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How to build a computer

Thinking about building your own computer? Have you already got the parts and just don't know where to start? If so, I am going to show you how to build a computer.

How to build a computer

In a recent article I discussed things to keep in mind when you're going to build a custom computer. There are plenty of websites like PC Part Picker that will generate a parts list. But once you have purchased all of the parts, you'll have to put them all together.

In his article, I am going to show you how to assemble all of the parts into a working computer. If you don't have all of the tools or are kind of scared of possibly make a mistake, please contact a local computer shop and have them assemble it for you. If you live in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, feel free to give us a call.

Tools required to build a computer

Tools required to build a computer

  • Anti-static wrist strap
  • Wire ties
  • Snipers (for trimming wire ties)
  • Needle nose pliers (optional)
  • 3/16" nut driver (for stand-offs)
  • #1 Phillips screw driver
  • Thermal compound (may or may not be required)

Building a computer step by step

Cable management is one thing you will need to keep in mind as you are building your computer. Take the time to secure all wires, even if it is temporary.

Don't be surprised if during your assembly that you have you cut and replaced some wire ties. This is normal when you perform wire management.

And remember to put on the anti-static wrist strap and attach the clip of it to a metal portion of the computer case before you start building your computer.

  1. Unpack the computer case.
    Unpack the computer case
    Make sure to do an inventory of all the parts (screws, drive caddies, etc.) that come with it.
  2. Install the I/O panel in the rear of case.
    Install I/O panel in rear of case
    Be careful installing the I/O panel as the metal edges can easily cut your hand.
  3. Install the stand-offs for motherboard.
    Install the stand-offs for motherboard
    Some cases have stand-offs built-in, others do not. If your case does not have them built in, check the hole pattern on the motherboard or the motherboard manual to ensure you have the stand-offs in the correct locations. Hand tighten them using a 3/16" nut driver.
  4. Install the motherboard.
    Install the motherboard
    You may have to work it a little bit to get it under any tabs on the I/O panel. Then attach it to the stand-offs using the supplied screws.
  5. Install the CPU.
    Install the CPU
    Make sure you have the notches in the CPU aligned correctly to the socket on the motherboard. Refer to the motherboard manual for the correct way to secure the CPU in the socket.
  6. Install the CPU cooler.
    Install the CPU cooler
    If you are using a new cooler, it will have thermal compound already applied. If you are rebuilding an existing computer, you will need to clean any existing thermal compound from the CPU and cooler. Then you will need to apply a new layer of thermal compound. Just spread a thin coat of thermal compound across the complete surface of the CPU. A business card works great.
  7. Install the memory modules.
    Install the memory modules
    The modules will have a notch in them, so they will only go into the slot one way. Check the memory modules against the memory slots on the motherboard for the correct orientation. Also refer to the motherboard manual for the correct installation order.
  8. Install the case fan(s).
    Install the case fan(s)
    Some cases come with fans already installed, some don't. If you have to install the can fans, just make sure you have the air flow correct. The air flow should go from the front of the case to the rear of the case. The fans have directional arrows printed on one side of them. Once installed, connect them to the appropriate fan header(s) on the motherboard. Refer to the motherboard manual for the locations.
  9. Connect the front panel connectors to the motherboard.
    Connect the front panel connectors to the motherboard
    Refer to the motherboard manual for the locations of all the pins (power button, power LED, hard drive LED, audio jacks and USB jacks) for the connectors.
  10. Install the drive(s).
    Install the drive(s)
    Depending on your case, you may have separate carriages or combination carriages for Solid State Drives (SSD) and Hard Disk Drives (HDD). If you are installing an M2 SSD, refer to the motherboard manual for the correct location for it. If you are also installing CD / DVD drive(s) you may have to remove knock-out metal panel(s) from a 5 1/2" bay in the front of the case. Be careful twisting it back and forth to break it free, as the metal can be sharp and cut your hand.
  11. Install the cables for the drive(s).
    Install the cables for the drive(s)
    Refer to the motherboard manual for the correct port to attach the drives to. You will want the primary (boot) drive to be attached to port 1.
  12. Install any expansion cards (graphics, Wi-Fi, etc.).
    Install any expansion cards
    Refer to the motherboard manual for the locations of the PCI-e slots. Here is an article we wrote on installing expansion cards.
  13. Install the power supply.
    Install the power supply
    Depending on the power supply, it may or may not have the power cables already attached. Route the cables thought the case making sure not to cut them on any sharp metal edges.

Now just make sure all of the wire ties are trimmed back and all of the protective film that protects the case is removed. Attach the keyboard, mouse and monitor and go into the BIOS (Basic Input / Output System) to verify and / or change any of the settings. Refer to the motherboard manual on how to do this. Once you are done in the BIOS, you should be ready to install the operating system.

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

So, you are thinking about building your own computer. There are allot of things you have to decide on. So here are a few things to keep in mind when building your own custom-built computer.

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

Building your own system can be quite satisfying, like being able to say "I built it myself". And you can also perform any service on it, since you know where everything is located.

But if you do not plan it out, it can be a nightmare. Like having to return components that are not right. It can be a real headache if you order them online and have to ship them back.

So, let's take a look at some of the considerations you have to think about before you purchase the components for your custom-built computer.

Form vs Function

It is an age-old problem: Form vs. Function. Do you want a system that is really cool looking or takes up very little space (form)? Or maybe a system that can run graphic intense games or can hold ton of components (function)?

Over the years I have built both types of computers for my personal use. My first few were built purely for function, playing games and a ton of storage using a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks).

They were big and not very pretty to look at, but they served the purpose. But systems like that have one big issue: cooling. Trying to keep all of the components cool was tough.

Now a few years ago I decided that I was tired of having to leave the side panel of my computer case off and have fan blowing air in to it. It just didn't look good to me or others that I might have come into my office.

I wasn't playing the games anymore and the size of hard drives had increased, so I did not need to have a RAID any more. So, I decided to start using a case that was more appealing to the eyes.

A custom-built computer based on Form

If you are thinking about building your custom-built computer based on form, then the first thing you have to decide on is the case. They come in all sorts of sizes, ranging from the ultra-small mini-ITX to an ATX bench case.

You can go with a conventional looking case or something unique, like clear Plexiglass. You can get them with a ton of LED's or just plain.
A computer case with a custom finish
You can find them in all sorts of colors or you can apply your own finish.

Custom cases: Faux Stone and Chalkboard
Custom cases: Back in Black
Custom Cases: The Antec Skeleton

Or you can go with something completely open like an Antec Skeleton.
An orginal Antec Skeleton case
It is whatever you want your custom-built computer to look like. Once you have decided on a case, the case will dictate what components you can put inside (motherboard, graphics card, power supply, etc.).

If the case you want to use can hold a micro-ATX or standard ATX motherboard, you can follow the Function factor instructions below. If the case you want to use can hold a mini-ITX or mini-ATX motherboard, finding a motherboard is the next step.

Since mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases are small, the motherboards for them will have limited options for what CPU's (Central Processing Unit) they can use. Remember that the faster the CPU runs, the more heat it will make.

And with smaller mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases, CPU cooling options may be limited to just air cooled heatsinks. It just depends on how much space inside of the case you have available.

When it comes to GPU's (Graphics Processing Unit), you may or may not have room for one. But if you are not going to be using your system for graphic intensive programs like Photoshop, you can easily use the on-board graphics built-in to the motherboard.

In some mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases, you can use a GPU if you use a riser board that comes up off of the motherboard. But keep in mind that some cases can use full-height expansion cards and some can use only half-height expansion cards, so double check the specifications for the case.

When it comes to drives, you will probably have to go with a 2.5" drive, either a (Solid State Drive (SSD)) or (Hard Disk Drive (HDD)). Of course, it all depends on what the case has been designed to hold. The same holds true for a CD / DVD / BD optical drive.

You will also need a power supply that fits the case size. Some cases come with them, so do not. And be prepared to pay a little more the smaller form factor, mini-ITX and mini-ATX, power supplies than micro-ATX or standard ATX ones.

You also need to make sure the power supply has enough of the proper connectors (ATX12V, SATA, PCIe, Molex) for all of the different components. If you are going to use a GPU, make sure you have enough PCI-e (8-pin and/or 6-pin) power connectors.

And lastly, you are going to need some memory modules. Just check the motherboard specifications to find out what type of memory and how many it can handle. You can usually just install one memory module, but I always recommend installing them in pairs (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.). You can get a better price on memory modules if you buy them in twin-packs and quad-packs.

A custom-built computer based on Function

If you are thinking about building your custom-built computer based on its Function, then the first thing you have to decided is what CPU (Central Processing Unit) are you going to use (AMD or Intel).

As strange as it may sound, the CPU will dictate everything else in your computer. For example, let's say you want to build a high-end gaming or 3d rendering machine and you want to run an Intel Xeon or Intel I9 processor.

First, you will need to find a motherboard that has all of the features, like PCI-e slots, you want and the correct socket type for the processor you have chosen to use. Always check the specifications for the motherboard to make sure that the processor you want to use is supported.

Remember, that even if a motherboard has the correct socket type, the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) may not support the CPU you have selected. I always go to the manufacturers website and double check the supported CPU's.

Now that you have the CPU and motherboard selected, how are you going to cool the CPU? Air or liquid? Air cooled heatsinks sit on top of the CPU and can get kind of large (tall), so you will have to have a case that has enough room for it.

Same thing holds true for liquid coolers, but they utilize radiators than need to be mounted inside of the case, either on the rear or top. I preferred the top mounted liquid CPU coolers, as the radiators have far more surface area for cooling the liquid than ones that mount in the rear of the case.

And if you are thinking about over-clocking your CPU, then go with a large, top mounted liquid CPU cooler. But remember that over-clocking will in some cases void the CPU manufacturer's warranty, so be careful and keep it cool.

Next thing to think about is the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) / graphics card(s). Most high-end GPU's require more space inside of the case and if you want to use multiple GPU's then you will need a case that is large enough to hold them all.

By now you have a good idea on what size of computer case you will need. You are probably looking a mid-size or full-size tower. Keep in mind that good air flow inside the case is essential. So, having at least one fan in the front and rear of the case is recommended.

Next thing to look at is the power supply. Since you are looking at a mid to full size case, a standard ATX type power supply is what you are going to need. You just need to know how many watts all of the components you want to use will require. A 600 to 700 watt power supply should be sufficient.

You will also need to make sure the power supply has enough of the proper connectors (ATX12V, SATA, PCIe, Molex) for the motherboard and components you want to use. Keep in mind what additional power the GPU (8-pin and/or 6-pin PCI-e) might require. Each PCI-e connection for the GPU is roughly 75 watts.

And of course, you are going to need some memory modules. Just check the motherboard specifications to find out what type of memory and how many it can handle. You can usually just install one memory module, but I always recommend installing them in pairs (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.). You can get a better price on memory modules if you buy them in twin-packs and quad-packs.

As far as drives are concerned, you can usually go with either 2.5" (Solid State Drive (SSD)) or 3.5" (Hard Disk Drive (HDD)) drives. If you are building a high-end system, you will want to go with one of each (an SSD as the first (boot) drive with an HDD for storage as the second drive). A CD / DVD / BD optical drive is completely optional.

With all of that said, you should be ready to assemble your custom-built computer. And if you feel kind of overwhelmed with it all, go ahead and contact a local computer technician for assistance.

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

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