In our PC buying guide, we broke down the different PC components and went in-depth on what to think about before purchasing. After gathering all the necessary parts, the fun part begins—actually building a PC. We’ll break down each step, making sure that you have all the parts in place so that your PC can start running flawlessly and seamlessly.
What You Need
Building a PC is hands-on craftsmanship, and activities like this demand an organized, spacious working area. A sturdy, flat table where you won’t easily misplace small bolts and nails will help out a lot. You’ll also need a screwdriver to screw nails in, scissors to cut open packages, and possibly zip ties if you want to improve your cable management.
Step 1 – Prepare the Case
First step is unboxing and opening the case. Every part will need to be delicately installed into the case, so make sure you unscrew every panel and filter. Keep track of the computer case screws—you don’t want to be missing one and end up with a wobbly case.
Step 2 – Put CPU and Cooler on the Motherboard
The order of hardware installation doesn’t matter and everyone will have different preferences and situations. For us, we’ll go about putting together the motherboard first. If you have a smaller case, piecing together the motherboard first can be a boon versus trying to attach the hardware while the motherboard is stuck to the case.
The first (and very important) step is to find flat surface to place your motherboard—either a tabletop or a box. Intel and AMD CPUs also have slightly different ways of attaching to the motherboard. For Intel CPUs, you use a small lever to open the PCU retention bracket to unveil the motherboard socket. The CPU has two noticeable notches along the edges and an arrow in one of the corners to guide you. Simply match the notches and the arrow in the proper direction and let the CPU “settle” or “sit” into socket. Secure the bracket back into place and press down the lever to finish locking the CPU down.
AMD CPUs are much simpler to install onto the motherboard. First, flip the CPU lever from the socket and gently lower the CPU into the socket. There is an engraved triangle that should match up to another triangle on the socket. Lightly place the CPU down and lower the lever again to fully lock down the chip in place.
The CPU cooler should be the next component to place onto the motherboard. Intel and AMD both offer stock coolers, but there are also third-party aftermarket coolers that may require additional instructions. For Intel stock coolers, the heatsink below the fan already comes with thermal paste – meaning you won’t need to buy a separate thermal paste. Gently situation the cooler on the CPU and press down on the push pins through the motherboard. Twist the pins clockwise (following the arrow) to lock the heatsink and cooler in place.
Installing an AMD cooler is very similar—only difference is that you would need to screw on the cooler with a screwdriver and bolts. On some motherboards, there could be plastic notches already screwed in place for clip-on type heat sinks. AMD’s flagship Ryzen CPUs all come with stock coolers that have to be screwed in, meaning you have to take out the plastic notches. Afterwards, line up the four corners with the holes on the motherboard and screw the bolts tightly.
For both AMD and Intel coolers, one important thing to note is making sure that the cooler wire will sufficiently reach the CPU fan header on the motherboard. You wouldn’t want the wire too far or close to the header to prevent a wire mess.
Step 3 – Installing RAM on the motherboard
The RAM slots on the motherboard is adjacent to the CPU socket, and it’s easily noticeable as most motherboards will have anywhere from two to four parallel slots with plastic retention levers on each end. First, push the levers down to free the slot for installation and then line up the notches on the slot with those on the memory sticks. Push down on the stick to hear a click and make sure the levers are back in place.
If you’re only using two or three RAM sticks, but have more slots available, refer back your own motherboard manual to make sure which slots need to be filled first. It’s important to place correctly because incorrect slot selection can cause a slight hit to performance.
Step 4 – Mounting the motherboard to the case
After installing the CPU, RAM, and cooler on the motherboard, it’s time to attach the motherboard itself inside the case. The first step is correctly fitting the motherboard’s I/O plate (input/output) on the case. You’ll have to adjust the motherboard to match the ports with the corresponding I/O holes. Next, align the motherboard’s corner holes to the case’s pre-drilled holes in the back. Gently attach the motherboard to the case using the threaded brass standoffs and tighten the screws one by one.
Step 5 – Storage Installation
Whether you’re opting for hard disk drives (HDD) or solid-state drives (SSD), you’ll need at least one to store your PC system and files. Most cases will come with hard drive bays that will also fit SSDs too. Most common sizes for both drives are 3.5”, but different cases will also have bays catering to other sizes. Also follow up with the case specifications to make sure it has enough drive bays that fit your hardware. For instance, the Antec ATX Mid Tower Case has 6 internal 3.5” drive bays and 3 external 5.25” drive bays, meaning you’ll have more than enough space to fit your storage hardware.
Installing itself is very straightforward—simply slide the drive into the storage bay. You can also use screws to fully secure the drives to prevent them from possibly sliding off. SSDs can also come in different form factors, such as the M.2 SSD. These are internally mounted storage options that go directly on the motherboard as an expansion card. First, make sure to check if you’re getting a motherboard with M.2 slots and follow the instructions to see where the storage expansion slot is located.
Step 6 – GPU Installation
To install a GPU, you’ll first want a Philips-head screw driver and locate the PCIe x 16 slot on the motherboard that is closest to the processor. Start by unscrewing the PCIe slot covers and make sure that you’re lining up the GPU correctly so the I/O is facing the back of the case. Unlock the plastic latch on the end of the slot in order to “open” up the slot. You simply insert the GPU gently until you hear a click and then push the latch back down to fully secure the GPU. If the GPU is large and heavy, you can also prevent possible sagging by screwing on a metal retention plate to support the GPU.
Step 7 – PSU installation
The last piece of the PC is the power supply. Again, different cases will have a specific, designated compartment for the PSU. Open the bracket covering the PSU with a screwdriver and place the PSU so the exhaust is facing toward the back of the case. The on/off button for the PSU should also be facing toward the back of the chassis so that you can access it freely.
Step 8 – Connect and Finish
After everything is in place, you’ll first want to connect the system panel connector and case cords to the actual motherboard. The easiest and most accurate way of doing this is to refer to the motherboard installation manual to match up the cables with the right ports. The motherboard has tiny letters that are labeled to each pin which is your ultimate guide to knowing which cable to connect. For instance, each system connector has small letters engraved on the head, such as HDD LED+, PLED-, and PWR SW. Each of these connectors will correspond to a certain pin on the motherboard. One thing to note is that there are + and – on each pin, which dictate the way to plug in the connector.
Connecting the hardware cables to the motherboard ports is a similar process. For example, you’ll have to connect the PSU’s 8-pin EPS to the motherboard as it is usually the hardest to reach. Afterwards, go through all the components from the motherboard to the GPU, using the manual as your guide and map.
The first time you boot up your PC successfully is an incredibly fulfilling and surreal experience. The best part about building your own PC for the first time is how easy and simple it gets to upgrade or build a second one. Take pride in your device and work (or play) away on it.
Stay tuned for Part 3, where we’ll be showing you how to upgrade your current PC!
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