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Building a New Computer – Part 2: Putting it Together

So you’ve picked out and purchased the hardware for your new computer, and you’ve already completed the most difficult step: Waiting for the parts to come in the mail. The next step is putting all of the pieces together, which we’ll cover here.

Note: This is meant to be an overview, to explain the basics… each configuration will be somewhat different, and you should always read the manuals carefully. If you missed Part 1 of the series, we covered picking out the hardware.

Putting the Computer Together

Tools required: Screwdriver, free time, patience, some cable ties or electrical tape, and maybe an anti-static band.

The first thing to do is start carefully removing the packaging from everything and enjoying the geek moment… be very careful when unwrapping the processor, and don’t drop it on the floor like I did.

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I usually put the processor on the board before putting the board into the case, which makes it a little easier. Open up the latches on the processor socket…

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…making sure to remove the little piece of plastic that protects the pins, of course. Note that these instructions are for an Intel processor, and might be slightly different for AMD.

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Now very carefully insert the processor, making sure to align it correctly with the notches. Close the hatch carefully when you are done. You should wait to attach the fan until the motherboard is securely in place.

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Your motherboard should come with a little metal cover for the back, where the ports will go. You should put that in before trying to stick the motherboard into the case.

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Note: Before putting in the motherboard, make sure that the case has the right “pegs” in place for the motherboard to stand on. Some cases have the pegs built-in, but you might have to add a few. Check your manual.

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Now you can carefully put the motherboard with the processor into the case, matching up the holes with the pegs.

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Make sure that the motherboard lines up correctly with the holes in the port hole cover… you might end up having to bend some of the metal tabs on the inside if they were bent during shipment. The key is that all the ports should be unobstructed… make absolutely certain before screwing in the motherboard!

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Now you can finally screw in the motherboard. Most motherboards have 9 screws, but that could vary. The key thing is that you should be putting the screws into the pegs so that the motherboard sits slightly above the case… and don’t fasten these screws too tightly… just snug enough that the board won’t be moving.

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Next you’ll need to start plugging in some cables… most motherboards have a 4-pin power cable that needs to be plugged in near the processor. It’s important to plug this cable in first before adding the processor fan, otherwise it’s usually very difficult to reach.

Tip: When putting a computer together, you should think ahead… if you connect one cable or add in a new piece, is it going to block you from putting in the next one?

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Now you can add the processor fan, carefully matching up the holes and making sure that you have enough slack in the cable to plug in the power. Notice how difficult it would have been to plug in the 4-pin power cable with the fan in the way!

Tip: It would be wise to use some thermal compound between the CPU and the fan, as it helps keep the temperature down. It’s pretty simple, just follow the directions on the back of the package. It’s not technically required, however.

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Make sure to adjust the four fasteners so that they are positioned correctly according to the manual. If you are using a stock cooler, the bigger part of the groove needs to be pointed inwards.

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Once you have the fan in place, you need to push down on each of the four fasteners in a diagonal pattern. For instance, I’d push down the upper left one in this picture first, since it’s crammed in the corner. Then I’d push down the one on the lower right next, and then the other two. (This is usually the most difficult step in the whole build process. Everything else is easy from here)

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Next you’ll want to connect the motherboard wires to the wires coming from the case for the power and reset buttons. This will be completely different based on your motherboard, so you need to check the manual. My motherboard came with a little plastic piece that made it really easy to match them up…

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This was then easily plugged into the motherboard (in the lower right on this picture). You’ll also need to connect your audio, USB, and any other cables coming from the case at this point, including the main motherboard power connectors. (Check your manual)

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Now we’re getting somewhere… slide the DVD drive in place…

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And make sure to align it with the front panel in place so that it fits correctly before adding the four screws on the side (it’s pretty simple). Make sure to fasten those tightly… remember that the DVD drive is a moving part and you don’t want it rattling.

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Now you can add the hard drive to the case. I like to put mine so that the case fan is drawing air across the hard drive. You probably want to connect the SATA cables first before putting it into place. Make sure to securely screw in the four screws, because your hard drive can make a whole lot of rattling noises if you don’t.

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At this point you should have most of the major pieces in place… but your cables are probably dangling all over. You should be able to use some of the included zip ties or some electrical tape to neatly tie the cables up so they aren’t dangling.

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Something more like this… although I’ll admit I didn’t do the best job of making them look nice. The point is to make sure that the cables aren’t hanging around and hitting the fans if you move the machine. Making them look “pretty” is up to you. =)

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I’m sure you probably thought I forgot about adding the RAM… well I didn’t. I’ve found that on many cases adding the ram first will block you from being able to insert the hard drive, so I wait to add it until we’re almost done.

First, consult your manual to figure out which memory slot you need to use. Next, make sure that the fasteners on either side are pushed Out, like you can see below:

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You’ll notice that the notch in the memory indicates that you can only put it in facing one direction. Line up the notches, and simply push down on the memory stick, and the fasteners should snap into place magically like this:

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Now you can add in your video card and any other add-on cards. Make sure that you knock the slot cover off the back first, and screw it into place securely. Remember that you’ll be connecting things to the back, so take a look to make sure you lined them up to make it easy to connect the cables later.

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Checklist Before Closing Up the Computer

Before you go to the trouble of putting the case back together, you should check through this list to make sure you got everything. (Note that depending on your config you might need to plug in extra items… remember to read the manual)

  1. Did you plug in the power cables to the motherboard? There’s usually a 24-pin connector and a 4-pin one.
  2. Did you add the CPU with the fan… and did you plug in the fan power cable?
  3. Did you plug in the memory (RAM) securely?
  4. Did you plug in power cables to each of the drives (hard disk and DVD). What about the SATA cables?
  5. Did you remember to put four screws in each of the hard drives or DVD drives?
  6. Did you remember to screw in the motherboard?
  7. Did you plug in all the wires coming from the case into the motherboard?
  8. Are any cables dangling that might get caught in a fan?

Now you can add the panels back on the side of the case…

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And you are done! That was rather fun, wasn’t it?

Plug in a monitor and turn your new machine on, and hopefully it will work immediately like mine did… success!

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If It Doesn’t Turn On or Start Up

If the computer doesn’t turn on or work right away, don’t panic… the problem is most likely that something isn’t connected correctly. Go back through and verify that every single cable is connected exactly as the manual says it should be.

I’ve added a page to the How-To Geek Wiki to cover this topic:
Troubleshooting Problems When Building Your Own PC

For those of you that missed the rest of the series, here you go:

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/27/08

Comments (43)

  1. Matt

    Hey Geek,

    Always nice to see posts like this; I love building new computers, so I’m enjoying this vicariously. My only comment is that I’d advise against “slathering” thermal compound. I’m certainly not an over-clocker or anything, but most thermal compound has fairly specific directions on its application. Most also tell you to apply to the core of the CPU, not the heatsink.

    Previous generations of, for example, Arctic Silver thermal grease, required you to spread some compound over the base of the heatsink and then rub off any excess to “fill defects in the milling of the metal”, then spread a very thin layer across the CPU core. Nowadays, you can put a small bit in the center of the CPU core (about the size of a grain of rice) and the down force of the heatsink in place will spread it evenly.

    You do run a risk (albeit a very slight one) of having thermal compound drip/leak off of parts of the heatsink that aren’t touching CPU core onto something that’s conductive, which might cause a short. Thermal compound is pretty sticky, so this is more of a cautionary tale than a suggested correction.

  2. The Geek

    @Matt

    That’s a good point, I’ll adjust that line.

    This has been a difficult article series to write, since I’m trying to include enough information to be helpful, but I don’t want to be too specific to my configuration since there are infinite configuration possibilities. It’s more about trying to help explain the basics to people that haven’t built a computer before.

    I’m very happy with the feedback so far, always great to have tips from readers.

  3. ben

    This is great. I’ve always thought of building a computer myself, and even though i’ve rebuild computers, and reinstalled many OS’s before, i’ve never wanted to actually buy the parts and build one. good write up for Part 1 and 2. Looking forward to Part 3. Perfect for anyone just starting.

  4. oded

    Hi !

    GREAT POST !
    I enjoy it every time.

    A small additional check list: “Make sure you haven’t forgot any screw inside the case, it can cause you problems…”

    Best regards
    Oded

  5. Lee Williams

    Loving the write-up! I’ve been fixing and troubleshooting computers for years now, but never wanted to tackle building one from scratch. Lately, though, I’ve been getting the ‘jonez’. It’s a geek rite of passage I haven’t completed. Found myself shopping for motherboards today…

  6. bassmadrigal

    This article was very well written. One thing that I feel was neglected was with the thermal compound/grease. Most stock heatsinks come with it pre-applied and you just need to take a cover off. If you apply more then it looses its efficiency.

    Another thing I always do is put together the essentials (motherboard, proc, video and ram) outside of the case, and hook up the power supply and montior and power on the motherboard. This will tell you if you have problems, and it can prevent having to pull out the motherboard after you have installed it in the case.

  7. Zack

    Are you sure you put your ram in the right place? in one of those pictures it looks like your ram is in slots 1 and 2 (yellow and black). on most motherboards I’ve worked with that would make them run in single channel mode. If you haven’t already you should check your manual, you might need to put them in slots 1 and 3 or 2 and 4 for them to run in dual channel mode

  8. The Geek

    @Zack

    You are correct… somebody on the forum pointed that out as well…

    The real reason I used those two slots was because I was waiting for another 2 pieces to come in the mail, so all the slots will be full anyway =)

  9. Tyrant

    You’ve given me the confidence to be able to build my own computer, thanks! Before I was always concerned I’d mess something very sensitive up or whatever, but this is great.

  10. The Geek

    @Tyrant

    Great!

    Make sure to get feedback on our forums… we’ve got a number of experienced system builders that hang out there…

  11. Zafar Ahmed

    Very well written article. Thanks Geeky!!

  12. rbailin

    One thing you forgot to mention when installing ram is that the sticks are keyed on the connector edge with a little notch, and will only go in one way.

  13. The Geek

    @rbailin

    Excellent point! Will update the article.

  14. Mike

    Great article. It has been a while since a built a PC and this is great refresher since I am overdue for a new one. Looking forward to Part 3…Thanks!

  15. jon

    When i am an adult i am going to bulid a computer! and also i am looking forward to part 3!

  16. Syahid A.

    Love this article. The only thing I don’t understand about new computers is that the variance of RAM types that are available. Miss the 100/133 era.

  17. rbailin

    There’s nothing really complicated about RAM types. The 100MHz and 133MHz SDRAM you miss evolved into DDR (double data rate) memory which further evolved into the current DDR2 memory, all at continually faster speeds. So instead of 100/133 choices, you have 533/667/800/1066 choices. Like the older memory, not all motherboards support all speeds of DDR2 memory. You simply buy what your mb supports and what your wallet can afford.

    There’s also DDR3 memory at even faster speeds, but it’s not yet mainstream.

  18. db

    Good articles, and building your own box is one of the best ways to learn what’s inside.
    I also appreciate the philosophy, what I’ve preached for a long time about buying off bleeding edge and to stay away from “bundle companies” that are push their bulk inventories off on the consumer, literally preying on their ignorance.
    A couple bones of contention would be:
    As it was mentioned, If you are using thermal compound, it’s beneficial to remove the thermal pad on the fan, as it can create an insulation issue, call it a thick layer, but you see a difference in temperature if you do remove it.
    Another real time saver it to see if the board will post, before loading it up.
    Articles like this build confidence in anyone who want to be more than just a user.
    I’ll be looking for more.

  19. Pradeep

    Hey Geek,
    That’s a really nice post, I have gone through all 3 parts! I recently got a new computer, an assembled one. After reading your article I think, I could have made it better with some minor changes in configuration.

  20. james fahey

    I built few myself but one thing I notice you forgot to mention is ESD. ESD can ruin not only the memory but the cpu. You do not work on carpet or when your home is humid. I ground myself to the screw for the electrical outlet. Or you touch something that metal and grounded.
    Also which I did, you can use klaxon tape to tape down the wires onto the mainboard. Also read the manuels before doing anything, have the proper tools, and take your time. No need to rush.

  21. Buzz

    I’ve just been given a tower pc..I had to replace the power supply and wasn’t paying attention..now I don’t know how and where to make to reconnection…I have 2 cd/rw’s and a floppy. I believe it is a Creative 486…I over-tinkered..thanx

  22. Fhang

    Any idea if its possible to use a CPU from an existing computer or even transfer components over from like say my Dell 531s (slim) PC to a full sized Xclio Wind Tunnel Full tower? I’m looking into a major overhaul but plan to keep my Athlon 64 X2 4000 CPU.

  23. blackzero85

    Very nice post indeed. I’ll be sure to read this again when I build my next computer in the future.

  24. stonecold

    this is amazing…. love it

  25. johnnyd

    I am sitting – until now, terrified – next to a tower of components that I ordered for my first build. Your series is the best thing I found yet on putting my box together! Thanks a million!

  26. Cliff

    soo.. basically im stuck im looking for some answers, just got all my computer parts from tiger and once i put it all together, it wont turn on! i wiggle the 24pin power connector on the motherboard and the fans turn on for about 1/4 of a cycle and then immediately shutdown. first i thought it was the motherboard, so i sent it back, and got a replacement, now its doing the same thing.. i double check everything! soo.. im stuck here with $700 worth of useless parts that dont work!! im really frustrated.. and dont know wat to do anymore.. im really needing some advice.. im really really upset, please GEEK can you help me>? thanks in advance!

    System Specs:
    OCZ 700w GameXStream Power Supply
    OCZ SLI 4096MB PC6400 DDR2 800MHz (2x2048MB
    XFX nForce 780i SLI Socket 775 Motherboard
    Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 2.33Ghz 4MB 1333FSB CPU

  27. Nita

    Hey, I’m 79 years old and read your whole article on building a computer. Interesting! I have often thought about doing that, but my sight isn’t good. However, I do have a problem. I lent my AMD Semtron to my grandkids and just got it back. I wanted to put XP back on it as my new computer is Vista and don’t care for it. However, I’m getting used to it.
    I plgged the power cord in to the AMD and the monitor cord into the AMD. Pushed the on switch and nothing happened! Shouldn’t it come on?? Or do I need to plug the other wires from my new computer to the AMD? Or, is the power unit shot?? I have a feeling it’s the power unit. I’ve replaced them before and will do so again if need be. I just hate taking it apart do to my bad eye sight. “Macular Degeneration”
    I am a bit savvy with a computer as I am machinacally inclined.
    If the AMD is junk now–Can I take the CD out and install it into my Gateway computer? I have already replaced the CD in my Gateway, but there is room for another one and I’d lke to have two just like I had on the AMD.I don’t know anyone to ask these questions. Most don’t know as much about about a computer as I do! I even crash my computer on purpose just to keep my mind sharp. Don’t want to get al-timers! ha ha
    I’d sure apprciate hearing from you and hope you can answer my questions.
    It’s a nice day so I’m going for a bike ride. Hope I hear from you when I get back.
    Thanks,
    Mrs. Hunter

  28. Michal

    rock on dude

  29. edwinna

    this stuff is pretty cool i am a girl and don’t really like fixing computer for anything but talking to my friends and looking up new clothes, but when i red this and saw how cool and amazing it really is how to make your own computer.
    i think i just might try it.

  30. Helli

    I got a little chuckle at being a girl not doesn’t like fixing pcs comment. Not being mean, but why should guys have fun building PCs? I’m a female as well, but don’t care about the latest fashion I like gadgets much more. I’ve been playing console games because it was more convenient that way and the price of PC gaming is rather costly. But when I found out that pc gaming or PC in general doesn’t have to be built from the likes of Dell, Hewlett Packard, Toshiba and Gateway to name a few. With those companies you normally get little selection and pay a big price for lack of ways to use your computer. But with home built you get to put what YOU want and find things with in your price range and know what it will be for. Oh and best of all no more trial program crap. In most cases they either don’t work or they had already expired. It’s annoying when there is no system restore CD, if there is one then you can believe there will be the same crap you wanted to get rid of in the first place; back on. Which is its better to buy your own ghost or other System Back restore programs. You will have everything the way it was before your HDD crashed. Like the pictures, desktop wall paper etc etc.

  31. sadat

    wow this is pretty amazing..always wanted to be a computer geek:-))

  32. phil

    Hi geek I’ve just bought all the parts I need to build my first pc “BUT” the only thing I’m worried about is esd!!So I’ve bought a wrist strap with a crocodile clip on the other end, so where do I clip it? On the case of the computer I’m building or some ware else to earth myself? Phil

  33. Maddy

    Great helpful article that has answered half of my question. As I have put the computer together and installed a graphics card and just waiting on my thermal paste to set the heatsink and fan and thought I would just search some articles to be sure of no mistakes, this has been great and so far so good for what I have done as okay. But the last question I have to find an answer to before firing up the computer is a simply simple confusing one.

    I was kind of wondering if maybe I should take the graphics card out, but see you did install it first. So the reason I thought maybe I should take it out for the first start up was because the drivers are not yet installed so what would I hook the monitor to, the on-board graphics vga or the vga of the graphics card? Since the drivers of the card are not installed yet how will the bios screens come-up on the monitor. So I was going to remove the graphics card, start the computer and add the graphics card later after the windows os is installed. hummm any ideas? Does the graphics card work in a simple fashion for the bios and then later the drivers are added for the fine tuneing of the graphics… humm the card before the driver as in the horse before the cart does it work?

  34. Zhi

    All those wires comes with the component that you brought or you have to buy all those cable seperately?

  35. Marcel Hommes

    Amazing how this 2 years later helps me with getting the needed courage to buy the components and build my own pc! Now we have DDR3 and Quad-/Six-core CPUs.. World’s turning fast :)

  36. hrm90

    Am looking at building my first computer, have researched a little and so far i think i am going to go with the Asus Maximus III Extreme Motherboard and a intel core i5 661 processor. Looking at maybe 4 or 6 GB RAM to start with. Im not too fussed about money at this stage but probably dont want to go over 1500. Any thoughts on the two parts i have chosen so far, or ideas on the rest of the gear would be greatly appreciated :)

  37. Rockstar

    if i didn’t read this i would have blown up a pc,thanx for the advise

  38. Cpt. Awesome

    I am currently building a pc, and I bought one of the 6 core AMD processers. It came with some thermal compound.

  39. 2dogs

    You will have to cut every one of those zip-ties or tapes eventually, risking cutting the wires you are binding. Velcro tape, or no binding at all (my way) is better. If you are building your own rig, you will reconfigure it and upgrade it, and you will curse every zip-tie you have to cut.

  40. Rovan

    Not a bad guide, but i’ll agree with 2dogs, zip-ties are a MAJOR pain in the neck.
    also, “You should wait to attach the fan until the motherboard is securely in place.”.. I’ve found it much, MUCH easier to put the heat sink on before putting in the motherboard, and I’ve also broken quite a few heat sink clips trying to maneuver them around while in the case.
    There’s absolutely no reason to secure the motherboard in the case before installing the CPU fan, it just makes it harder to put it on.

  41. Rovan

    Oh, although, I prefer the chunky Coolermaster heat sinks, not stock ones that come with the CPU, stock ones tend to be fairly easy to install either way

  42. Brad

    Just wondering if you could show more pictures or more detailed information about putting in that circular fan over the cpu. Great site by the way thank you.

  43. MD ARMAN

    i want to manual of motherboard and i am assemble the new system

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