Build Your Own Computer Part 4: Put It Together

Putting together a computer should be easy. In fact, it is easy. So let’s do it.

If you’re interested in the entire process of building your own computer, starting from scratch, then I encourage you to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. They detail the steps of understanding and choosing your components. But if you’ve got all the components and are ready to install, then it’s time for…

Step 6: Assembly

You’ve done the hard work of choosing and obtaining parts; now you just need to put it all together. This should be a relatively easy process, but in reality unexpected problems do occur. You might have some extra trouble screwing in the motherboard or figuring out where to plug in the power supply cords. Take your time. Don’t expect to be done in a half hour. My advice is to wait until the weekend, so you have plenty of time to work with. Hopefully, though, you won’t need more than 2-3 hours to get the hardware together and running, unless you find you need an extra part or a replacement. Installation of the operating system will take another hour or two most likely.

Quick Overview

We’ll be going through the following steps:

I. Setup and Precautions
II. Set up the motherboard
a. The processor
b. The CPU heatsink/fan
c. RAM
III. Install the power supply in the case
IV. Install the motherboard in the case
V. Attach graphics cards and other components
VI. Install hard drive and DVD drive
VII. Plug everything in to everything else
VIII. Boot ‘er up!

I. Setup and Precautions

You’ll want a nice, big, clear, wooden desk or table. Start with nothing on it, and only take components out of their boxes and bring them to the table as needed.

You’ll need to watch out for the following dangers to your parts:

  • Dropping. Be careful, work on the table, don’t leave stuff sitting near the edge where you could knock it off, etc.
  • Static electricity. This can build up on you, especially if you’re working on carpet (avoid) or dry or cold conditions (avoid if possible). Static electricity can damage sensitive electronics such as most of the parts you’ll be working with. If you want, you can buy and wear an antistatic wrist strap. Alternatively, just be careful to ground yourself by regularly touching something metal: a doorknob, possibly your computer case, etc. If you do this often, and don’t move around much (i.e. shuffle your feet) you should be fine. It’s not 100% guaranteed, but usually causes no problem.
  • Forcing it. I’ll try to mention which steps require some pressure and which don’t. But pushing too hard on a component could cause it to snap, or pushing too hard with a screwdriver could cause you to miss and hit something sensitive. Try to take it slow.

II. Set up the motherboard

I’m going to recommend that you install some components on the motherboard before it’s installed in the case, because they are easier to work with out in the open. However, you may install the motherboard into the case first if your choose.

It’s important here to take a look at the manuals that came with your motherboard and especially processor. Not all are set up the same and you’ll need to know exactly how to install your specific brand.

a. The processor. This one’s a bit tricky, but read the instructions and you should be fine. Basically, you’ll prepare the motherboard by lifting a lever to open the socket. Here’s a picture of a motherboard with an AM3 socket and an 1156 socket respectively:

AM3 is made by AMD

AM3: The socket is inside the yellow square.

Made by Intel

Socket 1156: The CPU goes inside the gray metal rectangle.

If you want, to get a feel for what you’ll be doing, you can check out this video on installing an Intel chip and/or this video from Newegg on switching out an AMD chip. (I am not affiliated with either video.)

Following your instruction manual, you’ll unwrap the processor, and then carefully, handling it by the edges, line it up and place it on the socket. You’ll then pull down the appropriate lever and click it into place. This may require some force, so it’s ok to press down as long as you have lined things up correctly. Again, the most important thing is to follow your instruction manual.

b. The CPU heatsink/fan. Processors come with heatsinks, which are installed on top of the processor to keep it cool. Stock heatsinks (those that are packaged with the processor) generally come with a square of thermal paste on the bottom, like this:

The white square is the thermal paste pad.

If you are using your own heatsink, or for some reason your processor requires you to apply your own thermal paste, you will need to purchase some and apply it yourself.

Line up the heatsink according to the instructions, with the thermal pad/paste between it and the processor, then click it into place with the lever/appropriate apparatus. (In the image, you can see the lever on the left.) This required quite a bit of force in my case, so as long as the processor and heatsink are lined up correctly, some pressing down is usually ok.

c. RAM. On the motherboards above, the RAM slots are the horizontal blue and yellow slots in the lower right of the first picture (there are four total), and the vertical blue slots on the right of the second (there are two total). RAM slots have retaining clips at both ends (white on the motherboards shown above). Read your motherboard’s manual to find out which slots to use; for example, if you have two sticks of RAM but four slots on the motherboard, you may need to use two particular slots.

Remember to keep grounding yourself regularly, just to be safe! Open the retaining clips, line up the RAM stick going the correct way (it will only fit in one way). The notch in the RAM should line up with the notch in the slot. Then insert the RAM, pressing down somewhat to click the clips back into place. They will be holding the RAM in place. The process looks something like this:

Google image search strikes again!

I am going to recommend waiting to install anything else on the motherboard (like graphics cards) until the motherboard is installed into the case, since those items tend to be bulkier and awkward to work around.

III. Install the power supply in the case

The motherboard will block the PSU, so lets install that first. Finally, we get to use the screwdriver! It should be easy to screw the power supply into place; it will usually go at the top back of the case.

IV. Install the motherboard in the case

First, you’ll need to screw in the motherboard standoffs. You will be putting screws through the motherboard into these standoffs, so they’ll need to line up with the screw holes on the motherboard (sometimes there are multiple configuration options with the case). These images give the general idea:

You will also probably want to switch out the standard motherboard cover plate on the back of the case with the one that came with the motherboard. Cover plates look like this:

The cover plate on the back should snap out and the new one should snap in; but this may vary slightly on a case-by-case basis (get it?).

Now you can gently lower the motherboard into the case. You’ll want to line up the ports on the back (mouse, keyboard, USB, ethernet, etc) with the cover plate. Then line up the screw holes with the standoffs underneath them. Now you can put screws through the holes into the standoffs. You will want to ensure your screws are the correct size and match your standoffs; the choices are 6-32 screws (bigger) or M3 screws (smaller).

Now that your motherboard is installed, most of the difficult/tricky work is over!

V. Attach graphics card and other components

Now’s a good time to fill out the rest of the motherboard, if you have additional components such as a video card. Installing a graphics card, or any other PCI-Express component, requires lining it up with the correct PCI-Express slot; some options are pictured here. Graphics cards are generally PCI-Express x16.

You will need to press it into place so that it clicks in all the way. Then, PCI or PCI-Express components usually are attached by a screw onto the back of the case as well, using a single screw at the top back of the component. In this closeup, the card is on the motherboard and we are ready to insert the screw.

Install other PCI components similarly. If you have any questions, consult Google or Youtube as there are tons of tutorials out there!

VI. Install hard drive and DVD drive

The DVD drive may slide in from the front of the case or the back; either way, it will generally be held in place by four screws (you must determine if they are 6-32 or M3 screws). You’ll probably put it at the top front of the case:

The hard drive, usually mounted toward the bottom front, will slide in from the back and be screwed in similarly, probably with the smaller M3 screws. Note that if you have multiple hard drives and want to control which is the master or slave drive, follow your manual’s instructions and do so before installation.

That should be it for major parts! If you have anything else to be installed, now would be a good time to do it. For example, you can go ahead and install extra fans onto the case, though you can put this off until the system is up and running.

VII. Plug everything in to everything else.

The first thing to plug in will be the CPU fan/heatsink. You’ll notice that it has a small wire and plug coming out of it (as in the picture above). If it’s not plugged in, your CPU won’t get cooled, and it will fry fast. The cord will plug into the motherboard and clip on. In this picture, it’s the white port in the center, with four pins in a row sticking straight up, and nothing plugged into it:

If you’re not sure where this is, check out your motherboard’s manual.

Now we’ll connect the DVD drive and hard drive to the motherboard. If you’re using an IDE interface, it looks as pictured on the wikipedia page. Hook up the cable. For SATA interfaces, the cables will plug into the back of your drives and motherboard like so:

Now we’ll install the control wires from your case. These communicate messages like power button presses to the motherboard. You’ll need to consult your motherboard’s manual to determine exactly how to connect them. The pins look something like this, and the connectors from the case will look something like this, though you may have different specific ones.

You also need to connect your case fans to the motherboard for power. This will depend on the type of connector they use. Check the motherboard manual to see where to attach them. If your motherboard does not have connections for all of your fans, you can attach them directly to a power supply cord (possibly with an adapter), but they will run at full speed all the time.

Speaking of the PSU, we’re ready for some juice!  Each of the following components needs to be plugged into the appropriate power supply cable: motherboard (usually twice), hard drive, DVD drive, graphics card (probably), case (possibly), and any other large components you’ve chosen to install.

For the motherboard, you’ll first have the big one: the 20- or 24-pin connector (and with some, 4 pins can be detached, as shown below, for compatibility with the slot).

There’s also, for most processors, a spot on the motherboard for an extra power connector.

The connector is usually a 4-pin, or perhaps an 8-pin (not pictured but similar), and the port is shown in on this motherboard, in off-white:

There are other types of power connectors for various other devices. If you have a graphics card, it may require separate power; this will likely be a 6-pin adapter, similar to the 4-pin shown above.

Here is a great site on the various power connections, with pictures of each. Your SATA drives get power from these:

Now we should have everything inside the case hooked up! Now go back over each part and make sure it has power and is plugged in correctly, especially the CPU fan.

To boot up, you’ll want to hook up your monitor and keyboard. You can also hook up your mouse and speakers at this point too.

For the monitor, just find the matching port on the back panel — either attaching to your graphics card if you got one, or your motherboard. It will probably be VGADVI, or HDMI. If the port doesn’t match up (for example, connecting an older monitor with VGA to a newer graphics card with one of the other formats), you may need to buy an overpriced adapter from CompUSA or a similar store.

The mouse goes into the green PS/2 connector, and the keyboard goes into the purple one. Alternatively, they may plug into the USB ports. Speakers plug in to the good old audio out (headphone) jack.

Once you’ve got all of your components hooked up, you are provisionally done!

VIII. Boot ‘er up

Now we’re ready to plug the power supply into the wall, and flip its switch to “on”. Cross your fingers and hit the power button on your computer.

If nothing happens: first check that the power supply has power and is switched on. Then check that the wires connecting your case (and its power button) to the motherboard are properly connected. After that, you’ll need to start checking over the system and troubleshooting.

When it starts up, you definitely want to have an eye on the CPU heatsink/fan to make sure it’s spinning. After a few moments, your motherboard’s BIOS should come up on the screen. Your BIOS is a mini-operating system installed on the motherboard. It controls your computer upon startup, and then hands things over to the operating system installed. Since you don’t have an OS yet (unless your hard drive has one installed), there’s not much more for it to do, so once you know the system’s working, you can shut it back down.

Congrats!

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You now have a working computer. If your computer isn’t working at this point, don’t get frustrated — it often takes some troubleshooting to get right! Check each component to see if it’s connected properly. If you aren’t sure, look it up in the manual or online.

The final step in our saga is to install the operating system. To do so, insert the boot disk and power your computer up. You may have to change your BIOS settings in order to boot from CD. To do so, check your motherboard’s manual. Good luck!
Youtube link of the day:  Who would you rather be?

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One comment on “Build Your Own Computer Part 4: Put It Together

  1. thegift73 says:

    Really great guide. Liked the way you explained the process in a step by step process, instead of expecting the reader to know everything.

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