cooler (stock coolers come with new CPUs but you can get a larger one if necessary)
- At least one Hard Disk Drive or Solid State Drive (can have as many as your case will hold)
- Power Supply unit
- Phillips Screwdriver
- Flathead Screwdriver
- Zip ties (may or may not be included with your motherboard)
- Scissors or knife to open parts' packaging
Parts Used in This Build:
- Intel Core i7-4770 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor
- Asus GRYPHON Z97 Micro ATX LGA1150 Motherboard
- 2x Mushkin Redline 8GB (4GB) DDR3-1866 Memory
- Crucial MX100 256GB 2.5" Solid State Drive
- Western Digital BLACK SERIES 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive
- Corsair 350D MicroATX Mid Tower Case
- MSI GeForce GTX 770 2GB TWIN FROZR Video Card
- SeaSonic 650W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply
Step 1: Getting Started
Before you start, set aside at least an hour and a half to build the computer.
Picking a Location
To avoid damaging components, you should pick a surface and wear clothes so that you won't likely generate any static electricity. Avoid carpeted areas and fuzzy clothing. Static electricity can damage components but that won't be a problem if you frequently touch a metal object such as the case you are using. You should do this in between each step shown in this guide.
Although not required, it makes things a lot easier if you have a large, flat surface to lay out all of the components. This area should also be well lit. If you can't find a well lit area then you can use a flashlight but this should be avoided so that you can have your hands free.
Open the box of each component right before you are about to install it. Many of these components are stored in anti-static packaging that will protect them until they are installed in the case. If you've already opened your boxes that is fine. Simply place the components on top of the boxes if you can (as opposed to whatever surface you are working on).
You should have all of your parts in an easy to access area and all your tools laid out.
Make sure your hands are clean before you start off. Gloves aren't at all necessary or recommended but you can use them so long as they are anti-static.
Step 2: Opening Up Your Case
The case should come assembled. If it comes disassembled, follow the included instruction booklet to assemble it.
To place components in the case, you will need to remove both sides of the case. There will probably be screws or a lever somewhere near the back of the case to remove these plates (see the picture above).
Step 3: Installing the Motherboard
BEFORE GETTING STARTED MAKE SURE THAT YOU TOUCH THE COMPUTER CASE FREQUENTLY TO DISCHARGE ANY STATIC ELECTRICITY. READ THIS ENTIRE STEP BEFORE CONTINUING. The motherboard is one of the most sensitive parts to static electricity.
Do not open the motherboard box yet.
Your computer case will likely be in two sections, a large section where all components will go and a small section where wiring will go and the motherboard will be attached. The motherboard will have several points points on it that you can screw on to the case (see the above image). The red circles represents points that the motherboard will be attached to (by screws). There will also be one or more points that look more like blue point. This rod grounds the motherboard and must be attached. It will fit in a hole located somewhere on the motherboard (this hole will go all the way through the motherboard on both ends).
1) Open up the motherboard packaging and place the motherboard on top of the box it was packaged in.
2) Match up the motherboard with the holes on the case before you attach the motherboard. The motherboard will have two sides. Make sure the side with ports on its faces outward (towards the larger part of the case).
3) Of the 4 sides of the motherboard, one will have ports (the others may have a few ports for various things but will be much smaller and less of them). Take this side and align the motherboard so that those ports match up with the green square in the picture above. Push the motherboard in that direction until it snaps into place with the backside of the computer.
4) At this point, the holes for screws on the motherboard should match up with the holes on the case. If they don't match up, make sure that you attached the back plate correctly and have the correct type of motherboard for your case.
5) Take the screws that came with the motherboard and attach the motherboard to the case. Tug on the motherboard enough to make sure that it is secure but not enough that it breaks. Also, make sure that the pole that goes through the motherboard (blue circle) touches it so that the motherboard is grounded.
Step 4: Installing the CPU and Cooler
WARNING: THIS IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF BUILDING A COMPUTER. MAKE SURE YOU READ THIS ENTIRE PAGE AND WATCH THE ACCOMPANYING VIDEO BEFORE STARTING (Disclaimer: I did not make this video).
The above picture is what the computer should look like once CPU, cooler, and motherboard are installed.
The CPU is a small, flat piece that is inserted into the motherboard. The motherboard has hundreds of pins that each touch the CPU. If any of these pins are bent, then the motherboard will not function properly.
The process is simple but you should be careful as this is really the only component of the computer that will break if you aren't careful enough.
In the video shown, the CPU came with a stock cooler. You also have the option to by a separate cooler (larger fan, liquid cooled, etc.) The process for these other coolers is essentially the same except for the fact that these other methods are usually much larger and may not fit in your case (in addition to being more expensive). For my computer, I only use the stock cooler provided and that is sufficient for every task (from 3D modelling to graphically intensive video games).
Step 5: Installing RAM
For this step all you will need is your sticks of RAM. Depending on your motherboard, you can use 1-4 pieces of RAM (in my example I have 2).
Before putting the ram in, push the tabs on them up (red arrows shown above) or else it won't fit. There is only one right way to put the ram in as the notch (blue box) must match up with the corresponding notch on the motherboard.
1) Place a stick of RAM over one of the slots so that the notches match up.
2) Push in the RAM until you are able to push down the push tab as shown. With many motherboards, this tab will automatically lock into place once the RAM is in far enough.
3) If you aren't able to push the tab down and the RAM isn't far enough in, push it in further by providing more force. It might require a lot of force so to avoid breaking the motherboard, try to put one of your hands on the back side of the motherboard where the RAM goes to act as support. It will most likely make a "click" sound when it is in place.
4) Repeat steps 2-4 for as many pieces of RAM as you have. However, for your second stick (if you have it) put it in the port of the same color as the first (there should be two ports of one color, two of another). If you don't do this it won't be in dual channel mode and there will be a slight impact on performance (although the computer will still work).
Step 6: Adding the Power Supply Unit
Depending on the case, the power supply will be located on the bottom or top. It is always at the back side of the case (and almost always on the bottom). The power supply will have 3 useful sides: one with ports for to provide power for the rest of the computer, one a fan, and the other a copper coil and a spot for a wall outlet.
Position the power supply so that the power outlet goes out the back of the case, the fan goes on the outside of the case (facing downward if your case has the power supply on the bottom), and the rest of the ports facing inward and open to the air (wires will be coming out of them later). If the fan is on the inside of the case, the computer will still work but it will be prone to overheating so you should avoid this.
There will be holes on the back of the case and power supply for screws. Make sure the back of the power supply is in contact with the back side of the computer. Use a screwdriver and place the screws that came with the power supply in the holes to secure the power supply to the case.
See the above pictures for examples of what to do and what not to do.
Step 7: Installing the Graphics Card
The graphics card will be attached in two main areas: the case and the motherboard. It will have connections on 2 of its 4 edges. On the shorter edge of the graphics card will be ports where things such as monitors connect. On the longer edge is where the graphics card attaches to the motherboard. The long edge attaches to the motherboard the same way as the RAM did.
1) Pull the tab on the motherboard open
2) Slide the graphics card towards the motherboard along the rail at the back end of the computer
3) Push the graphics card in until you hear a click. Then push the tab on the motherboard so that the graphics card is firmly attached (with some motherboards this tab will shut automatically as with the ram)
4) There will likely be a screw at the end of the rail for the graphics card. Since the graphics card is so heavy, this will give it extra support rather than just the motherboard. Screw this in as applicable so that the graphics card cannot move.
Step 8: Installing SSDs
Somewhere in your case there will be racks to place your drives in. Solid State Drives attach a bit differently than Hard Disk Drives so see the next step if you are only installing HDDs
All of the work done so far has been in the main part of the computer with the large, open area. Turn the computer around and work on the narrower side. Somewhere on this side there will be racks to store SSDs and HDDs. The SSDs are very easy to put in. Simply slide them into any of the slots available. They should fit firmly in and you won't need any screws or other attachments. Make sure that the side with the ports are pointed outwards as wires will be attached to them later.
Step 9: Installing HDDs
Hard disk drives are a bit different to install than SSDs. They are a bit larger and instead of just sliding in, they are first attached to trays that should come with the case.
1) First slide out the tray that contains the HDD. It will have tabs on both sides that you can squeeze and then pull it out.
2) There will be holes on the HDD and small rods on the tray which should match up (see the picture above). Make sure that the ports are again facing towards the side of the computer that has less available space as this is where wiring will be done later. The tray will be flexible and will need to bend a bit in order for you to get the drive on to it.
3) Once attached to the tray, slide the tray back into the same position you originally got it from. If you tug on it a bit it should not move around.
Step 10: Wiring - Power Button, USB Ports, Sound, and Lighting
At the front of the computer case there should be a power button and space for USB ports. Most cases should come with wires coming out of those ports with no need to do any attaching yourself. If they do not have these then refer to the case's manual.
1) Of these chords, the largest is what connects the USB to the motherboard. Find the corresponding port on the motherboard (see the first three pictures above).
2) The fourth picture shown above involves the port for headphone/microphone jacks in the front. It has prongs in a 2x5 layout but notice that one of the 10 is missing and filled in. Find a corresponding port on the motherboard and attach it. Make sure that the filled in hole matches up with the missing prong on the motherboard. If there is a prong on that whole find another port.
3) The rest involve the power button and any lights on the front of the computer. These ports will have 1 or 2 prongs on them. It will say in small writing on the motherboard where these ports are. If you cannot read that, then go to the manufacturer's website and it will likely have a diagram of the motherboard's layout. Position of these small wires does matter. If later the power button doesn't work then either the wires weren't plugged in enough or they are in the wrong order.
Step 11: Cable Management
BEFORE ATTACHING ANY MORE WIRES AND ZIP TYING, READ THIS ENTIRE STEP. ALSO, START WITH THE WIRES OUTLINED IN STEP 12
Before zip-tying any cables, make sure that every wire is in the position you want it.
Beyond just overall neatness, computers need to stay cool to function properly. If cables aren't properly arranged they will restrict airflow and you risk overheating.
Throughout the case, there are several spots for you to attach wires to. The best way to do this is to take some zip ties and tie them to these points. There are also several holes in the case where the motherboard is attached. These holes are large enough for you to feed wires through so that they are behind the motherboard and outside of the main part of the case (see the above picture).
There is no set way to attach wires but generally speaking, you want to do the following:
- Create the largest open space possible
- Have minimal contact of wires and other components
- Tie back wires so that it is impossible for any fans to hit them
To attach the wires to each other or the case:
1) Take several wires and push them as close to the edge of the case where there is the attachment point. Take a zip tie and loop it so that it is around the wires and through the hole in the case.
2) Pull the zip tie so that it is tight and cut off the excess with scissors. The wires should not move if pushed on.
When completed, the final product should look something similar to the picture shown above. Notice that wherever possible, wires are touching the sides of the case and not the components. There are also no wires within 3 inches of any of the 3 fans.
Step 12: Connecting the Components to the Power Supply
Before attaching more wires, you still need to attach the HDDs/SSDs to the motherboard and every other component to the power supply. See the above image for wires you'll need. Everything should be in the box that your power supply and/or motherboard came in.
- 1x SATA Power Cables (Multiple L shaped connections)
- 2x SATA Data Cables (one L shaped connection on each side, the "L" should be smaller than the SATA power). 2 cables is assuming you have one HDD and one SSD. If you need more or less drives then you need that many more or less cables.
- A cable to connect the motherboard to power supply. It will be far thicker than every other cable included.
- A cable to connect the graphics card to power supply. It should have a 2x4 grid of prongs on each side of the cable.
Connecting the cables:
SSDs and HDDs:
Grab 1 SATA cable for each SSD/HDD you will be installing. Attach one end of one of the SATA Data cables to the SSD/HDD. Attach the other end of the SATA cable to the side of the motherboard. The port on the motherboard will have the same L shaped port as the SSD/HDD. Repeat this for as many SSDs/HDDs you have.
Grab 1 SATA power cable (only one needed regardless of how many drives you have). There will be several L shaped ports for you to attach to the other port of each SSD and HDD. The other end of this chord will have a port with prongs in a 2x3 grid. Go to the ports on the power supply and find a port labelled "data" or "drives" or something similar. If you do not see any of those words or any markings at all, refer to the power supply's user manual. Insert this into the corresponding port and make sure that it goes in all the way until there is a click.
The largest of the chords you grabbed is for the motherboard. It will have a port of the same size as the larger end (2x12 grid). Plug this into chord into the motherboard until you hear a clicking sound and when the side clamp automatically locks it in. The other end of the chord will split into two parts: a 2x3 grid and a 2x6 grid. Same as with the drives, look for labels on the power supply that might tell you what to insert it into. If nothing seems obvious or it is unlabeled, check the user manual.
Graphics card power:
With the last remaining chord, attach it to the graphics card. The wire will split at one side. Attach these ports to the graphics card where the card has the same sized port. On the other end, there will be a 2x4 port that can attach to the power supply. Again, look for any obvious labels but if you do not see any they will be outlined in the manual.
Step 13: Finishing Up
Closing up the case
Like you did when you originally disassembled the case, attach the side panels and screw them back on. If pushed or pulled on they should not budge at all. If there are any spare screens/panels in the case's box, put them on now as well.
Attaching a monitor and peripherals
This is done the same as you would do with any other computer. Go to the back panel of the computer and plug into the respective ports. One thing to note, though. When plugging in DVI/VGA cables (for the monitor), do not attach them to the motherboard. Instead, attach it to wherever your graphics card is located. Aside from this difference, the layout of the back of the computer should be identical to any other computer you've ever encountered.
Turning it on for the first time
Make sure that the computer is plugged in first. When you are ready, go to the power supply unit and make sure the switch labelled "I" and "O" is set so that the "I" is down. Power is now running through the computer but it is not yet on. Go to the front of the computer and press the button on the front.
If everything works, the computer screen should light up and boot into BIOS. This will display different text depending on the motherboard manufacturer but it should display something. If the screen is still black, try the following:
- Check to see that all external connections (monitor to computer), power outlet, etc. are correct.
BEFORE MAKING ANY INTERNAL CHANGES, MAKE SURE THAT THE POWER IS DISCONNECTED
- Did the power button light up when you pressed it? If not, first see if there are internal lights on at all. If no lights are on, the power supply is not properly set up.
- If lights are on, then the problem is with the power button. Simply go back to the motherboard and switch the wire labelled "power on" with the one labelled "power off".
- If the light did not turn on, make sure you go back and check that every single wire is plugged in and plugged in fully (both inside and outside of the computer). If you see some fans spinning but not all that is likely that component that is not plugged in properly.
Once BIOS Boots
This is the end of the guide. At this point, you'll still need to download an operating system, relevant drivers, and partition your drive(s). To do all of that, follow this guide: