First Timers: Build Your Own PC

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This is a guide specifically for those of you who’ve always wanted to put together your own PC, but never quite had the guts to get moving on it. This is basically a twelve-step guide that should cover just about everything you’ll encounter when you go to put together your own machine.

For the absolute beginner, the reasoning behind building your own machine is the wide range of customisation and upgrade options. You can pick and choose your own parts to ensure that your machine will do exactly what you need it to, without overspending.

We do offer kits, for those who like to go with bundles.

We do offer kits, for those who like to go with bundles.

Everyone wants something a bit different from their PC; big downloaders are going to want as much space as possible, gamers will want heavy-duty video cards. There are people for whom one or the other is enough, and some who’ll want both. You don’t need to go out and buy a “high performance” machine when you could just build a machine that performs where you need it to.

In the long run, you could save yourself a lot of money (unless you end up like those of us who get a bit obsessive about upgrading your machine). This is a simple enough twelve step program, like dealing with addiction, only you end up with a new machine out of the deal. Each step is described in detail, so you shouldn’t need too much else.

You can also read this article on the main page, with some instructive images, here 🙂

Step One:

When you first start planning to put a machine together, you’ll need to spend a bit of time picking out all of your components. This is a quick checklist of all the things you’re likely to need, though naturally there’ll be some you might be able to omit:

1. Processor
2. Processor Cooler (usually this’ll be bundled with the CPU)
3. Motherboard
4. RAM
5. Video Card
6. Hard Drive
7. DVD Burner
8. Case
9. Power Supply (this might well be bundled with your case, so you might be able to avoid that one)

Aside from those, there are some parts that you might want to add yourself, depending on what you want to do with your new machine.

10. A standalone sound card
11. A TV Card
12. A card reader
13. Additional fans to keep the whole affair cool

When you’re looking for components, there are some things you’ll really want to keep an eye out for. These might seem obvious, but they can be easy to overlook if you’re building your first machine. You’ll want to make sure your processor and motherboard will match one another. Don’t worry though; it’s fairly painless, if you look through motherboard and processor stats, you should be able to find socket information fairly easily.

Your motherboard will also dictate what kind of RAM you’re going to go with, whether DDR2 or DDR3. As with sockets, this should be fairly clear in the specifications for both RAM and board. Most motherboards support dual channel memory, which means you’ll want to be adding RAM in pairs. Core i7 machines will likely be triple channel; you can still run the system on a single stick of RAM, but you’ll need to use three to use the triple channel. If you’re running off one stick you’ll need to check the manual to see which slot to use.

When it comes to video cards, hard drives and DVD burners, there are fewer things you’ll need to be aware of (in terms of compatibility, at least). Pretty much any modern video card is going to be using PCI-Express, which should match just about all modern motherboards. Similarly, pretty much any hard drive you look at should be Serial ATA (or SATA), and you’d be hard pressed to find a motherboard that won’t cater to that.

Another concern you might have is power; your power supply will have to be enough to ensure your machine is properly powered, you can imagine the kinds of issues that might arise without enough wattage. This will depend on the components you use in your build.

It’s worth pointing out that aside from everything else you’ll need a Philips screwdriver, just in case you’d not thought that far ahead yet. You might also want to invest in an anti-static wrist strap.

Step Two:

This step is all about the physical installation of components themselves. You’ll want to install the CPU on the motherboard before you do anything else. We’ll explain in a moment how this works for Intel’s Socket 1156, and the process is almost identical for Socket 775 and 1366. For AMD, the process is a little different, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Click through to see our range of processors :)

Click through to see our range of processors 🙂

First, you’ll want to open the socket itself, by moving the lever, and then remove the plastic guard. Next, lift out the cover piece that rests on top of the CPU once it’s in place. Then, place the processor in the socket itself. Note that it fits with two notches in one direction. Do take care to correctly place the processor, because the whole affair can be a bit fragile. Close the socket again by closing the latch.

With AMD processors, the pins aren’t on the socket, but on the processor itself instead. The installation is simpler, open the socket, drop the processor in in the direction indicated by the arrow and then snap the lever back down, easy.

Step 3:

Now that you’ve got the processor in its socket, you can sort it out with a cooler. Just how this works will vary from model to model, but you’ll be able to find it fairly easily in the manual. We’ll go over how the cooler bundled with newer Intel processors should be installed.

Cooler

First, it’s important to know that there’s a thin layer of thermal paste to be applied between the processor and the cooler. With newer coolers, this should usually already be applied, or thermal paste will be included.

The cooler itself has four struts; place it (carefully) so that they line up with the four holes in the motherboard. Then press down firmly, but gently, on the legs so that they snap into the cooler and the fit feels secure. Then connect the cable from the CPU cooler to the CPU Fan connector on the motherboard (if it’s not clearly labelled, it should be located fairly close to the processor itself).

Step 4:

Now you can start adding RAM, this one isn’t too complicated. You should take a look at the manual that comes with your motherboard for detailed instructions on just how to install RAM. For Intel systems, you’ll want to install RAM in slots two and four, counting away from the processor. For AMD systems, you’ll want to use slots one and two (in most cases).

Click through to see our range of RAM :)

Click through to see our range of RAM 🙂

RAM installation is one of the easiest steps of building your own PC. First, you’ll want to undo the clips on the sides top open the slot. Then simply take a RAM module and use the notches to match it up, then slot it into place; RAM shouldn’t fit in any way but the right way.

Once you’re done with step four, you’re ready to proceed from adding things to the motherboard for now and move on to actually putting things into the case, which is always fun.

Step 5:

The next step is the installation of the motherboard itself. You’ll want to start by removing the side panel of your case. For most, this will just be a matter of undoing some clips or perhaps a couple of screws, but it tends to be fairly self-explanatory. You can check the manual for your case at this stage if you’d like, it can save you some consternation.

Click through to see our range of motherboards :)

Click through to see our range of motherboards 🙂

You’ll want to screw the motherboard in place, alongside the supplied I/O shield, which you’ll know when you see it; it’s about 6.5 x 2 inches and will fit neatly into the back of the case. The I/O shield should fit into the back of the case and clip in, once it’s there you can simply screw the motherboard into place and you should be good to go.

Step 6:

Within the case, you’re going to have some cables to set up. They’ll connect to the parts of your case that directly control your machine, USB ports, LEDs, power and reset buttons and case mounted fans. If you check the motherboard manual, you should be able to find details of where everything goes.

You can click through to see the cases we carry, including user reviews :)

You can click through to see the cases we carry, including user reviews 🙂

Do be aware that there are multiple ways to connect cables to LEDs and power buttons, but you can’t do any damage. To avoid any confusion, your coloured cable should correspond to the + in the motherboard manual.

You should be able to see the following connections:

1. Cable to USB ports on the front of the case, connected to an internal USB port.
2. The reset button
3. The power button
4. The power LED and hard drive LED
5. The eSATA connection should be connected to an internal SATA port (you should try not to use SATA ports 1 or 2, as they’re best kept for your hard drive and optical drive)
6. Audio ports should be connected to the internal audio connector
7. The fans should be different to the closed-fan connections on the motherboard

Step 7:

Next up is optical drive and card reader placement. Before you do anything else, you’ll need to take off the front panel on your case. This should be fairly self-explanatory too, but if you’re in any doubt you can check the case’s manual. There should be a couple of plates covering where an optical drive and card reader will fit, but you can pop those out, then clip the front panel back into place.

Click through to see our range of optical drives

Click through to see our range of optical drives

Since our example of a card reader is a 3.5” drive, you’ll have to be aware that if your case doesn’t have a 3.5” bay (once upon a time used for a floppy drive) then you’ll need to use a converter. Most cases should have a 3.5” bay, but some don’t. If yours doesn’t you’ll want to find a bracket to convert from 3.5” to 5.25” to fit the housing, from there you can simply slide the drive into place.

The card reader itself can be connected to a USB port on the motherboard itself. The optical drive should be connected to the motherboard using a SATA cable. Again, it’s best to use SATA port 2, since port1 is best kept for the hard drive.

Step 8:

This one is all about the hard disk. This step is going to vary depending on your case, so you’re best off looking through the case manual to see what it says about placement.

Your hard drive will connect using an SATA cable and you should probably connect it to SATA port 1 on the motherboard.

Step 9:

Depending on your choice of motherboard, this step might not apply to you directly. If you’re not into gaming, then you might have opted to pick up a motherboard with an integrated graphics setup. Otherwise, this step is for those installing a graphics card.

Click through to check out our graphics cards :)

Click through to check out our graphics cards 🙂

You’ll want to connect your graphics card to the PCI-Express slot on your motherboard. If your motherboard has multiple PCi-Express ports then the rule of thumb is to use the one closest to the processor.

At the back of your case there is a series of expansion slots; by default they’ll be covered by small, removable plates. You’ll usually only need to undo one screw per plate (the biggest cards will take two slots, so you’ll then need to remove two plates) and then slide them out. Keep them somewhere with the miscellaneous parts from your build in case you need them for some reason later on.

With the plates out of the way, just line up the card with the appropriate PCI-Express slot and carefully but firmly push it into place. Your graphics ports (DVI, VGA, and HDMI) should show through the slots in the case that you exposed. Once the card is in place, use the screws you removed to free the plates to screw the card into place.

Step 10:

We’ve only got three steps left to go, and step 10 is all about installing your power supply. Someone from our Twitter referred to changing a power supple as “like open heart surgery, but a lot cooler,” which should tell you a bit about how much fun this part is 😉 You’ll find that some cases have a power supply included, but with higher end cases that tends not to be the case (if you’ll pardon the pun), so you’ll have to choose your own power supply.

Click through to see some of our power supplies :)

Click through to see some of our power supplies 🙂

Now that all of your other hardware is in place, you can add the power supply itself. Except for some really unusual cases, there’ll usually only be one place in the case that a power supply will actually fit, so it isn’t too hard to manage. There should be four screws there to secure the power supply.

From here, you’ll need to connect all of the components in your new machine to the power supply. You’ll want to connect things up in this order:

1. The large 24-pin connection to the motherboard.
2. Depending on the board itself, you’ll have either a 4-pin or an 8-pin CPU connection
3. The video card will be either a 6-pin or an 8-pin PCI Express Graphics power connection
4. The hard drive and optical drive will take power from an SATA power connection
5. Any additional case fans you’ve installed but aren’t directly connected to your motherboard should be connected with a molex plug to the power supply

Some ‘modular’ power supplies will have all of the cables attached to the power supply, however in this case all of the cables are packaged separately, so you’ll be able to connect and arrange the cables yourself. If you’re in any confusion at all you should be able to just take a look at the manual for your power supply and it’ll steer you right where power’s concerned.

Step 11:

Almost there, Step 11 is for those who picked up additional cards (beyond a graphics card). Usually, these will either be PCI or PCI-Express, and it’s relatively simple to do. Each slot on the motherboard that fits the card should do you just fine. If you have multiple slots then it’s down to personal preference and how you’d like to arrange things.

Click through to see our full range of sound cards :)

Click through to see our full range of sound cards 🙂

For the most part, the installation will be pretty much identical to that of your video card; pull away the plate and then drop in the card.

Step 12:

Now, last but by no means least, you’re going to want to make sure everything in your case is neatly tied up. This should make sure that your PC has better airflow and looks better than a sloppier cable arrangement. On opening the case of a machine I’d built a friend once remarked, “Oh, I see you’ve let a nine year old wire it for you…” You’re better off putting the time into it now.

Usually, there should be cable ties included with your case. Once you’ve got all your cables tied up all you have to do is close up your case and you’re all good again.

If this was your first build then congratulations are in order, you’ve just built your first machine. Now all you need to do is connect up your mouse, keyboard and monitor and plug your machine in. Drop in a Windows/Linux disc and you can get your install going and make yourself a hard earned cup of tea.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this post, hopefully it’ll be a useful one to any of you building your first machine. Good luck guys.

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