Introduction: How to Build a Desktop Computer
Hello, in this instructables I am going to show you how to build your own custom computer. It is a sad thing finding out that your commitment to a custom computer didn't end when you threw all your money away for one, it was only just beginning. First time builders are in for the surprise treat of the most expensive Lego project you can buy. So, if you are following along with me through these instructions, strap in its going to be a long one.
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Step 1: Identifying Components
As I will not be providing instructions on what to buy or how to buy computer components, you should already have the necessary components to build your computer.
The components needed are as follows: (Picture numbers are in the top left corner of the photo)
Motherboard (Picture 1). Notice I marked all the relevant locations on the motherboard. Familiarize yourself with these locations, because every step involves plugging something into the motherboard.
Processor (CPU) (Picture 2) Notice that there are notches and markings on the processor to make sure you put it in the right way
Computer Case (Picture 3) Note the different sides of the case. you have the front, back, top, bottom, and two sides. I will refer to the two sides as Side A and Side B. Side A is the side shown in the picture, this is where most of your components are going to go into.
CPU Cooler (Pictures 4&5). CPU coolers can be included with the CPU or purchased after. Pictures 4 and 5 show the most common types of coolers.
Drives (Pictures 6&7). Pictures 6&7 show the two most common types of drives.
Random Access Memory (RAM) (Picture 8). The picture shows a single stick of ram, it is common for there to be multiple sticks of ram. Notice the notch in the middle of the pins and the note in the photo.
Power Supply (PSU) (Picture 9) There are three types of power supplies, non-modular, semi-modular, and fully-modular. The difference is in which cords you can remove from the power supply. If you have a non-modular PSU, it will look like a mess of cables out of the box. Otherwise, it just looks like a box with venting holes.
Graphics Card (GPU) (Picture 10) The graphics card is often the most expensive part of a computer build, therefor we will be installing it last.
Computer Case Fans (Picture 11)
Adjustable Wrench or 5mm wrench/socket
NOTE: Computer components are fragile and should be handled with as much care as possible. I recommend leaving the components either in their boxes or on a flat non-static surface until you are ready to install them.
STATIC WARNING: Although unlikely, Small static shocks can damage and ruin components, I recommend keeping something metal nearby so you can ground yourself before touching any components.
Step 2: Processor (CPU) Installation
In this step we will install the CPU to the Motherboard. The CPU is one of the most expensive parts of a computer build. It acts as the brain for the computer, running all processes.
Part 1: Unbox and prepare the components. Holding the motherboard by its edges, lie the motherboard on a flat surface and orient it so that the motherboard IO is on your left side. (Note orientation of Picture 1). If applicable, Remove the protective shield covering the socket (This will expose the CPU connection Pins)
Part 2: Press down and unlock the retention arm (Shown in Picture 2). This will allow you to lift the bracket and allow you to install the CPU (Picture 3).
Part 3: Grabbing the Processor by its edges and never touching the top or bottom, gently set the processor into place, making sure to line up the notches shown in picture 4. It should be a perfect fit, only allowing you to put it in the one way.
Part 4: Simply close the bracket and put the retention arm back into place.
NOTE: Don't forget to ground yourself before handling any computer component. Take extreme care when installing your CPU. The pins in the motherboard and connections on the CPU are very fragile, bending/damaging these pins would be a very expensive mistake.
Step 3: Applying Thermal Paste and Installing CPU Cooler
In this step we will be applying thermal paste to the processor Shield.
Thermal paste acts as a medium for heat transfer between the CPU and CPU cooler. To achieve consistent and healthy running temperatures it is important to take your time on this step. After we apply the thermal paste, we will install the CPU Cooler.
Part 1: Grab your thermal paste and squeeze out a pea-sized glob onto the middle of your processor shield, as shown in picture 1. You do not need to spread the thermal paste as it will be spread when the heatsink is installed
Note: Some CPU coolers come with thermal paste pre-installed. If this is the case, skip part 1.
Part 2: In the box with your CPU cooler, there should be a set of brackets. These brackets are used to attach the CPU cooler to your motherboard. There should be several brackets for different types of motherboards, only one of them will fit on your motherboard. There are four holes surrounding the CPU socket on your motherboard. Looking at the backside of your motherboard, line up the four holes with the matching bracket. (Picture 2 Shows an installed Cooler Bracket). In the box you will be provided with four pegs. The pegs will be used to attach the bracket to the motherboard. Once the bracket is lined up, use an adjustable wrench to screw in the pegs through the motherboard and into to the bracket (completed in photo 3).
Part 3: With the pegs in place, take your CPU Cooler and place the heatsink (the flat part) evenly onto the CPU shield, making sure to line up the screws on the cooler with the pegs. Once lined up, simply use your screwdriver and screw all the bolts on the cooler into the pegs (refer to Picture 4). Once the Cooler is attached and the screws are tightened, you may move on.
Part 4: If your cooler needs a fan or doesn't have one pre attached. You may now install your CPU fan. Most snap on, others screw in. Refer to your cooler’s manual for further details.
Part 5: Plug the 3 or 4-pin cable from your fan or cooler into the slot labeled "CPUFAN1". In order to plug it in you must line up the plastic guide sticking out of the motherboard with the guide on the plug. This is shown in picture 5.
NOTE: In case you made a mistake, to remove the thermal paste use 99% isopropyl alcohol and wipe it off.
Again, continue to ground yourself and use caution when handling components.
Step 4: IO Sheild and Motherboard Standoffs
Now that the motherboard is all set up, we are almost ready to install it into your computer case. We need to do some preparation in your case first before we install it.
Part 1: Grab your computer case and put it in an open space where you have enough room to lay it flat. we need to open both side panels to get started. Using the thumb screws located on the back of your case, unscrew and remove both panels. Set these aside, we will not put these back on until we are finished.
Part 2: Lay your case down with side A facing up (oriented in Picture 1). Notice the standoffs in picture 1. Standoffs are the small pegs sticking out from the panel showed. These standoffs are where your motherboard screws into your case. The easiest way to figure out which standoffs you need to put in and take out is by simply lining up the holes in the motherboard with the standoffs (Motherboard Mounting Hole shown in Picture 2). There should be a standoff lined up with every motherboard mounting hole. Use an adjustable wrench to add/remove any standoffs. Extra standoffs will be included with your computer case.
Note: Most people can skip this part as the case already has the correct standoffs setup for most motherboards. Refer to your motherboard and case manual for specific standoff configurations.
Part 3: One more case preparation we must do is installing the motherboard IO shield (Shown in Picture 3). From the inside of the case, Take the IO shield and press it firmly into the slot on the back of the case. It will snap into place. Refer to picture 4 for the correct orientation.
Part 4: Now that the standoffs and the IO shield are in place, we are ready to install the motherboard. Grabbing the motherboard by its edges, set the motherboard into the case, lining up the IO shield and the standoffs installed previously. Once the motherboard is in place and the IO and the IO shield line up, Screw in your motherboard with the screws provided in the box. Place a screw in every hole and tighten them with medium force. Once the motherboard is secured, we are ready to move on to the next step.
Step 5: Installing Random Access Memory (RAM)
RAM is a key component to your computer’s operation. It serves as a medium for your computer to store temporary information. Broken RAM will result in a non-functioning computer, so as always handle these components with care.
Part one: Identify and open the RAM slots on your motherboard (Shown in picture 1). If you are installing only one stick of RAM, install it in the first slot (Closest to the CPU, refer to notes in picture 1). If you are installing a set of two sticks of RAM, install them in the first and third slots. RAM operates in channels. The first and third slots are a channel and the second and fourth slots are a channel. Only two identical sticks will operate in the same channel. so, if you have sticks with different speed and storage, keep them in different channels. If you have a four-stick set of RAM, disregard and fill all the slots. After determining which slots, you are putting your ram into, press down on the levers above and below the slot to unlock the slot.
Part two: Notice the notch in the middle of the connections on your stick of ram. One side is slightly longer than the other (Noted on picture 2). With the long side oriented towards the top of your motherboard, slide the connections into the slot. Double check to make sure that it is in the right way and that both the top and bottom levers are unlocked. Press down firmly on the top of the ram stick until the slots close and they lock the ram into place. You will hear a click and you will see the levers you previously opened close.
Step 6: Installing Power Supply (PSU)
The power supply regulates and divides the power that goes throughout your computer.
Part one: Unbox and unpack your PSU. Layout the cords so that it is not a mess and hard to work with. Notice that on your power supply there are eight threaded holes, four on the back and four on the bottom. In your case the power supply is installed in the corner touching both the bottom and the back of the case (refer to picture 1). You will be able to screw the power supply to the case through either the bottom or the back of the case, depending on what case you have. To find out where the screws go, simply look at the case and find the mounting holes that match up to the power supply. Alternatively, you could find out where it goes by looking at the case manual.
Part two: With the power supply pressed to the back/bottom corner and the PSU on/off switch facing out of the case, use your screwdriver and screw in the four screws provided with the power supply. This will secure the power supply to the case. Shown completed in picture 2
Step 7: Connecting the Powersupply (PSU) to the Motherboard
Now that we got the PSU installed, we can start the long process of finding and plugging in all the necessary power cords. I will be providing instructions for a modular PSU. If your PSU is not modular, simply skip the steps in which I plug the cords into the PSU, as your PSU will already have the cords attached.
The cords we are going to plug in in this step are the 24-Pin motherboard power cord and the 8 pin CPU power cord
Part 1: Reference pictures 3&4 to find the correct cables. You tell how many pins they are simply by counting the number of separate pins the plug has.
Part 2: Reference Picture 1 and find the correct spot to plug the cables in. Note: these cables can only be plugged into one place and they should be in relatively the same spot on every motherboard.
Part 3: Plug the split end of the 24-pin Motherboard power cord into your PSU and plug the other end into your motherboard. then do the same thing with the 8-pin power cord. Make sure when plugging in the cords you line the clips up with the notch on the ports
Optional: To keep less clutter inside your case, it is a good idea to wire your cords through the back of your case. You can see how to do this in pictures 6-8
Step 8: Installing and Connecting Hard Drives or Solid State Drives
Every computer case is going to have a different system or location for where you mount your drives. So, to begin this step you check the manual and see where your "Drive bay" is. There Should be a dedicated place for all your drives, usually in the front part of the case. Find that and follow the simple process to mount your Hard or Solid-state drives.
Part one: After mounting your drives you need to plug them into your motherboard and your power supply. For this you will need a SATA data cable (Picture 5) and the SATA power cable (Picture 6) provided with your power supply. Plug the SATA data cable into your drive (refer to picture 3) and then plug the other end into any open SATA port on your motherboard (Refer to Picture 1 and 7).
Part two: Find the SATA power cable from your power supply. Plug the 6-pin end into any open "Peripheral & SATA" port on your power supply (Shown in picture 2). Then plug the end of the SATA power cable shown in picture 6 into the drives SATA power port (Picture 3).
Optional: Be sure to wire any cords you can through the back of your case, this will make future upgrades and troubleshooting much easier in the future.
Step 9: Case Fans
It is important to have case fans in your computer, especially if you are a gamer. Good airflow through your case allows your computer components to stay cooler, allowing them to operate more effectively and make them last longer. The key to good air flow is creating a wind tunnel in your computer case. You want fans blowing air in towards the front of your case and you want fans blowing air out towards the back of your case. Luckily with every case fan you get the option of it either sucking in or blowing out.
Part 1: To install the fan you must determine weather or not you want it to be intake or outtake. You determine this by the way the fan is facing. there are two sides to a case fan, the logo or front side and the back side. The fan blows away from you when you are looking at the front and it blows towards you when you are looking at the back.
Part 2: To install these fans, simply line up the mounting holes on the fan to any of the many mounting holes on your case. Then you take the screws provided with the fan and screw them in. the screw goes through the outside of the case and threads directly into the holes on the fan.
Part 3: to power the case fans you need to plug the 3 or 4-pin connector from the fan (picture 4) into any available 4-pin SYSFAN slot on your motherboard (Refer to Picture 1) In order to plug it in you will need to line up the plastic guides on the plug and on the motherboard (Example on picture 3).
Step 10: Remaining Cables and Front Pannel Connectors
Now that we are almost done, there are a few minor things we need to plug in. The remaining plugins come from your case. The cords left to plug in are the Front Panel Connectors and your Case USB connectors. You will find these cords hanging in the open on the back side of your case.
The USB 2.0 connector is shown in picture 2
The USB 3.0 connector is shown in picture 3
The Front panel connectors are shown in picture 4
Part 1: After you find the remaining cables locate the ports needed (reference Picture 1).
Part 2: Plug the USB 2.0 and the USB 3.0 connectors to the ports on the motherboard. There is only one way to plug these in.
Part 3: Look at your motherboard manual and find out where the front panels connectors get plugged into on the JFP Port. This will be different on most motherboards. The manual should give you a diagram showing you which plugs to place on what pins on the JFP port.
NOTE: Human error in plugging the front panel connectors is going to be the most common reason to why your computer does not start up. The "Power SW" connector is the connector for your ON/OFF button. If you run into issues when starting up your computer, this should be the first step you go back to.
Step 11: Installing Graphics Card (GPU)
For a gamer the graphics card is the most powerful and important part of the computer. It provides dedicated processing power to run the graphic intensive games that the PC gaming community is well known for.
NOTE: If you are running your computer on integrated graphics and not installing a GPU, skip this step.
For the final step we will be installing our graphics card. I saved this for last because leaving it out gives you much more room to work when plugging stuff into the motherboard. Before you do this step, double check and make sure that everything I mentioned before is installed and plugged into the motherboard.
Part 1: There is a long set of brackets on the back of your case. the shield on your graphics card will replace some of these brackets. Determine how many brackets your graphics card will take up by looking at the shield and counting the flags on the shield (refer to Picture 3).
Part 2: Use a screw driver and remove the brackets to the left of the first PCI express port (refer to removed brackets in picture 4).
Part 3: Lay your computer down flat so that Side A is facing up and press down on the PCI express port lock to open the port
Part 4: Gently place graphics card into the PCI express port, Sliding the shield in to replace the removed brackets. Once even and in place. Press down lightly on the graphics card so that it plugs into the PCI port and the lock clicks back into the locked position.
Part 5: Use the screws removed with the bracket and secure the graphics card shield to the back of the case (shown in picture 6).
Part 6: Find your 8-pin PCI-E power cable (Picture 7). plug one end into your power supply (refer to picture 2 for location) and the other end into the port on your graphics card. Note that the PCI E cord has a weird notch on it, making it hard to plug in. To plug it in you just need to get both parts of the plug to sit flush and enter evenly into the port on your graphics card.
Step 12: Powering Up
Congratulations, you have finally finished putting together your own custom computer. Go ahead and plug in your computer and turn it on. If you are running into issues on startup, stay calm and remember that it is likely something as simple as forgetting to flip the power switch on the power supply. Once you get your computer running smoothly you can move on to the second half of the setup, installing the operating system. Best of luck.