On Monday, we discussed how you can go about finding parts to build your own computer.
Today, Zach is here for one more round. Another long one, explaining what you should do when your parts finally arrive. We got ours on Amazon Prime, so they were here two days after we ordered them and he was able to spend Saturday building. I meant to get a bunch of pictures, but this took about four hours and I didn’t know what steps were important. 😛 So I just got a couple and let him go about his business.
Anyway, here it is!
Last time we talked at length about how to select parts for building a computer, and we managed to squeeze some good-looking stuff into a beautiful case. So now your parts have arrived, and you have to build now. How intimidating, right? You’re going to need all these special tools and skills, and it’s so delicate that you’ll probably blow something up.
The reality is you need one tool: a Phillip’s head screwdriver. And patience. And a work room like ours would be handy, as well. You want to avoid working in a carpeted room as much as possible, since even low amounts of static can damage your parts, especially the motherboard. Therefore, I worked in our concrete-floored room with no socks and no shirt and no air conditioning. I’ve never had a part fail due to static, as far as I know.
Also, I want to lay out some general principles. First, your motherboard comes with a thick manual. This is probably the most valuable piece of information you have, as it tells you, step-by-step, what to do. If my advice deviates from this, it’s because I’ve been doing it for some time. Follow those instructions, and you won’t go wrong! Second, there will be parts of the assembly that require a bit of downward force, like inserting the RAM sticks. This will cause the motherboard to bend, which is terrifying. This is ok. Don’t shove indiscriminantly, but the motherboard is durable!
That said, let’s dive in. For this build, I followed this procedure:
Open the case up; locate the bag of screws
Set the empty case on the table.
Open it up by removing the thumbscrews and sliding the side-plate off. If you opted to get the same case I did, this will be the side WITHOUT the grating. The case comes with a bag of black screws and gold hexagonal things. These golden pieces are called motherboard standoffs. They provide a base to set the motherboard on and screw in, attaching it firmly. You need 6 of these motherboard standoffs.
Screw the motherboard standoffs to the appropriate spots in the case
Following the instructions for your motherboard, you will want to screw in the standoffs in the appropriate holes in the bottom of the case. Since we’re using a motherboard that has the ATX form factor, this will look like a rectangle formation. Your motherboard manual should have more specifics on this, but it’s going to align with these larger screwholes in the motherboard.
Install the motherboard face-plate
The motherboard comes with a face-plate for the video, audio, and other ports on the motherboard. This is cosmetic and should be installed before the motherboard goes in.
You’ll notice that the faceplate has these little brackets on it. Bend them forward and backward until they break off. It’s a bit tedious, but your motherboard won’t slide into place if they are present.
Once those are broken off, put the plate into the appropriate spot on the case. Make sure it clicks and is solid.
Install and align the motherboard; use 6 screws to fasten it to the standoffs
Pull the motherboard out of its static bag. Handle it with both hands on the sides of the circuit board.
Gently place it on top of the standoffs and slide it into place, with those various jacks fitting into the face plate. Those ports should look pretty snug in there (almost like they were made for each other. Imagine that!).
Using your screwdriver, install 6 of the screws that came with the case into the standoffs. This will anchor the motherboard to the standoffs and make it immobile. I suggest you get these just a little further than hand tight, enough to keep the board down tight, but not too tight. If you screw them in too much, you risk creating electrical shorts that can cause your motherboard to fail.
Install the DVD-ROM and hard drives (note: no cords are required at this point)
Remove the front plate of the computer. This is the plastic cosmetic face, and all you have to do for this case is squeeze these little circular brackets and push out. On the inside, there are these removable metal pieces that block entry to the DVD-ROM drive we’re going to install (remember, I cannibalized this from Chelsey’s old computer. If you don’t have one, skip this step).
Slice the drive into place from the front, being careful to make sure it’s right-side up! Then, you can attach the drive using the thumbscrew bracket that came with the case.
Align with the holes, put it in and turn the screw. Install the hard drive in one of the bays toward the bottom of the case. Fasten it the same way.
Install the processor
Next, we want to install the processor.
You’ll notice it comes in a little box that is taken up mostly by the fan and heat sink. A heat sink is comprised of a thick metal base to pull heat off the processor, which is connected to a set of metal fins that disperse the heat. The fins lead to a fan that blows air inward to keep the processor as cool as possible. The processor itself is a small chip that can easily fall out the box and onto the floor as you’re opening the thing up. Be careful not to let that happen!
When you get the processor out, you’ll find an instruction manual. Installing the processor itself is easy. On this motherboard, you’ll find the appropriate spot for the chip and a little metal arm.
Pull the arm up, and carefully seat the processor so the arrow in the corner is aligned with the arrow in the corner of the motherboard slot. This is described very well in your instruction sheet for the processor.
Once in place, close the arm. It should not require much force at all. The chip is now locked in place.
Next, you have to install the heat sink and fan.
First, you place the whole thing on top of the chip. The swiveling bracket has two sides, one with a lever, and the other with just a plain piece of metal. Fasten the plain side first over the piece jutting out of the motherboard. Then align the other side’s bracket over the processor seat. Push the bracket down until it’s secure, and voila!
I realize this description may not come through very well in words. It’s simpler to see the pictures included with your processor. In addition, if you’re not using this one, you may have to install by a different method, so make sure to follow your instructions!
Install the RAM
Next, I installed the sticks of ram. Right next to the processor is 4 slots with brackets coming out of either side. We have two sticks, so I opened two of those up.
There’s a little barrier that ensures only one way to put the sticks into the slots, so align them and push. This is the first section where you will experience some motherboard bending. Push gently on the ends of the sticks to minimize this.
Once they’re seated, you can click them into place by pushing the brackets back in place. If you can’t do this, then you either need to realign the sticks of RAM or push a bit further.
Install the power supply
Next, I installed the power supply, a little brick that has a big fan and a bunch of cables coming out of it. It’s obvious where it goes in the case, so put it into place and install with four screws. I made sure to align the fan so it would be blowing toward the bottom of the case (NOT toward the motherboard). Leave the cables alone for now.
Install the network and video cards (assuming you have these)
The case comes with the ports for these cards blocked by metal brackets, similar to the DVD-ROM bay. Just bend them back and forth until they break off. For this build, I required three such ports, since the video card took up two slots.
Next, install by sliding the cards into place. It should not be too tricky to install them, since the bottom of the card should match very well with the slot it’s meant for.
Fasten these cards to the case with a screw. There’s a hole for that just where the top bracket of the card reaches the case.
Also, install the antennae to the network card if you have it.
Hook up the hard drive and DVD-ROM to the motherboard
In order for the drives to work, they have to be connected to the motherboard. These days, most drives communicate using a so-called SATA cable. Two of these come with the motherboard I bought. They have a flat head that fits into a port on the drive, and the other end can fit into ports in one of the corners of the motherboard. Plug them in!
Connect the fans to the motherboard
This next step is often overlooked. This case came with 2 fans installed. The cable running from these fans can be controlled by the motherboard. They just need to be plugged in. The connections are located near the processor. More information about what these look like can be found in the motherboard manual.
Don’t forget to connect the fan on top of the processor, too! If you don’t have this connected, then the computer won’t turn on because it does not detect a CPU fan. As a safeguard against excess heat, it will shut itself off immediately.
Connect the power supply to the motherboard and the drives
There are several bits that the power supply plugs into.
First, you have the power cords for the hard drives and DVD-ROM. These cables end in a very flat head that plugs into the back of the drives. Align carefully and push these in. I find sometimes it takes a lot of force to accomplish this.
Be careful to push STRAIGHT in and not wiggle around, as this could damage the drive. This is especially true with the hard drive, since the piece you’re connecting too often is a free- standing piece of silicon.
For this build, you only require a few more plugs. One is the 24-pin motherboard power cable. It’s a big and fat thing that plugs into only one spot on the motherboard. So do that!
Here’s another point where you may experience some bowing of the motherboard as you push in. Gentle, constant pressure is the way to go. The other cable you have to plug in is located near the processor and the fan connectors. It is a square plug with a 2×2 arrangement of connectors. This provides the power to the motherboard and is often forgotten, forcing your computer to not turn on at all.
Connect the buttons on the case to the motherboard
The final connection step is one of the most tedious, in my opinion. The buttons and ports on the front of your computer are controlled by one cable that splits into 6 or 7 different heads. These heads end with a tiny connector that says something like “POWER SW.” Near where you connected the SATA ports, you’ll find a series of pins sticking out. The layout is described in detail in your motherboard manual, and you just want to plug these connectors in the appropriate areas.
It’s tedious to me because the lettering is all small, and I have large hands. Getting these stupid little plugs onto the correct pins is an exercise in frustration. Just follow the instruction manual carefully here, and you’ll get it.
If you don’t want the headphone jack in the front, you can get away with just connecting the two cords for the power switch. I do recommend connecting everything, though.
And that’s the hardware installation process! It’s fairly involved, but it’s mostly carefully following instructions.
The first time I built a computer, I just followed the motherboard’s manual step by step and had no issues. There may have been a few non-essential steps that I missed, like installing the motherboard speaker to help diagnose problems should they arise.
You’ll want to reinstall the side plate and try to turn the computer on now. At this point, any number of problems can arise. One time, I had a defective motherboard, so the computer would turn on for a few seconds and then shut off immediately.
This time, the adventure was different. I hooked the computer up to the monitor, and everything went smoothly. Turned on, went to BIOS. I was tooling around with the boot order, and then the computer kicked off. And it wouldn’t come back on. Just greeeeeat. So I had to go into diagnosis mode, remembering my previous experience with the dead motherboard. This time, every time I pushed the power button, I would get a split second of fans and lights coming on before the computer shut down. So the computer wasn’t even trying to do anything. I checked and rechecked all of my cables and connections, and nothing.
As it turns out, this is a pretty common problem. The most likely culprit? The power supply! So we flew up the road to our large Best Buy (making sure to look up whether ours sold power supplies) and picked up a new one, running us $70-80. I installed this, connected everything, and HUZZAH. Fast computer, beautiful red LEDs, and we’re flying high now. After several days, it’s been running great, and I sent the other power supply back for a refund.
Now all you have to do is install your favorite operating system and get back to work on it! This is easiest if you have a disc copy of Windows and the DVD-ROM drive, as it does practically everything for you.
And that, in a nutshell, is how you can go about building your own computer on a budget. Chelsey keeps sending me text messages about how fast the machine is, and how great everything looks, and just generally how awesome I am.
How do you feel about building computers instead of buying them? Is it something you would ever consider trying?